Eight hours a day, five days a week. That is how much time we spend working (most of us – in the office). That is if we are lucky enough not to have too much overtime. Sounds like a great part of your life, right? However, having two thirds of your day off was just a wish for most workers not so long ago.
Do you know what the eight-hour day movement, also known as the short-time movement, is?
That was a social movement created with a goal to regulate the length of working days, preventing excesses and abuses. It had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life.
By then, the working day could range from 10 to 16 hours, and the workweek was typically six days long! We had to wait for the early and mid-twentieth century for the condition to be improved. The first country to adopt eight-hour working day nationwide was Uruguay – it was introduced on November 17, 1915, in the government of José Batlle y Ordóñez.
Feel a bit better now? Eight hours doesn’t seem that much? Just imagine if you were born in a different time, where someone had to fight for you to come back home after work at one point.
Just read carefully words of Karl Marx from Das Kapital (written in 1867) and think of yourself, trapped in some miserable factory, living what this man was fighting against:
“By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production…not only produces a deterioration of human labor power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labor power itself.”
In the recent times shorter work days have been proven to improve productivity and overall quality of life for the employees. Nevertheless, we are still trying to improve our working conditions. The question is no longer just how long we should be in the office, but how the office space makes us feel and if it contributes to our productivity or not.
So, let’s knock ourselves out on dissecting how our working environment and surroundings affects us day to day.
IS THE OFFICE A MOUSETRAP OR OUR SAFE HARBOR?
Office employees spend a lot of their time inside a building. We must not ignore the influence a physical environment has on their well-being, work performance and productivity.
We are talking here about pretty basic stuff, like temperature, air quality, lighting or noise conditions in the office that can affect the work concentration and productivity. Many studies have consistently demonstrated how the physical office environment characteristics can have a significant effect on behavior, perceptions, and productivity of employees.
So, which details make the biggest impact on energy and creativity?
You would be surprised. It’s not an arrogant and needy boss, hostile co-worker or feeling of being underpaid for the effort. Less obvious factors play a crucial role in productivity levels and a feelings of satisfaction. Even though they might seem a bit frivolous, wall color, chair ergonomics, noise level or even lighting can provide an immediate lack of or a boosts to your efficiency.
Bottom line, office indoor environments have a huge influence on employees ‘attitudes, behavior, satisfaction and works performance. Let’s see how it can affect our mood, our productivity, and our creativity. And what surroundings can make us happier?
OFFICE SPACE LAYOUT
We spend most of our time in our working environment. Knowing that your surroundings can affect your mood and your performance, take a look around your office and just stop to think how do you feel in that space? Happy, annoyed, frustrated, relaxed, enthusiastic? Maybe you didn’t know (or didn’t think about that) but the fundamental aspect of the workplace environment that contributes to employee mood and behavior – is the office space layout.
Conventional workplace, with separated offices, were designed to provide closed private offices for all employees. Today’s open-plan design is characterized by an absence of internal boundaries between working spaces (cubicles or partitioned workspaces). When this kind of office space arrangement was introduced, it was presumed that it will provide an environment that would increase work efficiency and facilitate communication. However, open-plan design became a factor that contributes to employees work disruption.
It is clear now that the physical adjustment of the office environment influences a great deal the level and type of social interaction between employees. Each organization must find the best solution to provide its workers with a space that allows them to perform their tasks more quickly, easily and efficiently.
What can be done?
Supervision and monitoring of workers must be simple and easy to achieve. Work equipment should be placed and arranged systematically, while references files must be made available easily. Also, the decoration should be taken into consideration. Plants, bright colors, art, and other ornaments can increase positive atmosphere significantly.
A sound or a noise problem in an office is something that simply can’t be avoided. Many studies over the years have shown that noise is an ambient stressor directly related to job satisfaction in the work environment.
Noise containing speech, the sound produced by phone, copier or keyboard can create a disruption in performance. Depending on the stress level of the employee, some employees are affected more strongly (introverts suffer more). Working in a communal space ensures that complete silence is an impossible occurrence. It’s a simple fact that a noisy work environment leads to an overall decline in productivity.
Office work is becoming technologically complex more and more each day, so the frequency of stress-related disorders in work environments just keeps on increasing.
What can be done?
For starters, providing your employees with noise-canceling headphones, installing white noise machines around the office, instituting and enforcing daily quiet hours, installing ‘felt pads’ on typewriters, changing the ringing phone to the ‘buzzers’ system is just a few solutions for this issue.
The abundance of artificial light in huge working spaces is always an issue. Spending eight hours a day (sometimes even more) under the fluorescent light, far from windows, is a quick and simple recipe for depression and lethargy.
Some of the consequences of the lack of natural light are abnormal sleep activity, disturbed body’s circadian rhythm or chronic fatigue.
On the other hand, unlike harsh fluorescent light, dim lights also result in drowsiness or lack of focus. That’s why you should pay special attention to the light in your office.
What can be done?
You can improve it by trying to utilize natural light as much as the office space allows, installing a lighting control system, providing lighting suitable for every task and using lighting to zone different areas.
A privacy issue is most common in companies where the open-office floor plan has been adopted. The initial thought behind this concept was that it would remove the feeling of separation between management and staff, encouraging a more dynamic and collaborative work environment.
However, the unavoidable reality is that they create a distinct lack of privacy. The continuous absence of personal space can lead to an increased level of frustration among employees.
It can interrupt employees’ focus, and make them feel like they’re constantly being monitored by management which can lead many workers to experience feelings of discomfort, anger, and dislike of the work environment.
Collaboration has become the big engine for progress and innovation in the field of so-called privacy crisis at the office.Successful collaboration requires giving coworkers easy access to each other, while at the same time it requires giving each individual the time and place to focus and recharge.
What can be done?
To help employees in achieving that balance, an organization must think outside the box. Literally. Start thinking about different kinds of walls to delineate spaces, choose colors carefully (do not hesitate to change those once in a while), include natural elements – add a bit of green to the indoor environment, and be sure to remember the introverts and create a small places to facilitate solitude (if there is not enough room, be creative and go vertical in the office space).
In the end, keep in mind that we all respond to precise surroundings through already determined internal and external aspects such as our cultural background, personal taste, social and aspirational status, professional and private circumstances, and educational background. Plus two most important ones: our personality and our emotional experiences at a given place. Just remember that and try to adjust your office and adjust to your office.