Lean & mean: how do personalised workspaces impact employees?
In the context of the workplace, what do we mean by personalisation? Traditionally, personalising our space has meant pictures of family, ‘your desk’, personal effects, and perhaps your own coffee mug. Psychologically, your desk was your little part of the business, your place in it.
Fast forward to current trends and we are seeing the rise of the lean, or you could say sparse, environment. To management, this might feel more efficient and less cluttered or distracting. The evidence suggests that for the staff, it de-humanises their role in the business and makes them feel like a cog in a corporate machine.
Utilisation is driving the de-personalisation of workplace with the rise of trends such as hot-desking. In trying to make the most efficient use of space, employers and developers are adopting lean environments, allowing enough desks for only 70-80% of staff and no hints of personalisation or identity other than a locker or cubby hole. Ironically, these environments can be stressful and were found to fuel distrust between co-workers.
Research now suggests that this move is driving down the performance of staff, and consequently the effectiveness of the organisation.
For employees, autonomy over their workspace symbols an element of trust between them and their employer. Though employees might lament the loss of their desktop family photo, this can be mitigated by company policies that empower employees in other ways. Flexible working policies or virtual workplaces give this perception of trust back to employees. Involving employees in the design of shared spaces or decisions made about the design of the office.
Dr Craig Knight at the University of Exeter has done significant research into the personalisation of workspaces. His study created four office personalisation scenarios to see which environments, and what levels of personalisation, had the biggest impacts on worker happiness and productivity.
Lean: a bare environment
Enriched: Softened environment which included a few pot plants and natural imagery
Empowered: Started with the bare environment, and participants were given the plants and imagery to decorate the space how they liked
Dis-empowered: Used the same empowered space, except that after participants had arranged their space how the liked, invigilators re-arranged it all in front of them.
Well, the proof was in the pot plants.
The study found that empowered workers who designed their own space were 30% more productive than those in the bare environment, and employees in the enriched space were 15% more productive.
What is important, it seems, is that we have control over our workspace, and that we can somehow enrich the space, creating connections to the organisation, to nature or just to our daily lives.
So where is personalisation heading in the future?
The rise of technology has the potential to further personalise the way we work. We will see the rise of smart or intelligent personalised workspaces driven by the internet of things informed by wearable technology or personnel data. For example, desks and chairs will adjust their height and set-up angles specific to an individual’s biometrics. Computer screens and lighting will adjust the brightness depending on optimum levels for your comfort and performance. Smart diaries that make recommendations of where you should sit (or, even better, book spaces for you) for your daily tasks, based on which environments you work best in.