John Wanamaker, the nineteenth century American industrialist famously said, ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.’

Return on investment is a challenge for every business, especially those using human capital. Ultimately, this is not a question of efficiency, it’s about output. The UK's seems unable to close the productivity gap with the other G7 economies and has lagged behind them by around 16 % for some time. Compared with some of these countries our shortfall is more than 20%, so these more efficient nations could take every Friday off and still be more productive than us. Economists point to two factors holding the UK back; lack of investment and poor quality management. Beyond this lies a broader concern about skill levels in the UK workforce.

For office based work, research about how we use our time reveals some uncomfortable truths. Most people only use 60% of the available time at work, executives spend six weeks a year looking for lost documents, businesses send their employees far too many emails and the biggest complaint of all – too many meetings. More recently it’s been estimated that we spend as much as 60 % of our time on ‘work about work’. It’s a wonder we get anything done at all.

designing for productivity quote cardThe productivity challenge looks systemic and cultural but does the design of the workplace have a part to play in promoting or encouraging improved productivity? We all feel we know, instinctively, what a badly designed workplace looks like, we know when we feel unmotivated by our surroundings, and that’s often a product of physical factors like noise, poor lighting, inadequate personal space and disconnection from colleagues which leads to a lack of a collegiate and collaborative work ethic. Most organizations know that fostering employees’ wellbeing promotes better output and higher productivity; after all it’s human nature to work harder if we feel valued.

Distilling the stronger ideas about workplace design for productivity reveals some key themes; the importance of natural light, planting or some connection to nature and work settings that reflect the way teams work and collaborate. Perhaps more difficult to design, productive workplaces also need to be somewhere that employees feel at home, so they need to reflect a summation of personal values.

In our role as Project Managers, working with Bennetts Associates, Architect of The Royal College of Pathologists’ new headquarters in Alie Street we spent some time understanding the culture of the client’s organization to ensure it could be reflected in the workplace floors of this multi-use building . The resulting workplace is calm, human scale, flooded with day light and offers a variety of work settings for every task, as well as offering breakout for work and social interaction. If our buildings shape us, this is space designed for productivity.

Now I really need to go and do something useful, if only I could find that document.

The future of the workplace is second-hand

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