Employee performance boosted by offices upgrades, studies show

by Dave Gallagher
    When it comes to employee productivity, are companies headed in the right direction?
It doesn’t appear to be the case if you go by recent national surveys on the topic. In one survey conducted by Microsoft, 38,000 workers surveyed said that even though they are working longer hours, they are averaging only three productive days per week.

When Dale Hendricks (right) and his partners at Oltman Insurance moved into a new facility last year, they made sure to get feedback from their employees about how they wanted the new layout, and productivity has been boosted as a result, he said.

    There were a variety of reasons why workers felt that 16 hours of their average 45-hour workweek (up from the standard 40 hours per week) was being wasted. The top time-wasters, according to the survey, included unclear objectives, lack of team communication and ineffective meetings.
    Gerrit Byeman, owner of GBA Design, has seen more situations in recent years where time is being wasted by other companies. He has owned the graphic-design company for more than 30 years, and can attest to the fact that working with business clients is becoming more time-consuming.
    “It used to be that I would sit down with the boss to go over a project, I’d be in and out the door that day,” Byeman said. “Now there are usually four or five people involved and it slows things down. I guess it is good in some ways because there are more ideas being brought to the table, but it doesn’t help productivity.”
    Another recent national survey done by CCH Inc. shows that the number of employees calling in sick has reached a five-year high – and 60 percent of those who call in aren’t actually ill, but are tending to personal needs. In a separate survey by Kronos Inc., a labor-management firm, more than 33 percent of workers say they lied about the need for sick days. Both surveys were reported in the Wall Street Journal.
    So what is going on here? How can business owners go against these trends and get the most out of their employees? For local business owners such as Byeman, it appears the simple solutions are the best.
    “I think in a lot of cases, it comes down to an employee’s self-worth and how they feel about the work they are doing,” Byeman said. “Employees just don’t hear ‘thank you’ or ‘job well done’ as often from their bosses anymore, and as a result people don’t really feel that much loyalty to the company they are working for.”

Taking pride in where you work
    One aspect of business that experts are finding plays a significant role in productivity is the appearance of the place where people work. Several studies have concluded that employees who were pleased with the look of their workplace were more likely satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave the company.
    That is something Dale Hendricks and his partners at Oltman Insurance had in mind when they decided to move into a larger location last year. They enlisted the help of their 12 employees in coming up with an office layout for their new space at 2417 Meridian St.
    “We took their ideas to our interior designer and came up with something the employees were quite happy with,” Hendricks said. “I think it has made a big difference in how efficiently work gets done around here.”
    The interior designer of Oltman’s new space, Jody Biermann of Biermann Design, said she thinks it is crucial to get input from the employees.
    “When employees are happy about their work environment, there is no doubt that they are more productive than if they are working in a cramped space with poor lighting,” Biermann said. “So much about what you can accomplish in a day is affected by how you are feeling.”
    The increase in space was probably the biggest factor that has made the office operate more smoothly, he said. Employees feel more comfortable in the new location, and customers don’t feel crowded.
    “It’s something we should have done a long time ago, but it’s one of those expenses you don’t think is that important until after you’re finished and you see the difference,” Hendricks said.
    When soliciting opinions from the employees, he found that personal space was high on the list.
    “You just can’t put enough importance on the work space,” Hendricks said. “Our employees didn’t have enough privacy in the old location, so there were a lot more distractions with people walking by and bumping into each other. Now they can get a lot more done.”
    Biermann agreed, saying giving employees enough space is the most important aspect of office design, and one of the most neglected.
    “Obviously, money is a factor when it comes to how much space one should have in an office,” Biermann said. “You can never have the optimum amount of space set aside for each employee, but sometimes you can create more room through designing what you have.”
    After space, lighting plays a crucial role.
    “Lighting really impacts a person’s emotions. Some people really can’t handle a lot of fluorescent lights, so trying to bring in as much natural light as possible can go a long way in making people more productive,” Biermann said.

Time to bend the rules?
    With so many people apparently calling in sick to attend to personal issues such as a sick child or elder parent, employers are being forced to either put up with the problem or develop new policies.
    Byeman said he tries to be more flexible when it comes to scheduling, but it can be challenging when the company is facing tight deadlines.
    “It is very common in today’s two-income society to try and be more flexible,” Byeman said. “As a business owner, what makes it difficult is when both parents are working, and one is my employee and the other works for a business that is not flexible with their scheduling. It’s my employee that always ends up having to leave to pick a child when they’re sick, and that can put more stress on my business.”
    When something is being abused by employees, such as flex time, it’s probably because the policy is out of date. Experts recommend revising policies when it comes to family issues and putting it down in writing so that one group of employees isn’t being favored over another.
    “You do need some sort of policy that does allow you to be flexible,” Byeman said. “And a lot of times it works both ways. If I can be flexible when an employee is dealing with a personal matter, they are more likely to reciprocate when I’m in a jam and need that employee to stay later to finish a project.”

Lots of meetings = micromanaging
    To cut down on time-wasting, ask your employees what is slowing them down, Byeman said.
    “Employees should be frank enough to let you know whether meetings are beneficial or a waste of time,” Byeman said. “It can become quite frustrating for employees if they feel they can’t get their job done because the boss is distracting them with meetings or always looking over their shoulder. That kind of micromanaging sends a message to the employee that says I don’t trust them enough to do their job.”
    Byeman said he found the best way to create an atmosphere where employees feel productive is to delegate authority and let them do the job without the constant meetings and updates. It can be easier said than done.
    “I know I have to check myself at times, because when I see someone doing a project a little differently than I would, it’s very tempting to go over and offer advice,” Byeman said. “But you have to delegate responsibility, and stick to it. I hired them because I thought they would be a benefit to the company, so I have to remember to let them use their talent without me interfering.”

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