Effective Office and Working Environments

An interview with Samir Ayoub about the study “Effective office and working environments”

Mr Ayoub, at ORGATEC’s 2018 European trade press conference in Amsterdam, you presented the findings of the “Effective office and working environments” study together with the Fraunhofer IAO. What is the fundamental question at the heart of the study?

We commissioned the study because we wanted to investigate the importance of working environments for the strategic goals of companies. What must be taken into consideration for a new office concept to be a success? We have got to the bottom of this and other questions.

One focus of the study was an investigation into different types of office. Which office concept performed best?

The study shows that “multi-space” working environments achieve significantly more positive results in various aspects than other office layouts. When there are a wide range of options in terms of rooms that can be used flexibly by all employees within the working environment, the support function is significantly stronger. Furthermore, teamwork is significantly more common, there is a higher degree of autonomy and employer attractiveness is rated much more positively too. Of the study participants, 54 per cent also expect multi-space workplaces to become the dominant office type in their companies.

What impact do the effects of a multi-space working environment have on a company’s attractiveness?

In ideal circumstances, a multi-space working environment corresponds with the principle of activity-based working. This means that suitable spaces are available for all activities in the company. The employee is therefore free to choose a room for creativity, dialogue, telephone calls, exercise or relaxation. This variety does not exist in a workplace with traditional single- and multi-person offices.

You also examined the speed at which the organization of work is undergoing modernization. How do the participants rate this pace of change in their own companies?

It’s clear: the rate of modernization is not perceived as being too fast, irrespective of company size and functional area. As the size of the company increases, the speed of transformation is even described as being excessively slow. The senior managers who took part in the survey are the exception. They judge that the organization of work is being modernized at just the right pace. The results of the study also highlight the fact that, in companies where the way work is organized is being modernized at a slow pace, the office and working environment plays less of a supportive role, the spaces are less well designed, teamwork is less widely practiced in the organisation and employer attractiveness is significantly reduced.

What other key themes were examined in the study?

Among other things, it was found that the less hierarchical structures are represented in the layout of the space, the more attractive the employer becomes. The arrangement of space within multi-space working environments reflects company hierarchies the least. However, this is a challenge for many companies. There are still employees who expect to have their own office once they have reached a certain position. Such established status symbols cannot be eliminated in a short time. Professional change management is therefore important when moving over to a multi-space working environment. The employees must truly feel included. But the managers themselves must also be open to change. If employees’ use of the new ping-pong room or private space is judged negatively, these areas will no longer be used in the future and will be reduced to absurdity.

What conclusions do you draw from the study’s findings?

We found it particularly interesting that there is a lack of private spaces in all office forms, even in a structure of individual offices. A survey of our projects showed that 75 per cent of the private spaces required are designed for two to four people. There is a private space of this size for every ten employees. A comprehensive needs assessment is necessary to determine the correct number of private spaces.

What do you expect in terms of the working world of the future?

The issue of “space branding” is becoming increasingly important. A high recognition value for employees and customers is especially important for those companies that operate out of various locations. Other companies set up their working environment like a cosy hotel lobby so that mobile employees return to their offices more frequently. Well-being is therefore a top issue. Another strategic goal is to increase communication within the company in order to encourage the innovativeness and creativity of employees. Studies show that eight out of ten innovation projects fail. This shows that there is a great need for action – because issues of productivity and profitability are always seen as very important.

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