For the Boss: Easy Ways to Make Workspace Work Better

The author's workspace

The author's workspace

A well-planned office environment can improve productivity and efficiency and a properly designed, ergonomic workspace contributes to overall job satisfaction. Happy, productive employees are more likely to stay with your company and, while they're there, improve your bottom line. I'll give you three easy ways to make workspace work better, because this is not the letter you want to find taped to your door when you get to work Monday morning:

Dear Boss,

I love working for you; you’re a great boss. Our company’s mission is perfectly aligned to my personal values and I make good money. I have so much fun working with my team every day and we truly feel rewarded when we do good work.

However, my workspace is an ergonomic nightmare that has given me chronic lower back pain, migraines and carpal tunnel syndrome. I will suffer from the effects of this bad workspace for the rest of my life. I’ll never forgive you. I quit. And I’m taking the rest of the team with me.

Sincerely,

The American Office Worker

In case you've been encased in carbonite for the past hundred years, the landscape of the typical office has gone through some changes. In a nutshell, compare this Taylor-inspired office production line to this photo from the Taipei 101 Google Office. I rest my case. Surprisingly, though, bad workspace design continues to hurt the bottom line by creating a host of physical problems, not to mention decreased productivity and efficiency.

One of the potential benefits of the modern office is that in many fields people are increasingly able to work on their own terms, in conditions that fit their personal work habits. Work from home, the coffee shop across the street, from a mobile device in the back of your truck on a job site, or from the company lounge. The expectation that the modern office worker has the right to choose is so prevalent that Yahoo had to respond to the collective anger of the Internet when it changed company policy to restrict telecommuting.

Add to this that the incoming workforce values happiness over success, and you can expect to see a lot more letters like this being issued to workplaces that don't take care of their employees' workspace needs. Here are three easy ways for the boss to make workspace work better.

1) Adjust your junk.

Go to a typical workstation in your office, lay down on the floor, and look up at the underside of the seat. Disclaimer: Do not do this when someone is sitting in the chair, or you will end up with an even worse kind of letter delivered to your door.

Back to the task at hand; who manufactured your office chairs? Call the rep and ask them to send someone down to your office to give a training session to teach all employees how to properly adjust their task chairs and work surfaces for proper ergonomic support. Make sure everyone gets a chance to adjust their workspace after the training session.

2) Don't ask, don't tell.

This is how a lot of businesses operate, and it's why some of your people are using filing cabinets for their personal effects while sensitive documents are stacked in unlabeled piles on the floor. This is absolutely not the way to improve your bottom line. Let's amend this to, ask and tell. If you already have a plan for regular performance evaluations, make a point at this meeting to ask people what they think of their workspace and make sure they can follow up and tell you if something isn't working for them down the road.

If you don't have regular performance evaluations, choose a few key people to get the discussion started. Not sure who to ask? Keep an eye out for the Office MacGyver, who may have rigged her keyboard tray with duct tape and removed the arms on her task chair/disarmed a bomb with her trusty paperclip. I'm sure she can give you some pointers.

3) Work smarter, not harder.

If you don't already hate this phrase then you haven't been reading enough Dilbert. When it comes to workplace layout, though, your workspaces should connect people who need to work together with the resources they need to get it done. If I have to walk across the whole building, down a level, and into the parking garage to retrieve a print job I might as well take the car to get a coffee while I'm there.

This falls into the category of things you should hire a licensed interior designer to do. It will take an outsider's eye to analyze how you work, develop solutions that meet the needs of all your employees, and benchmark before and after to determine the return on investment achieved by the layout changes. Under no circumstances should you give this task to your niece who loves HGTV and "has an eye for these things," according to her mother. I know that's how you redecorated your entry lobby (and just between you and me, we can all tell).

So, as I was saying, a well-planned office environment can improve productivity and efficiency and a properly designed, ergonomic workspace contributes to overall job satisfaction. Happy, productive employees are more likely to stay with your company and, while they're there, improve your bottom line. I've just given you three easy ways to make workspace work better. Why are you still sitting there? Get moving, boss!