The benefits of peeling back the layers of the workplace onion 0

onionThe onion metaphor is normally used to describe the layers which must be peeled away to get to the all-important “core” of a problem or issue. The biggest question that is normally asked with respect to choosing office space based on the promise of improved productivity, is quantifying the value of the various initiatives that might be contemplated or proposed. I can’t help but think of how complex that question is due to the many “layers” there are to work through to get to a final quantifiable answer. In its most simple form the question of productivity in the workplace, is confined to how staff utilise their time to undertake the tasks or duties that correspond to expected output. But of course it is not only their use of time, but the environmental influences associated their environment, both in the workplace, its surroundings (the actual building and the precinct in which it is located) and their method of travel to the office.

The following is a list of influences that are most impactful in relation to quantifying the value associated with the various workplace productivity features or initiatives that might accrue to your bottom-line, depending on your choice of office.

Indoor Environmental Quality – IEQ

It is reported that people spend over 90 percent of their time indoors. All workers spend some 70 percent of their time there and office workers in excess of 80 percent of their time. The importance of the quality of internal spaces and the environments they enclose cannot, therefore, be overstated. The following all contribute in some way to increasing the productivity of staff in the office; –

  • Indoor air quality
  • Acoustic comfort
  • Lighting comfort
  • Visual comfort
  • Indoor pollutants
  • Thermal comfort



Biophilia is a term used to recognise our basic human desire for connecting to nature. When used in the context of a building or office fit-out, it explains the presence of rooftop gardens, nearby parklands, views of flora and fauna, green walls, green roofs and even indoor planting which integrates with an office fit-out within sections of partition walls and furniture. Not only is it known that indoor plants have a positive effect on the quality of the indoor air by filtering a range of contaminants and pollutants found indoors, but research suggests quite a number of tangible health and productivity benefits also apply.


Impact of Place

This issue is worthy of serious consideration as part of a business owner’s deliberations regarding location. There is a significant correlation between productivity and the relationship between where the people are and where a business is located. This is true for staff productivity associated with their commute, both for active travel benefits as well as productive time use, in addition to the relative benefits of clustering, supply chain economics and economies of scale (agglomeration).


Flexible Working Arrangements

Implementing flexible working arrangements such as Activity Based Working (ABW) is a means by which to improve the efficacy of office space by reducing the amount of area required for permanent staff desks. However, proponents of ABW suggest there are many more benefits to the business owner, including; –

  • Staff concentrate better.
  • They are more productive.
  • They are more active during working hours.
  • They are more likely to collaborate and contribute to knowledge sharing.
  • They are more mindful of their tasks and activities.
  • They enjoy working more.


Workplace and Workspace Design

In the context of productive workspaces, it is important to acknowledge the value of design and how that might contribute towards instilling a sense of pride within staff when reflecting upon and working in their office. Pride is acknowledged as a powerful motivator for staff that results in improved productivity. Another design-related element which contributes to improved productivity for staff is good office ergonomics, particularly with regard to furniture design and operation of desks, chairs and on-screen-based activities. There is also mounting evidence that issues such as the choice of colour and the configuration of various workspaces can contribute significantly to productivity increases.


Workplace Innovation through Technology

Further opportunities are available for improving staff and business productivity through effective adoption and use of technology in the emerging digital realm and the establishment, measurement and monitoring of workplace health and well-being programs.



The effects on staff of business and company culture and workplace politics should not be forgotten in any discussion regarding workplace productivity within an office. In fact, the presence of issues in these areas could undermine all of the cumulative benefits discussed above.

So even though we have identified 7 separate layers or “skins” of workplace productivity, are we actually any closer to answering the core question of value or what it is all worth for businesses occupying or choosing new office space? Perhaps not, but there is significant empirical evidence to suggest that productivity improvements of beyond 15 percent are possible through the cumulative benefits of many of the types of initiatives discussed in this article.

I would also suggest that workplace productivity improvements as little as 6-10 percent may be sufficient to completely offset office rental costs and that should be enough to convince anyone to further explore the value proposition of each of these “layers”.


Darren BillsboroughDarren Bilsborough is the CEO of Australia based consultancy Office Space Matters and author of “Don’t Worry About The Rent: Choosing new office space to boost business performance”.