By Becca Wilson
From storage to lighting, space management to ergonomic furniture - working in a visually appealing office can help increase productivity, prevent injury and save costs. Becca Wilson reports on how office interiors can help create the perfect office environment.
Most people spend the majority of their time at work and in a city (Dubai) where many employees work more than their contracted hours, employers should make sure the working environment is as comfortable as possible.
But what does office design have to do with facilities management? Untimatly, the FM is responsible for creating a functional, efficient, cost-effective and productive office environment.
When a member of staff needs additional storage, who do they call? If a light bulb blows, who will replace it? If the company is expanding and decides that investing in some space management software will give them additional space, who will organise the office move? The answer to all these questions is the facilities management team.
Internationally, it is well known that the office environment can effect an employees productivity, health and motivation. Richard Holmes, business development manager of WILA, agrees with this comment and says, "we spend a lot of time at work and peolple are gradually, certainly across Europe, getting to grips with the idea that if the workplace is a nice place to be then people will stay there longer.
"Productivity automatically increases and you don't have to do many studies to find out that people who have nice offices, don't have so many problems. If people invest a little bit of time and money in their office space, then they will reap the rewards because their staff will be happier."
Shariah Khodjasteh echos Holmes' statement and expresses his thoughts on why office design is so important. "Office design is important because it's a commercial investment. Investors into the business need to get the most out of their space and their environment."
But it's not just about looking after one of your most expensive assets, it's also about creating a relaxing and ambient atmosphere in which people can work effectively. "It's not only about cost efficiency, it's also work efficiency, it's ergonomics, it's storage - there's so many thing relating to office design that makes it so important," Khodjasteh adds.
Thomas Bene, from the board of Bene AG, explains there is an obvious link between office design and employee productivity. "We are convinced there is a clear correlation between the design of office and workplace environments, corporate spirit and success. Consequently, office furnishing becomes a tool with a strong impact on organisational identity, values and philosophy, which is communicated to the inside and the outside, to employees and business partners."
He goes on the say that, "created as high-end, ergonomic and smart office environments, they enhance people's motivation, productivity and work satisfaction - not to forget the positive impact on corporate business performance."
The Middle East's ever-growing commercial office space might make it seem like there is enough available on the market to meet demand. However, office space in the region is expensive and with some buildings, especially the older ones, having awkward and problematic mechanical, electrical and space planning concerns - good quality office space is often difficult to find.
"Facilities managers will find retrofits challenging because it will depend on exactly how those buildings have been planned. MEP is a very, very important factor in any buildings fit-out. The positioning of electricity, cabling, air conditioning and lighting is very important and the better it is designed in the building, the easier a retrofit will be," explains Khodjasteh.
"Owners of these buildings must realise that investment into that part of the building is crucial and they really shouldn't cut corners. People don't consider the cost that goes into redoing air conditioning units and the infrastructure of those systems," he adds.
If the MEP work has been done correctly, space management of office furniture, meetings rooms, reception areas etc, can be then be thought about.
Space planning & hot-desking
With offices rents increasing, companies who are expanding can sometimes not afford to look for bigger office space. An answer to this problem could be utilising the space the company currently has to create more room.
"Companies can either invest in more space, which is becoming more expensive whether it's rent or to purchase, or the other option instead is to use the space effectively," says Khodjasteh.
Space management software allows the FM to input all movable and non-movable objects and play around with the layout of the office until a suitable one is found.
But another factor to take into consideration is how the current office space is used. Are there meeting rooms not being used that could be turned into offices? Are the sales staff in your company at their desks for less than 50% of the day?
If the answer to the last questions is "yes", then maybe the hot-desking concept could help save you considerable space. In basic terms, hot-desking is a way of saving space by giving more than one employee access to a work station.
"The people who need a fixed position, get a fixed position - management let's say and secretarial. But when it comes to the sales force who are going out of the office, using a hot-desking system can really be effective," Khodjasteh claims.
However, hot-desking is still a relatively unused term in the Middle East and one companies could benefit from if used correctly.
Ergonomics & furniture
Health & safety at work is a focal spotlight for many international companies, with many laws and regulations governing it.
Good ergonomics can reduce employee injury, increase productivity and employee satisfaction and reduced absenteeism. The most attractive benefit of good ergonomics for a company is an increase in profits. Using the right furniture will help to reduce health problems and sick days can decrease, meaning increased productivity.
However, the concept isn't really practiced here in the Middle East and companies are currently setting themselves up for profit loss if they do not start using internationals standards as a benchmark.
"Furniture needs to be ergonomic, chairs - especially if people are sitting down all day, the ergonomics of a chair are very, very important. A lot of companies don't invest to that kind of stuff. Ergonomics not only in seating but in tables, storage and access to storage," comments Khodjasteh.
"Aesthetics is something that people are changing now with time, people are definately wanting to create nicer environments. It's something that is very important because if you are working in an environment that is aesthetically pleasing and you're happy with your environment you work better, you are more productive and efficient."
There are many different solutions to ergonomics and the first one starts with employee education. If employees know how they should be sitting and at what height their monitor should be, they can access whether or not their work station is right for them. "That is what this place needs, education. It needs to be driven into the minds of the employers and employees," he adds.
Another solution is to purchase furniture than can be mechanically or electrically adjusted to suit an individuals wants and needs. This may be an initial expense, but the pay back could well turn into profit is sustainable furniture is bought.
Many manufacturers have regular contact with facilities management professionals and are therefore able to design flexible furniture that meets FMs requirements.
In all of this, it's important to remember that the strain on the human body is what needs minimising.
"You can talk about science all day long but ultimately, we're human beings and lifestyle is one of the main factors that people should consider when they are designing good quality office space," says Holmes.
The problem with lighting is that even though many developers would agree that the positioning of lighting would make the property more appealing to potential renters or buyers, it doesn't add value to the building. "They (the developers) try and do it on the bear minimum because ultimately, they are in business the same as what we are," states Holmes.
So what kind of lighting is good for a productive office? Directives and regulations in other parts of the world have meant forced companies to install some upward lighting. This particular type of lighting has been proven to be a better way to light the office.
"CIBSE (Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers) are now saying that when you design an office space, you should put 50% of the light on the walls and 30% of light on the ceiling," explains Holmes.
Another kind to consider is suspended lighting. "It gives you equal distribution all around - up, sidewards and down. That kind of light is proven to be the best quality of light to work in because if you think about daylight, daylight doesn't go upwards, it goes all around. It comes in through a window and bounces off the walls and floors and every other surface," Holmes says.
The right kind of lighting in an office can increase visability, reduce fatigue and again, increase productivity.
Storage is an area that is often forgotten about. In the past, grey filing cabinets have not exactly given companies the enthusiasm to invest in decent storage because it used to look so ugly.
But presently, there are many different storage solutions available in the market. "There are storage solutions that can save a lot of space. There are solutions that can become walls rather that putting up a wall and therefore, can be utilised in spaces that wouldn't normally be used for storage.
"A lot of companies are now going digital but you're never going to turn the office into a paperless one. In this part of the world at this stage, I don't think it's possible to get rid of hard copy," claims Khodjasteh.
Storage also needs to be in easy reach for employees if it is to fall under good ergonomics.
Finally, office design needent cost a lot of money. Good office design can be achieved with a number of budgets, all it needs it a little planning. If money is a little tight, using good quality refurbished furniture can not only keep spending within budget, but can also boost a companies points if they are striving to achieve LEED status.