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How to build a better office

According to a recent survey by Gensler, the prominent corporate architecture firm, half of all employees say they would work an extra hour per day if they had a better workplace. So why do so many companies maintain dark, cramped, ugly, or poorly designed offices?

Studies show that a well-designed office is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to retain workers and make them more productive. General Electric, Microsoft, and major West Coast insurer Group Health are just a handful of major organizations reaping the bottom-line benefits of smart, worker-oriented designs. Read on and we’ll explain how companies of any size can use a remodel or relocation to pump up performance and profits.

Things you will need:
Between $US3,870 per person (open office design) and $US6,447 per person (closed office design) to outfit an empty building, according to the International Facilities Management Association.

Reengineering an existing office may take a few months, but it can take five years to orchestrate a major corporate headquarters move.

Hard data: Study how and when workers use office space and where space is going unused or is poorly used.

Qualitative data: Gather workers’ feedback on what they like, and don't like, about their workspace.

Projections: Office redesigns should allow for future needs, too. Create a roadmap for future work patterns.

Persistence: Changing workers’ space may create resistance — especially if those affected include the CEO. Explain the rationale for changes, and workers will begin to appreciate the maneuvers.

Goal: Understand how well — or poorly — you’re using the existing floor plan.
Bad office layouts are made, not born. An office configuration that suited the way business was done even five years ago might be irrelevant now.

Gervais Tompkin, a vice president in Gensler’s San Francisco office, says the best way to find out if your office is dysfunctional is to conduct a formal study. His firm creates an “activity portrait,” a drawing of traffic patterns around the office, by shadowing employees for several days in a row.

Whether you conduct an in-house study or hire a design consultant, Tompkin says the three key methods for gathering information are shadowing employees on their paths through the office; visiting conference rooms and desk areas every half hour to determine how they are being used; and asking employees to track their own movements and report back on how they spend their time.

Here’s what to look for:
Space Layout
Study whether the layout of the building is helping or hindering employees in the quest to get work done. Shadowing workers for a few days will reveal wasted motion and inefficient organization of space.

Red flags:
Collaborative spaces are bunched at the far end of the building
People whose jobs are highly collaborative do not naturally come into contact withcolleagues during the workday
Employees spend a lot of time in transit to meeting rooms, printers, copiers, and fax

Space Usage
Find out how often people are using existing spaces. Check in on what’s happening by stopping by cubicles and conference rooms every half hour.

Red flags:
An area is always empty
An area is overcrowded
Workers are competing for certain furnishings or equipment and not using others

Look closely at whether workers are using their space, furnishings, and equipment as intended. Does the environment support their process, or have they been forced to circumvent it?

Red flags:
Employees meet at a coffee shop because they can’t find common space
Workers use drop-in space on another floor because the area around their desks is too

They bring lamps from home to avoid harsh fluorescent lighting

If your study reveals a number of red flags, it’s time to hire an architect and find out how a redesign can improve the efficiency of your space.

Copyright 2007 CNET Networks, Courtesy of The Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica
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