Following our What Coworkers Want report, where we surveyed nearly 2,000 coworkers about 48 different office features, we’ve created a practical guide on how to keep your coworkers happy. The five tips below are based on the aspects of an office with the biggest satisfaction gaps i.e. the difference between the importance of the office feature minus the level of satisfaction. These are essentially the areas that flexible offices should be trying to improve in order to provide an overall happy place to work.
1. Enhance your air quality
If there is one aspect that flexible offices need to improve, it’s air quality. It has the greatest satisfaction gap, with 80% of flexible office workers thinking that air quality is important, but only 52% feeling satisfied with it.
The first part of tackling this problem is to measure it. An increasing number of flexible offices providers are now continuously measuring the air quality of their workspaces and 62% measure it at least monthly. Once you have a measurement system in place, the next stage is to actually do something about it. It’s not as simple as opening a few windows, particularly given that in city centres the air outside a building can be poorer quality than the air inside.
So what can you actually do to improve air quality within an office? Some easy things to look for are checking that all air vents are open and unblocked. Regularly replacing air filters can make a big difference. Keeping offices clean with lower levels of dust and rubbish will help. Finally, plants can help improve air quality (see our Science-backed guide to plants for flexible offices for more details).
2. Be mindful of noise levels
Office noise also saw a large satisfaction gap, with 78% of flexible office workers thinking it’s important, but only 53% being happy with the sound levels in their current office. It’s a slightly tricky one to control, but there are steps than can be taken to help.
Not only do plants help improve air quality and cultivate a more natural atmosphere, they also help reduce sound transmission by blocking high-frequency noise and the supporting infrastructure can help reduce low-frequency sounds. Bare brick walls, swathes of glass and minimalist rooms with little furniture might look trendy, but it’s softer materials such as carpet and comfy sofas that will soak up the sound. Acoustic office screens have a similar effect.
Reducing noise is not the only consideration. Providing ‘loud’ areas where sound is encouraged, such as games rooms or breakout areas, can be win-win. It enables workers a to interact and talk without feeling like they’re disturbing workers around them, and it also keeps other areas quieter with fewer distractions.
3. Maintain an ideal temperature
78% of flexible office workers think that office temperature is important, but only 55% are happy with it. It’s a contentious topic. You’d be hard-pressed to find an office worker who hasn’t disagreed with their colleagues about their workplace temperature at least once. Whilst some workers are laced with beads of sweat and fanning themselves with their notebooks, colleagues right next to them are wrapped in winter coats and thick woollen scarves.
In the UK, the government states that working environments must have a “reasonable” temperature, with guidance stating that it shouldn’t get below 16°C, or 13°C if the work involves physical activity. That’s all well and good, but what’s the optimum temperature? Research from the Indoor Environment Group at the Berkeley Lab found that a temperature of around 22°C results in the highest productivity. Some flexible offices now have individual temperature control units for each room.
4. Provide quiet rooms
It might seem like an obvious component of an office to get right, but most flexible offices aren’t providing sufficient quiet spaces. 76% of flexible office workers think that having access to a quiet space for focussed work is important, yet only 54% are happy with their current access to one. The issue could be one, or a combination, of the following: (a) there are no quiet rooms, (b) there are quiet rooms but accessing them is difficult or (c) the ‘quiet’ rooms aren’t actually very quiet.
If a flexible office doesn’t offer quiet rooms at all, then it would be worth exploring how best to incorporate them, given it’s a key feature of an ideal office. Many flexible offices now have small ‘phone booth’ style quiet rooms that don’t require huge amounts of space. A key advantage of this is that more fit into a given space, and workers are less likely to struggle to find a free one. If the problem lies with the room itself not actually being quiet, providing ‘loud’ areas for people to talk openly as previously discussed or replacing walls with material that’s more soundproof are good options.
5. Comfort of work area
Having a comfortable work area is absolutely key. It was ranked the single most important aspect of an office out of the 48 factors that we explored, with 82% of respondents thinking it’s important, but only 61% being satisfied with their current work area comfort levels. It impacts wellbeing and productivity: it’s challenging to work efficiently if you feel uncomfortable.
Having a ‘comfortable work area’ is slightly ambiguous, as it can mean different things to different people. However, following the previously discussed tips around improving air quality, being mindful of noise levels and maintaining an ideal temperature should all help cultivate a comfortable work area.