Workplace productivity – it’s more than decent biscuits

Since 2010, Leesman has been measuring the effectiveness of workplaces, of varying sizes and sectors, and in the 900+ buildings and 110,000+ individual employee responses, tea and coffee facilities are ranked as the most important workplace feature; in fact it is selected as important by 89% of our Index. That ranks above computing equipment and toilets.

Whilst the areas in which coffee and biscuits are provided may be seen as a luxury, an added bonus, their importance cannot be underestimated when considered against the social influence they have in an organisation.

As a business begins to grow, and technology allows employees to be more mobile, the social cohesion needed to allow teams to feel part of a community and to connect with other parts of the business is crucial. We often see organisations neglect this and the result is a focus on the ‘me’ rather than the ‘we’. In the latter, you are more likely to see collaboration and creativity and in these organisations in turn, more employees report to us that they feel their workplace design enables them to be productive. Across our Index only 54 per cent currently agree that this is the case which shows how many workplaces are getting it wrong.

Office environments that work follow a pattern. Firstly, they understand the activities their employees carry out as part of their role and they build the ‘function’ into the infrastructure around them. Add to that the stuff that makes us ‘feel’ good; the quality of coffee, the décor and the general ambience. This makes employees feel great about their workplace but that isn’t enough. You then need to create a range of informal spaces for them to cross pollinate with fellow employees. The power of the accumulative ‘good feeling’ can be the difference between business success and failure.

So, rather than it being the quality of the biscuit that makes people feel happier, perhaps it’s the social impact of coming together with colleagues that is proving to be the differentiator. The savoury equivalent of the water cooler.

Unfortunately, organisations are getting some of the basics wrong. When we ask employees to select the activities that are important in their role, on average, they select around 12. These range from desk-based individual focused work and planned meetings to telephone conversations, reading and taking a break. This number alone should offer a warning to businesses that only provide a desk and chair; this inflexible work setting cannot support an employee undertaking multiple activities.

Many have moved towards open plan environments, perhaps to foster collaboration or maybe it’s to save on cost as more work becomes remote. The problem with this is that it creates one of the biggest inhibitors of workplace productivity; noise. Those dissatisfied with unwanted sound, to give it it’s proper name, in their organisation are more likely to report a low sense of personal productivity. Only 29 per cent of employees are satisfied with the noise levels in their organisations.

Overcoming this is difficult but again it’s the provision of a variety of spaces, both formal and informal that helps nullify its negative impact. However, it’s often difficult to justify these spaces, and their lack of desks, when costing up a workplace, but organisations that ignore them risk hampering productivity.