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Solutions for an Effective Workplace [Infographic]

In the world of work, things are never as simple as they seem. Motivating your team, managing workloads and keeping everything organised can keep you busy all day, every day! So we’ve put together this handy infographic filled with suggestions on how to solve these issues and make your office a happier and more productive place to work…

Solutions for an Effective Workplace – An infographic by the team at Louch Shacklock

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The Problem: Your employees are making very little headway with their workloads.

The modern working day now consists of a number of working “moments” as opposed to a full day spent focusing on a single task. Think back to your own work day; it’s probably punctuated by emails, phone calls, meetings, questions, and solving problems. Everything’s broken up in to ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty minute increments and you never get the chance to really sit down and get stuck in to your workload.

In order to get the meaningful stuff done, the real meat and bones of your job, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time. Time in which you can really get stuck in to a task and get it done. In the generation of open plan offices, many of us barely manage half an hour of time to ourselves in the office, and this is why your employees are making very little headway with their work.

This kind of work imbalance also leads to increased stress levels, and increased time off work with sick days; a vicious cycle which means even less work gets done.

Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, spoke at a TED conference in 2010 about why work doesn’t happen at work, and offers three suggestions for making work work for you, and your employees:

Solution: As Jason mentions in his presentation, when people want to get something done, they typically want one of three things: A place (such as a room in the house, or a coffee shop), a moving object (basically their commute whether it’s the car, train, or bus), or a time (such as really early in the morning, late at night or on weekends). With the current format of our working weeks, it isn’t always feasible to have people in the office over the weekend but not in during the week. Why not consider allowing flexible working hours instead to give your staff the freedom they need to get their work done with fewer interruptions.

Whilst we’re on the subject of interruptions; during an average 45 hour working week, a whopping 17 of those hours are considered to be unproductive. The majority of these unproductive working hours are the results of unnecessary meetings. Try to cut down on meetings and only have them if they are absolutely essential. This will allow people to get stuck in to a task, rather than being pulled away for a five minute discussion they didn’t need to be a part of.

Encouraging more passive means of communication, such as emails and IM, would also help to reduce the friction in the office. Rather than having to get up and ask questions or give feedback to each other, why not have your staff try something like Skype for personal conversations and quick questions. Not only will this reduce the number of meetings, it’ll also help to reduce the levels of noise in the office. Which brings us nicely on to problem number two…

Problem: You are receiving complaints about noise levels in your open plan office.

Open plan offices have their pros and cons. Whilst they encourage collaboration and freedom of communication between the different departments in your business, they can also hinder free speech and increase stress levels.

In a survey of 5000+ working individuals carried out by Leesman, it was found that noise levels were rated as the 10th most important environment factor in an office behind desks, chairs, computing equipment, telephone equipment, temperature control, printing and copying equipment, personal storage, natural light and meeting rooms.

In the same survey, 78% of the respondents reported that phone conversations are an important part of work. However, 47% also reported that they were dissatisfied with noise levels in the office. Noisy offices can distract your staff and prevent them from being able to concentrate on the task in hand.

Solution: In order to reduce friction in your office, ensuring that there are a few designated quiet workspaces will allow individuals to escape from the chatter and buzz in the main office. As an aside to this, a few small meeting rooms which are fully equipped with computers, phones and notepads will offer privacy for phone conferences and private conversations, without interrupting the rest of your staff.

Finally, Julian Treasure, in his 2009 TEDGlobal presentation, talked about the importance of sound and how it affects us. He suggests listening to ocean waves whilst we work. Now, not all of us can position our offices right next to the seaside (we can dream) but plug in your headphones and listen to the surf and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll feel more relaxed. Why? Because ocean waves has a frequency of roughly 12 cycles a minute, which is incredibly soothing, and we associate it with being stress-free and on holiday! Check out Julian’s full speech here:

Even if you do manage to get the noise levels in your office under control, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your productivity issues will be fixed…

Problem: Employees are struggling to stay focused on their tasks.

There are many reasons why your employees might be struggling to stay on task. Perhaps its personal issues, noise levels, a frustrating client, the list is endless! But did you ever stop to think that light might be the issue?

Poor office lighting can not only result in eyestrain, migraine, headaches, lethargy, and irritability, but it can also be a factor in poor concentration. Don’t believe us? A study carried out by the Lighting Research Center in 2003 found that workers in offices with windows spent 15% more time on task than colleagues in windowless offices.

Solution: First and foremost, natural light is the preferred method of lighting in the office, so where possible, try to ensure that your employees have access to natural light and work for the most part in an office with windows.

Secondly, get a professional in to inspect your current lighting system. This is really the only way to assess your current situation. They will be able to tell you what’s wrong (if anything) with your current lighting (perhaps the light isn’t being spread up the walls evenly, creating a dark and dingy feel – not great for morale).

The CIBSE code for lighting recommends that mechanical workshops and supermarkets operate at 750 lux; general offices, CAD work stations and conference/meeting rooms operate at 500 lux; and rooms used for tasks such as filing operate at 300 lux. To put this in to perspective, 400 lux is the equivalent to sunrise or sunset on a clear day.

Problem: Poor accuracy and attention to detail.

Your employees are submitting reports, writing up programmes and sending out emails with errors in them. Aside from encouraging your staff to proof-read their work thoroughly, or buddying up and getting someone else to proof their work, what can you do?

Smells could make a big difference to the accuracy and attention to detail! A study carried out by Japan’s largest producer of fragrances, Takasago; found that typing errors were greatly reduced by:

54% when the workplace was scented with lemon

33% when the workplace was scented with jasmine

20% when the workplace was scented with lavender

Surprised? So were we…

Solution: With scents, you need to take in to consideration that not everyone in your office will like each smell; it may even be enough to trigger headaches or nausea in some individuals, so before you do anything, run the idea past all of the members of your team to avoid any potential friction. Once you’ve had the conversation with everyone, why not try a couple of diffusers dotted around the office? They are fairly inexpensive and give off a much longer-lasting, and subtle, scent than plug-ins.

If the consensus is that diffusers would be too much, why not try simply switching the hand wash and hand cream in the bathrooms to scented versions. It’s a subtle change that will introduce the psychology of smell in to your workplace, without overpowering anyone.

Once you’ve got the attention to detail under control, there’s still the issue of organisation…

Problem: Too much time is being wasted searching for papers and information.

Don’t think that you waste that much time looking for paperwork? Think again! The average person wasted approximately 4.3 hours a week searching for papers. Out of a working week, that’s nearly a full day of productivity lost! It’s even worse for those higher up in the business, with the average executive losing an entire hour a day searching for missing information.

This kind of problem is easily remedied though. So fret not.

Solution: Having a structured way of saving and storing information, whether it’s digital or print, that you and your entire team adheres to will ensure that missing papers and documents become a thing of the past. Using software such as Google Drive, which allows your entire team access to and can be accessed from the cloud means you’ll never have to lug paperwork around with you to meetings again!

It’s also worth setting aside an hour or so each week which is dedicated solely to organising your work. Add it as an event in your calendar, perhaps for a Friday afternoon, and never skip the appointment. You’ll thank yourself in the future.

Finally…

Problem: Too many sick days are being taken.

Whether it’s through illnesses or stress; sick days are an inevitable part of office culture. From the flu to migraines there’s unfortunately very little that can be done to totally protect your staff from viruses and ailments.

However, in a Danish study, it was found that the more people working in a single room, the number of employees taking sick leave increased. This comes as no surprise; the more people, the more chance for germs to spread. What is surprising is that workers in a two person office took, on average, 50% more sick leave than those in single occupancy offices. Those in a fully open office took on average 62% more time off than those in a single occupancy office.

Further to this, environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, Kelly Reynolds, conducted a study on the spread of germs in the workplace. Targeting an office of 80 people, they ask 10 of those to volunteer to be “artificially inoculated” with a virus which infects bacteria rather than humans. The chosen virus acts in a very similar way to that of influenza.

The results? By 12 noon, just four hours after the virus was planted, over 50% of the commonly used surfaces (door handles, copying machines, coffee pots) had traces of the virus, and over 50% of the employees had the virus on their hands. With the spread happening so fast, it’s no surprise that so many sick days are being taken. Scary stuff.

Solution: Disinfectant. Sprays, wipes, hand gels; make them readily available for your staff to use as and when they see fit. Kelly suggested to her staff that they wipe down their work areas at least twice a day, perhaps once when they get in in the morning and again after lunch, or just before they leave for the day.

As viruses and germs can survive for up to 3 days on different surfaces, doing this will help to eliminate bacteria, and reduce the likelihood of that cold being spread round your entire team.

In addition to this, we’ve all been in to work when we’re sick. This does not help. Not only is your work likely to be below your usual standard because you are under the weather, you’re also likely to infect other members of your team, essentially creating a domino effect! Make sure that your staff know your sick policy, and if they are ill that they stay at home. Having one person off for a couple of days is definitely favourable to having your entire team off for a few days.

Finally, the more people in an office, the more germs and viruses are likely to enter the atmosphere and spread. Try not to overfill your office. Instead, consider breaking your team up by department to create smaller offices. Not only will this reduce noise levels, and therefore stress levels, but the number of viruses being brought in and spread in that area would be kept to a minimum.

What problems do you face daily in your office and what have you done to overcome those obstacles?

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