The future of the workplace is about designing productivity

“The majority of office design focuses on reducing the cost of the space rather than on inspiring people to do better work”, says Despina Katsikakis, an expert on how design impacts business performance.

Historically, real estate value has been measured on efficiency of the space, but working space is approximately 10 percent of a company's expenditure, while people – the membrane of any business – comprise 80 percent of expenses. Yet despite these figures, according to Gallup, 70 percent of people are disengaged and disenfranchised at work. As Katsikakis pignantly says, “we are spending a lot of money on people, but we’re not getting the most out of them.”

Absenteeism and stress related illnesses are costing corporations billions, in the UK alone, 55 percent of people say that their workplace has negatively impacted their well being. Which is why using the workplace to drive even small improvement on engagement and wellbeing can make a significant business impact. According to a 2015 survey by a UK firm, 1,989 office workers were asked how many hours they spent “productively working” each day. The average was a mere two hours and 53 minutes. But while Katsikakis is currently working on a skyscraper in the City of London, it seems that the notion of light is still not as rightfully present in the drive to design productivity.

Space and common areas for work and play are very much a part of a the new productive office space build. Air also has risen to be an important component, as Katsikakis says “it’s easy to underestimate just how significant an office’s air quality is. In one test in the US, they doubled the capacity of the ventilation, which cost around £15 to £30 per occupant per year, and the impact on productivity was over £5,000 per employee per year.” Yet it still seems as though, while Katsikakis does consider its importance, our ability and resources to create light that is sensitive to our circadian rhythms are still largely untapped.

So you might ask then, how can productivity be designed, technically? The answer is much more simple than imagined. If we can create buildings to suit a certain design ethos – which to date has been efficiency of space to fit as many employees as possible for a minimum budget – then we can reshape how our buildings are made to boost productivity, which relies on: light, air, incorporation of nature and a sense of space.

From the 2016 example of Italian architect Carlo Ratti’s interchangeable office space that works to suit each and every employee as they navigate throughout the building, to the new type of work and live office spaces, making our indoors smart and improving the wellbeing of workers is a trend on the rise. As the indoor workforce increased, we’ve been predominantly occupied with creating affordable infrastructure that houses the growing number of people sitting at their office desk – but along this journey we have overlooked the individual, the body; our biological needs and the importance of wellbeing for the production of work. What this new designing productivity movement is setting out to do is reshape the concept of workspace and to save businesses millions while along the way – are you ready to join?