By Tania Longeau
A stereotypical modern office looks the same as it did in the 1970s: white walls, fluorescent lights, and a “cubicle farm” work environment. Though cubicles are bad for employee morale, the only feasible alternative to them is the open office setup—which isn’t great for offices where employees spend a lot of time on the phone.
Most offices don’t have enough space to provide individual offices, so managers try to make the most of the space they have. While dealing with workspace limitations takes time and energy, it’s a necessary step to boosting employee morale and energy. Every company has its own culture and structure, and every office has different needs for collaborative space, but a few best practices ring true across industries. Here are six ways to transform your office space into a more efficient and effective workspace without breaking the bank.
1. Use Wall Space
Every office has procedures and guidelines that are easily forgotten. Sometimes employees need reminders to clear their food out of the fridge every Friday or to only put certain types of paper in the recycle bins. Printing and posting these reminders in appropriate wall space can be much more effective than sending a one-time email reminder.
Project updates and other information are also more effective when posted on walls, and they allow employees to stay motivated and goal-focused. Sometimes it can be refreshing for employees to see a reminder of the reason they’re working together, or that the long and challenging project they’re working on will someday show the fruits of their labor.
Avoid posting comic strips, blog posts, and other third-party content on common space walls. These are often distracting unless they are news articles directly related to a recent company accomplishment.
2. Get New Furniture
Colorless, old-fashioned offices aren’t great for employee morale. It’s better for offices to feel a little more relaxed and more like a cafe or a home office. Furniture that provides an earthy feel or matches the company colors can keep things professional while improving the mood of office workers.
New furniture can also benefit employees’ posture and overall health. Chairs wear out over time, and furniture created over 20 years ago wasn’t made with the latest in ergonomics research in mind. If the chairs are older, consider replacements as soon as possible to boost employee concentration and mood.
Of course, not all companies have the budget for major furniture replacements, especially if profits are slimmer than usual. In this case, replacing the most-used chairs in the office makes more sense than replacing the chairs in a little-used conference room.
3. Minimize Distractions
While there’s no way to eliminate all distractions in a workplace, common ones can be erased with a few small tweaks. First, encourage staff to use appropriate spaces for their conversations. For staff who have private offices, this may mean asking them to take one-on-one conversations into their office or a meeting room instead of leaning into someone’s cubicle for an extended chat. Non-work-related chatter should be kept in the break room whenever possible, out of consideration for other employees who are busy.
Natural lighting is great, but, depending on what’s going on outside, windows can be a huge distraction. Blinds and curtains should be installed, so they can at least be lowered if someone seated near them needs to reduce glare or to concentrate better.
Finally, try creating office guidelines about phone calls, music, and videos, even if they’re work-related. Consider encouraging employees to take personal phone calls outside, and to use headphones when watching even short videos. And, while this seems obvious, this still needs to be said: Phone calls should never be put on a speaker outside of conference rooms and private offices unless everyone in the office needs to hear it.
4. Use Meeting Rooms Wisely
Most office spaces have at least one conference room, but not all organizations choose to use it as such. In order for a conference room to be an effective meeting space, it needs to be used as such consistently. This means not using the conference room for storage, casual chatter about projects, or break times.
If meeting space is limited, employees may find themselves using other, less-effective spaces to hold meetings. This could include break rooms, coffee shops, or any free space inside or just outside the office. Consider having office policies about where meetings should be held, and encouraging employees to sign up for meeting space ahead of time to prevent double-booking and other issues.
5. Clean Twice a Year
Every office accumulates clutter. Old client samples, half-used office supplies, and even free t-shirts can end up thrown into boxes next to the copy machine or under a conference room table.
Although doing inventory and throwing out unneeded junk can be a headache in large offices, it’s worthwhile. Taking better inventory of office supplies can help cut down on wasted money, and the reclaimed space could allow people to move, work, and meet with each other more freely. It’s also a great chance to gather and recycle old printer cartridges.
Consider having an all-staff decluttering event twice a year, perhaps after major projects are done or when productivity is low right before the holidays. Have the head of each department take stock of what’s still useful and what’s not. If there is any doubt about whether something is needed, it should be shown to another manager for final judgment. Some precautions may be necessary to prevent accidentally throwing out things of value, but, for the most part, individual departments should be able to discern what’s junk and what’s not.
6. Ask Employees What They Need
Managers who work in corner offices don’t always know what difficulties the entry-level staff face. Maybe the acoustics of the office space makes taking phone calls next to impossible, making cubicles a slight improvement from an open office plan. Maybe an individual or group of employees is a constant source of distraction for everyone else trying to work. Maybe ordering ink cartridges online can save time and ensure you have a steady supply so that output isn’t affected.
Consider distributing an anonymous survey that employees can use to report things that are damaging their productivity. From there, managers should consult with each other to determine appropriate courses of action. While some fixes, like new office guidelines for phone usage, are easy to come up with, others may require funding or time to implement. Creating a truly productive workplace requires ongoing communication with all levels of staff, so consider surveying staff and re-evaluating office needs annually or as major changes occur.