Feb 28, 2013 Written by 
Excessive workloads have long caused tension in the workplace. Ironically, modern office designs often compound this tension. One reason is the prevalence of open plan layouts. They increase ambient noise, a major distraction and frustration for staff, which can also affect their health, leading to sickness and lower productivity.

Findings from the 2011 survey, “Sustainability in the Workplace”, showed that 92 per cent of workers believe productivity has declined in Australia. Workplace stress was blamed for headaches, fatigue, eyestrain and other adverse effects. The results? More sick days and low morale, with a direct impact on productivity.

A “work-life balance” mantra is pitched by management and authors to improve productivity, though effective guidance or action here is rarely seen. It’s more a concept than a process to follow. More recently, the establishment of healthy, green, sustainable work environments shows a more tangible approach. Research reveals that staff in “green” offices is less likely to suffer from sickness. (Sustainability in the workplace, 2011)

Productivity improvement is becoming more widely measured and understood. While cost remains a key challenge in pursuing sustainability as a strategy, according to research by Jones Lang LaSalle, there are huge productivity benefits to be gained through greening the existing workplace. Options range from improving indoor air quality, optimisation of daylight, insulating for thermal efficiency and comfort, access to outside views or external space and maintaining comfortable noise levels.

The design features in a workspace can significantly improve or dampen staff effectiveness in performing their roles. The following projects highlight the important link between productivity and workplace design:

500 Collins Street, Melbourne. Other than energy, water and waste, indoor air quality was also a key focus in this retrofit project. Post retrofit analysis showed a 44% reduction in average sick days per employee, accompanied by a 9% improvement in average typing speed with a significant improvement in overall accuracy.

Macquarie Bank Headquarters, One Shelley Street, Sydney. Sustainable design upgrades combined with introducing an activity-based work environment improved Macquarie Bank’s perceived productivity by up to 15%.

Flinders Medical Centre, Belford Park, Adelaide. Earning a green star rating has seen a 9% increase in the number of babies born since the centre’s new green wing opened. Combined with a drop in recovery times due to a focus on healthy building principles, the centre can handle more patients.

A common theme through all of these observations is best relayed by the writings of Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. He wrote in 1994 “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything”. It brings to mind that it’s never too late to take action in the built environment. Start one step at a time to green your workplace and ultimately you will be able to enhance productivity companywide.

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