March 3, 2016
As we’ve pointed out before, while open plan working can bring cultural benefits such as improved communication and collaboration; the continuing popularity of the open plan office is largely down to cost. The reason the UK has more than twice as many open plan workers as the global average is primarily due to high real estate costs. Now a new report from Steelcase suggests that space and cost-saving strategies such as open plan offices and hot-desking could be impacting workplace satisfaction and engagement. UK employees are falling below the global average for almost all workplace satisfaction metrics, reporting a lack of control over their work environment (59 percent), difficulties concentrating (43 percent) and an inability to work without being interrupted (50 percent). These three factors were found to be central to fostering an engaged and satisfied workforce. Only 29 percent of UK workers are engaged, compared to 34 percent globally.
The Steelcase study – a result of data collected from over 12,000 workers in 17 countries by global research firm Ipsos – found that almost half (49 percent) of UK workers are based in open plan offices; more than twice the global average (23 percent). Meanwhile almost one in five (17 percent) don’t have a fixed work location – due to hot-desking or nomadic working – compared to just eight percent globally.
With real estate costs in the UK – and particularly London – amongst the highest in the world, open plan offices and hot-desking are tried and tested ways of keeping overheads down. Open plan working ensures space is used as efficiently as possible, without the need for walls or partitions. Hot-desking enables businesses to retain less space overall through encouraging staff to work remotely.
But there are signs that all is not well for UK workers, who report among the lowest engagement and workplace satisfaction levels in the world, ranking 12th out of 17. Just 29 percent of UK workers are engaged, compared to 34 percent globally and as many as 53 percent in India, 44 percent in Mexico and 44 percent in South Africa.
“While open plan offices and hot-desking have their benefits, there is evidence that they are contributing to lower levels of engagement and workplace satisfaction in the UK, through limiting the control employees have over their work environment,” commented Bostjan Ljubic, VP Steelcase UK & Ireland.
“We have consistently found that the most engaged workers are those who have more control over their work environment, including the ability to concentrate easily and work in teams without being interrupted. To cater to these needs, employers should provide a range of working environments, including private spaces, meeting rooms and informal break-out areas, to suit different styles and types of work.”
Across the global findings, nearly nine in ten (88 percent) highly engaged employees report flexibility over how and where they work. A further 88 percent of highly engaged employees say they can concentrate easily, and 94 percent say they can work in teams without being disrupted.
“Studies have shown that engaged employees are more productive, innovative and loyal, yet many organisations are failing to address the broad range of factors that can influence engagement – including workplace design,” continued Ljubic.
“Every employee is different, just as every role and every working day are different – therefore the work environment must flex to these changing needs. Our research shows that a range of spaces, designed for a range of work styles and combined with the right technology, is the most effective approach for businesses who want to get ahead.”
Bob Seddon, Chair: Workplace Special Interest Group for the BIFM (British Institute of Facilities Management), commented: “Providing workspaces for high performing organisations is more than just an exercise in reducing corporate real estate costs.
“The cultural, physical and technological facets of working environments all have an impact on bottom line ‘output’ performance, with the potential to improve employee productivity, wellbeing and satisfaction. These impacts can exceed real estate ‘input’ savings, making it worth investing in a larger or more varied workspace. The BIFM Workplace SIG seeks to promote facilities managers (FMs) as enlightened leaders in the workplace field. We therefore welcome this new study that indicates current thinking is letting down our clients and staff.”
For more information on The Steelcase Global Report: Engagement and the Global Workplace, click here.