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Why Workspaces Designed By Employees Inspire More Productivity

The average employee spends at least eight hours of their day at work. That’s almost 2000 hours a year and more than 50,000 hours in a lifetime, until retirement. Since people spend such a substantial part of their lives at work, it’s important to ensure they have a say over their workspaces.

Typically, most companies allow people to personalize their work tables and their immediate surroundings. People tend to express their personality and creativity through things like family pictures, quirky pen holders and calendars, small potted plants or vases with a single flower and so on.

For The Employees, By The Employees

However, these little freedoms invite no collaboration between coworkers and they don’t wield a huge influence on the overall work environment. Also, it’s important to note that while everybody may not be creative enough to customize their workspace, everybody will benefit from an overall customization of the workspace.

For, when work environments are inspirational and connect with the needs of the people who work there, it can positively impact the quality of their work. As more and more companies realize that productivity and the work environment are intimately linked, it’s no longer possible to overlook investing in designing better work spaces.

However, many of these decisions are made in consultation with only key members of the work team or left to the HR. In doing so, managements forget that designing the workspace is as much an employee decision as it is a company decision.  

Case Study 1: The Semco Lounge Of The Repurposed

At one point, the factory employees at Semco decided amongst themselves to repurpose materials that would have otherwise been thrown into recycling or the garbage. They created a lounge-like space for themselves using materials like wooden pallets, cardboard boxes and other recycling materials. They planned to use the proposed space to unwind during factory hours, to have a drink or a barbeque at work. They also planned to beautify empty spaces around the factory and the garden in order to improve their work environment.

Superficially, the project wouldn’t bring any benefit or savings to the company. Neither was it a proposition to optimize the chain of production or any other business practice for that matter. Instead, it was one that solely meant to improve the workers’ quality of life at work and Semco felt that it needed to be valued and encouraged. So the factory workers went ahead and created a cool, colourful lounge space with little tables, chairs and hammocks  where they could take a break and relax.

Case Study 2: Orange Is The New Blue

The current CEO of Semco recalls an incident when the company had just bought a new building and was renovating it. They had to make a decision about the color of the walls in the reception area. The institutional color of Semco is blue and so the obvious decision would have been to paint the walls blue. However, the employees decided they wanted to be a part of this decision and they set up a 3-member committee to choose a wall color.

The next time the CEO walked by the reception area, he saw that the walls had been painted orange! Puzzled, he asked the relevant employees, “Why have the walls been painted orange?”, to which he received the answer, “Well, we wanted to choose the color ourselves. So we chose orange!”

That incident made the CEO realize that he wasn’t going to be at the reception most of the times and that it shouldn’t matter what color he wants. It should be the choice of the employees because they’re the ones who need to work in that space and it needs to be a color they like and want to see around them!

Small Changes With Big Impact

These are examples of win-win decision-making, which can create significant advantages for the company as well as the employees. Frankly speaking, the impact of these decisions on the bottom line and the day-to-day management is very minimal. But, in many conventionally-run companies, it’s the managers and top-level leaders who make the final call on how the office space should like - even though they’re highly unlikely to work out of those spaces themselves.

So, instead of spending company money on implementing such top-down decisions, organizations will benefit from employees deciding what they want and don’t want in their work environments. Small participatory decisions boost engagement and ownership among employees. Contrary to popular belief, having full autonomy to decide how their workspaces look like has a big impact on the employees, while having very little impact on the business.

This is also an easy first step to introduce a culture of participatory decision-making without ruffling too many feathers - and at the same time, showing the traditionalists the benefits involved.

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