The people centric urge to personalise space helps firms to engage employees

a97998_cubicle_5In America at least, the great symbol of corporate conformity is the office cubicle. Satirised in the Dilbert cartoons and a staple in any movie about the degrading aspects of modern working life, the cubicle provides a perfect shorthand way of portraying an individual crushed by the corporate jackboot. Yet what these things miss is the propensity of people to personalise their surroundings and claim a space as their own, even if only for the short time they may be there. This seems to be particularly the case when it comes to office design and so we were much taken with this blog which lists the most far out and quirky ways people in the US have found to personalise their cubicles. Of course the need and urge to personalise space are not limited to the US. We often find in the course of our own installations that the first thing people do when they occupy an office for the first time is to personalise their space.

Often this takes the form of familiar items such as family pictures, mugs and other personal paraphernalia, but some get creative. For the growing number of people who don’t work permanently in the office but use it as a base, the urge to personalise is often no less strong. They are unlikely to unpack a set of framed pictures but instead ‘spread out; as they might do on a beach or in a cafe. In doing so they are staking a claim not only in the office space, but the organisation itself.

a97998_cubicle_1-tardis2This is an all too human response but there are sound reasons for the organisation to allow or even encourage people to personalise their space. The most important are that it helps people to be more productive, improves their wellbeing, creates inclusive workplaces for them and also increases their engagement with their work and their employer.

According to a study from the Department of Psychology at the University of Exeter, there is the potential for remarkable improvements in job satisfaction and performance by allowing workers to personalise their office space. The research showed that employees who have control over the layout of their workspace are not only happier and healthier but are also more productive to the tune of 38 per cent when compared to a ‘lean space’ such as an open plan.

A similar result can be found in a number of international studies. For example, Sodexo’s 2016 Workplace Trends Report suggests there are nine key areas that managers should address when creating a productive and engaged working culture, based on a meta-analysis of primary research, client feedback and research from academics, trade associations and FM providers. The report covers the most talked about themes in workplace design and management including wellness, work-life balance, diversity, green building and workforce engagement.

One of the most important objectives companies should strive to achieve is engagement and one of the best ways of achieving this, according to a number of academic studies cited in the report is the ability to personalise space. “Companies spend a daunting $720 million on employee engagement annually”, argues the report. “From how leaders are recognising and rewarding employees, to more effective health and wellness program design, we see the importance of a personalised, holistic approach. The 2016 Workplace Trends Report articles collectively share a theme that programs that effectively reward and recognise the varied individual employee motivators are essential in today’s multi-generational workplace.”

This last point should not be underestimated. Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever and we should celebrate the great strides we have made in creating offices that are able to accommodate a wide variety of personal needs and allow people to express something of their own identity.

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16867b4Paul Goodchild is the Design Director of Fresh Workspace.

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