As an Overhead cost rather than an enabler to Business Productivity. Leaders of businesses and organisations don’t want to talk about Facilities. It’s a dirty word associated with cleaning, maintenance and other non-core activities. The common view seems to be that facility managers should be neither seen nor heard. This piece provides sound arguments demonstrating the contribution that good facilities management can make to assist the achievement of organisational goals.
Let us understand about Productivity before moving forward – Most definitions of Productivity refer to the relationship between inputs and outputs. In manufacturing environments this is easy to observe, it takes so much material and so many hours to produce one widget and initiatives that reduce the material needed or speed up the process thereby increase productivity.
In an office environment it is relatively easy to measure the inputs energy, rent, wages etc. but it can be very difficult to capture the outputs in a meaningful way. The fact that it is easy to focus on cost probably explains why we do so much of it. However, as is so often the case, there is much to be gained by exploring the road less traveled. There are two principal thrusts to any
productivity oriented FM initiative – the identification and removal of disruptive workplace factors that increase the inputs required beyond the basic work content and the creation of productivity enhancing interventions that accelerate output.
There is overwhelming evidence to support the idea that health, well being and productivity of staff is significantly affected by workplace design. In particular, the role that Facilities Management (FM) organisations play in designing and maintaining the workplace is gaining attention from companies in a variety of sectors.
The British Institute of Facilities Management defines FM as: ‘The processes that maintain and develop an organisation’s services to support and improve the effectiveness of its primary activities.’ Key areas include cleaning, health & safety, heating & ventilation as well as general office management.
Covering such a wide variety of processes means that effective FM is vital to the overall success of any business. It is facilities managers who are at the helm of ensuring that organisations have the most suitable working environment for employees and their activities.
Experienced facilities managers have learned the value of increasing workplace productivity. After all, a big part of an FM’s job is to help the occupants of the buildings for which they are responsible.
The problem is measuring results and pinpointing exactly how much of an impact efforts toward boosting productivity have on a company’s bottom line. That’s just the nature of dealing with people.
It’s a much cleaner argument to tell a CEO that you can save $1 per square foot or $5,000 per quarter with smarter HVAC systems.
Nevertheless, a small uptick in productivity can be worth at least as much as big savings per square foot. Therefore, it is important to put an emphasis on productivity.
Below are insights and perspectives on how an FM can improve productivity for a company’s workforce. Some of these ideas might more closely resemble art than science, but once we have a better idea of why workplace productivity is so important — and we’ll back this up with figures — and what pain points employees identify, we can develop a more targeted approach to improving productivity.
Why Productivity Lags
In a report on designing effective work spaces, Johnson Controls uncovered some interesting data. The company found that focused work accounts for just more than half of a person’s working day, but almost half of that focus time itself is unproductive. The major culprits? Noise and lack of privacy. Some people thrive in an open, busy environment; others need peace and quiet to get anything done,” Elizabeth Dukes writes at iOfficeCorp.com. “Your office environment needs to ensure that both people can be productive. When you’re designing an open office environment, create flexibility for different work styles by creating a variety of spaces, from communal desks and couches to more private meeting rooms and quiet places to focus on a project in more depth. Editor’s note: We touched on this exact issue recently. “When employees feel like they can control their environment and choose the space they need to work in at that moment, they will be more productive.” We will explore a few practical solutions for addressing noise and lack of privacy in the next section. Before that, there are two more points worth noting:
Data collection is key for understanding occupant needs, Dubai-based Able FM writes on its company blog. “If you do not have the data to identify a process that isn’t working, history will repeat itself until someone stumbles upon the truth. With the proper software solutions in place, FMs have the ability to collect data regarding revenue growth (and its major contributors), space
utilization and facility costs, as well as employee productivity and overall fulfillment.”
Facilities managers are in a position to enable productivity, not deliver it, Aramark Ireland’s Samantha Bowman argued at a BIFM event held in March 2014. “Every organisation is not the same, and most FMs work as part of a bigger team. FMs play an enabling role as part of a wider team.” Brown said this could include “playing a part in supporting wellbeing programs, managing
space, designing a workplace and facilitating other kinds of change,” FM world’s report from the event reads.
Practical Solutions For Improve Workplace Productivity
There are many workplace related factors that add cost and time to the input side of workplace productivity. These range from the cumulative effect of time spent walking to and waiting at printers, copiers and fax machines to the more pernicious impact of poor health and safety. Here are a few tactics that might be employed by a facility manager intent on reducing wasted productivity.
Apart from Indoor Air quality, Thermal comfort, Lighting comfort and Spatial comfort, First things first — let’s address issues of noise and privacy.
“Noise pollution is one of the biggest problems in many offices,” notes a staff article from Entrepreneur magazine. “One good way to decrease noise is to cover computer printers with sound shields. Covering a printer can cut noise by more than 90 percent and increase concentration accordingly.”
Russell Richardson, director of RBA Acoustics in England, has made a career of fixing noise problems, and he agrees that noise issues can kill productivity.
“An office where you feel you have to put earphones on is a failure,” Richardson says. “If it’s an occasional thing where I need to concentrate, that’s fine, but if I need to remove myself from the rest of my team and put headphones on, there’s something wrong.”
A big-picture fix for both noise and privacy issues — which seem to have become increasingly common in open office layouts — is to provide areas of refuge for anyone doing focused work.
Keep an eye on the office layout. This is one area in which an FM can enable big productivity gains by simply being responsive.
“It should be obvious, even if not measurable, that an opportunity to re-assess the office layout from a workflow perspective, provide more efficient ergonomic furniture and spice up the finishes can only improve productivity,” Michel Theriault writes at StrategicAdivsor.ca.
Other experts suggest that there is some low-hanging fruit in many workplaces that, with a simple fix, can enhance productivity. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being thoughtful.
Below are such opportunities.
Make the break room an inviting place.
The Staples Advantage blog reports that nearly half of the employees it surveyed for a study said they felt uncomfortable leaving their desks to take a break. “That’s not good, considering taking a break is one of the best ways to recharge and refuel throughout a busy day,” the post reads. A facilities manager obviously cannot mandate break time, but you can certainly
incentivize break-taking. The Staples post suggests including both healthy foods and drinks and also a wider option for facility occupants who prefer options. Also, the posts suggests comfortable, ergonomic furniture may invite employees to be more social and relaxed with their colleagues, a great way to lower stress and recharge.
Keep the workplace organized.
This might sound obvious, but when work gets hectic, organization is often the first thing sacrificed.
“A supervisor of mine from several years ago recently sent me a photo of me in my cubicle,” “I was horrified by how messy and disorganized it looked. And I recall vividly how challenged I was by the mess. Mess equals stress.”
Ensuring employees have proper places to store their documents and other effects can go a long way in making their work environments more comfortable.
Decluttering is important, but don’t sacrifice pleasant decor.
Straight lines and minimalism can be refreshing, sure, but don’t let that vision turn into barren minimalism. Most people like some decorations.
“Studying worker productivity levels over subsequent months at two large commercial offices, the researchers found that the presence of plants led to more work engagement by employees, including improved physical, cognitive, and emotional involvement in their work causing large increases in worker productivity and satisfaction,” Buildings.com reported in September.
“Productivity could increase by as much as 15% with the simple addition of greenery.”
Invest in ergonomics.
Lauren Barack has some great advice over at WealthManagement.com. Speaking with a few ergonomics experts, she demonstrated how simply helping employees maintain physical comfort in their work ultimately pays dividends in productivity.
Her reporting touched on three tweaks:
Having adjustable keyboard positions and monitors is crucial for those who work all day at a computer. Laptops, for all the mobility they offer, are major contributors to injuries.
As smart ear buds come on the market, not only will this untether users from this computers physically — they will also be able to track the wearer’s heart rate and even the amount of noise passing through the ears.
Stand-up desks are becoming increasingly popular for those who want to alleviate or prevent back issues.
“You need to invest in your people,” one expert told Barack. “You can reduce medical costs by incorporating just one incentive.”
Improved communication between colleagues, suppliers and customers is one of the most important issues to be considered. The office is the centre of social interaction and the design and provision of better meeting rooms, open spaces and telecommunication facilities demands serious attention.
The actual design philosophy of the building can have a big impact and the choice between cellular or open plan, distributed or centralized services or any of the myriad other choices available must be well thought out.
The stacking plans for the building are equally important. An efficient office layout will take careful note of operational adjacencies to optimize the use of assets and functions in use.
There is now considerable evidence concerning the benefits to be gained from fresh air and natural ventilation. Absenteeism rates have been shown to be reduced by as much as 6% in naturally-ventilated buildings. Productivity gains have also been shown in buildings where there is a greater access to natural daylight (and those, such as in Norway where artificial daylight has been incorporated).
All people respond very positively to recognition of their individuality and self-worth. The facility manager can do much to support such an approach developing bespoke and intelligent service solutions that treat people as individuals and with due respect.
The trend towards greater personal control over an individual’s environment takes this approach one step further and is increasingly being incorporated into “green” building design with significant impact upon the perceived morale of building occupants.
The creation of a social community within the workplace can be greatly enhanced by the design and provision of catering, welfare and sporting facilities.
A focus away from “Sickness management” and towards “Wellness support” must have a positive impact on productivity. Massage services, dietary advice and dental care in the workplace are not just valued benefits but will reduce sick absence and increase staff retention while improving the performance of the human asset itself.
“Facility Managers are often cut off from the wider and more important strategic business considerations and are rewarded primarily, and sometimes exclusively for cutting costs”. But these above weighty action plans clearly demonstrate that there is much that the smart facility manager can do to improve productivity in the workplace. The difficulty remains of our inability
to adequately measure the impact of our labours and thus justify the investment required.
For the foreseeable future facility managers will continue to battle with an uncomfortable image as a cost focused, low value management discipline. Despite this handicap our profession continues to progress towards a more valued strategic position in organisational terms.
Well designed and properly managed facilities do support the businesses they serve. The best facility managers go further and contribute towards strategic business goals in many ways including the aspects of talent, compliance, efficiency, reputation, risk and productivity that have been addressed in this series of articles. The future lies with them.
Strategic FM delivery is now essential for business survival, where the impetus on ensuring high customer satisfaction coupled with high workplace productivity.
“Put the key of despair into the lock of apathy. Turn the knob of mediocrity slowly and open the gates of despondency – welcome to a day in the average office.”