Tag Archives: #productivity

How sound (of all things) can make a building healthier

We’ve all had a night where we just can’t sleep. Right now it’s mostly down to the heat but often it’ll be noises that are keeping you up; it could be because of the neighbours, traffic, or a noisy fan on a hot night. Or, there might be some days where you just can’t focus in the office because of the low hum coming from the breakroom or street.

These phenomena aren’t just annoying, they can be damaging to your health, productivity, and mood. However, they’re not inevitable. In fact, building design can play a big part in controlling “noise pollution” with building acoustics. Let’s take a brief look at how this works.

Why are acoustics important in building design?

Noise pollution is harmful or annoying levels of noise. This may have a bigger impact on health than one may realise; certainly, being deprived of sleep is a serious problem. However, it can also impact our health more generally. Consistently being in an irritated state can lead to high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and migraines.

It can also harm productivity. If we are constantly distracted, it naturally affects our output. According to a study from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), 70% of office workers reported that noise affects their productivity. With this in mind, optimising acoustics has the potential to create a lot of value for companies. But how do architects and engineers achieve this?

How do building acoustics work?

In buildings, there are two types of noise. This might sound like a strange concept, but it touches on how noise travels: it’s either airborne or structure-borne. Structure-borne noise is affected by the volume and geometry of a space. The position of the walls will impact the transmission and reflection of sound. Materials will also play an important part, as some absorb sound better than others, thus reducing noise.

Other design features will also play an important part in managing airborne noise. Some of the main culprits in most offices are:

  • Noisy HVAC systems.
  • Improper partitioning of areas.
  • Poor acoustic insulation.

However, there are steps that architects and engineers can take to control this noise. Even before a site is chosen, they can monitor environmental noise to assess whether or not a site is suitable for the project. Aeroplane noise, for example, could be a significant factor to consider.

For example, modelling and simulations can help to estimate a building’s acoustic function. Using insulating materials is another useful strategy, as well as testing and measuring sound levels on site. This enables architects to fine-tune the design at the construction phase.

Equipment selection will also play an important role. Often, budget options could produce unwanted noise; however, there are design steps that can be taken to reduce noise and vibrations from HVAC systems.

A healthier building in every sense

When we think of healthy building design, we often think of air qualitysustainability, and light. However, sound is an important factor that may be overlooked. As we’ve discussed, it can have a significant impact on the end user’s well-being, so should be carefully considered. Designing healthy buildings should consider all of the users’ needs and senses, and sound is more important than you may think.



The perks and pitfalls of a hybrid working model

The COVID lockdowns completely changed our relationship with how we work. Remote working ushered in a new era for many organisations, many of which were surprised by its efficacy. Now, some are toying with moving to a hybrid model permanently. But what are the implications of this move?

If you’re not familiar with the term, hybrid working is when staff work partly from home and partly on-site. This arrangement gives employees greater flexibility; according to a recent Salesforce survey, at least 64% of workers would like to work from home occasionally. A further 37% said they would like to work remotely permanently.

So, if employees are so open to the idea, why aren’t we all packing up and moving to hybrid now? In reality, the issue is a little more complex, which we’ll discuss here.

Productivity vs. efficiency vs. attention

The hybrid model has the potential to redefine how we measure performance. Traditionally, employers wanted to keep an eye on their staff to guarantee the hours worked. Achievement was measured by hours put in, over and above everything. However, if a staff member is working from home, how can you ever really know?

This, instead, shifts the emphasis to results over hours spent at the desk. Many argue that this is a very positive development; staff are more motivated to do their best work as they know managers are concerned with the output, not how it’s achieved.

However, the hybrid model does have the potential to create an over politicised workforce. In a hybrid model, the office is likely to remain the nerve centre of the operation. Those that spend more time there are likely to get more attention and air time, while those at home get sidelined, no matter the quality of their work.

Reducing rents – but at what cost?

It’s a simple sum – fewer employees means you need less space. This could save companies a substantial amount in rent and supplies. It also works the other way; employees can work in more affordable locales away from city centres and spend less on commuting.

But what about the psychological cost of being away from your colleagues? Without the opportunity for so-called “water cooler moments” and face-to-face discussions, communication has become much more intentional. Sometimes, this can stymie ideas, slow down decision making, and even have a negative impact on employee mental health.

Where should your priorities lie?

The reason many people like working from home is it enables them to have a better work-life balance. Without the commute or fixed hours, workers have more time to spend with their families or do the things they love. This prioritisation of their needs will generally cultivate more positive feelings towards their bosses.

Employee prioritisation may sound nice, but is this really what a business should be focussing on right now? Cyber-attacks and data loss, for example, are more likely when communicating from changing locations. Companies need to have a carefully formulated cybersecurity plan to ensure safety or risk major financial or customer data-related blunders.

These are critical questions for modern business. It seems like the hybrid model is going to become an increasingly common arrangement, but companies need to consider how to make it work for them. With a clearer picture of some of the pros and cons, management can think about how to start planning.



How light impacts productivity

Lighting is an important component of any space. It’s an integral part of a building user’s comfort, along with temperature, ventilation and layout, and certainly shouldn’t take a back seat. In fact, when it comes to productivity, it should be a major consideration; in fact, lighting can impact productivity just as much as an uncomfortable temperature or stuffy atmosphere.

According to a study conducted by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), an astonishing 68% of employees think the light in their workspace is inadequate. So what can designers and building managers do to improve these conditions? From good old fashioned fixes to new technologies, there are various solutions – it’s just a question of identifying your team’s most pressing need. Let’s look closer.

Control and colour

The survey conducted by ASID found a few key concerns; primarily, ample lighting is important. If daylight from windows isn’t available, then overhead lighting is essential, especially for task-based productivity. However, one intense light throughout the day isn’t the ideal scenario; in a perfect world, employees want to control. This could be individual desk lights or the installation of a smart lighting system to adjust with natural light levels.

Light intensity is only one consideration; another important factor is colour temperature. The crucial colour in the spectrum is daylight which, unsurprisingly, has an intimate relationship to wakefulness and productivity. Daylight is closer to the white end of the spectrum, as opposed to tungsten light, which is yellow. Employees are more energetic under white light, which is more akin to sunlight at high noon. Meanwhile, yellow light is more like the so-called “golden hour” when the sun sets, which can make people feel lethargic.

Of course, finding the right light temperature for the space will depend on how much natural sunlight is available and the unique features of the location. Achieving the right lighting in terms of colour temperature, coupled with giving employees more control over the lighting in general, can result in a boost in productivity and happier, more motivated workers.

A new hue in the mix

However, there is another colour temperature that’s playing a big role in our energy levels – blue light. Blue light is emitted by devices like computers, televisions, and phone screens, and has a unique effect on our moods and energy levels, both in the office and at home.

A National Sleep Foundation study showed that the glow from electronic devices suppresses melatonin and interferes with falling and staying asleep. A good night’s sleep is, of course, crucial to productivity, but as we all know too well, these devices are becoming increasingly central to our day-to-day working life – especially as remote working becomes the norm.

There are solutions emerging to manage the impact of blue light on our moods and motivation. Research conducted at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business collected data from a Brazil-based company to measure the impact of blue light filtration. Participants were randomly chosen to test glasses that filter blue light or placebo glasses.

According to the lead researcher, “We found that wearing blue-light-filtering glasses is an effective intervention to improve sleep”, which in turn, led to better “work engagement, task performance and organisational behaviour and reduced counterproductive work behaviour.”

Technological solutions for a fundamental issue

When it comes to optimising the light in your workspace, there is a range of solutions, from architectural strategies to individual tools. The question at hand for bosses is identifying the business’s most pressing need. For example, if your building is already flooded with natural light, perhaps access to blue light filtration is the boost your team needs. Or, if there are a limited amount of windows, it might be a question of getting back to basics with the right colour temperature.

Either way, light is key to employees’ comfort, which in turn, is essential to their performance. Light should be built into your plan for a comfortable workspace, so make sure it’s on the agenda, whether you’re embarking on a whole new build or just making some design tweaks to your office space.



How to keep the social element of your working life alive as remote working becomes the norm

The average workday is normally peppered with social interactions. In the average office, you didn’t really need to try too hard to build relationships with your colleagues. This is because you’d see them in social spaces like the kitchen, by the coffee machine, during meetings, or going for the occasional pint after work.

However, when the pandemic hit, this all changed. As remote working became the norm, we had fewer opportunities to socialise with colleagues – and this is important. The Society for Human Resource Management’s Employee Job Satisfaction and Employee Report revealed that morale and retention rates all improve when employees feel connected to one another.

As we mentioned in our previous article on increased productivity while remote working, all this progress will be undermined if we can’t sustain a positive working environment. This means staying social – here are some tips on how.

Make yourself available

Like many people who began working from home during the pandemic, you might be finding it challenging to balance home and work life. Alternatively, you might be enjoying the flexibility that allows you to go for long walks or jogs during the day. This time to yourself is important, but you also need to make time for your colleagues. It’s not to suggest that you have to be at your desk or on the phone all day, but it’s good to share your schedule so colleagues know when they can contact you. This will stop you from slipping off the grid.

Be visible

Where possible, seeing each other fosters a greater connection than hearing each other. This means opting for video conferencing where possible and make sure cameras are on. Being able to interpret facial expressions and body language will make all the difference, and plus, it prevents you from getting distracted. However, you can still feel distant on a video call, particularly in large groups. A good strategy to get everyone engaged is to kick off with an ice-breaker question – something silly like, what’s your favourite animal or ice cream flavour. The key is to keep it light.

Have a bit of fun

The ice-breaker tip brings us onto perhaps the most important point – which is to remember to have a bit of fun. Endless video conferencing can feel a bit stilted, so make the effort to ensure not every interaction is formal. Organising morning or afternoon online coffee breaks can give you the chance to talk about things non-work related, or equally, an online after-work happy hour. Zoom birthday drinks will also help remind staff they’re part of a team that values them.

Keep looking out for each other

The pandemic has been challenging – and it’s going to affect our lives for a long time to come. Changes in our working environment, like remote working, are set to continue. A recent report from Buffer and AngelList found that 20% of remote workers feel lonely, and ultimately, this will knock productivity. In light of this, we need to be mindful of how best to support each other and stay connected.

The techniques are simple, it just requires a little extra effort. Often, it’ll be down to leaders to facilitate this new working environment, but the benefits will quickly become clear. According to research by the World Economic Forum, sociable workplaces are productive workplaces – so it’s time to nurture this environment in our new context.



The final stretch: Tips to keep productivity up post easing of restrictions

When we first moved to remote working during the first COVID lockdown, many bosses were surprised by the uptick in productivity. Tasks that used to be months worth of work were suddenly achieved in a matter of weeks; employees problem-solving capabilities increased, and delivery times have been cut. Some might say the crisis created a sense of urgency or direction.

As we emerge from the third round of restrictions, most companies are looking at how they can sustain these gains and come out of the pandemic fighting. In addition to operational resilience, we need to think about how to maintain employee morale. With the right strategy, we can continue to drive the transformative power of this newfound productivity. Here are three ways how.

1. Restructure the working environment

From streamlining finances to meeting new consumer demands, the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to reappraise what work adds value. These actions were critical to survival – in essence, the pandemic has compelled us to ‘trim the fat’ off the working day. To maintain these lessons moving forward, we need to assess what work is essential and what is, to put it bluntly, a waste of time.

To illustrate: management should strive for absolute clarity in terms of communicating strategy. This will enable employees to efficiently glean the “must-have” outcomes, alongside a compelling reason as to why they’re essential and the value they’ll create. Equally, this notion of the trimming of the fat could be extended to how we structure the workday; if staff might work better from home or with a flexi-time structure, fine. Give them what they need to flourish.

2. Empower employees

Productivity also rocketed during lockdown because the relationship between staff and management shifted. In the confines of their own home workers were, by nature, more independent. This enabled them to make bold decisions on the fly, whereas before, they would have felt they had to seek permission. If the wisdom of the Agile methodology is anything to go by, the benefits of autonomous, enterprising employees far outweigh the risks.

Naturally, this speed – agility if you will – boosted productivity during the lockdown. To maintain this, leaders need to think about how their management style can facilitate this independent thought. Meanwhile, the clear, goal-oriented communication mentioned in our first point will support this hands-off approach, while keeping the team on course.

3. Develop resilience

Resilience is certainly a positive trait – however, constantly testing resilience can have serious implications for team morale. Remember when we all thought the first lockdown would only last three weeks or so? The fact is, many people are jaded, which is fair enough. Finding a sustainable cadence is difficult, especially in the face of so much adversity.

However, the upshot is that resilience isn’t a fundamental trait, it’s something that can be taught. Resilience is a skill, which means it can be developed, strengthened, and maintained. Via self-awareness and motivation, teams can keep going. Therefore, it’s vital that management invests in developing these skills, even if it’s through simple morale-boosting activities like team meetings or socials.

Creating positivity out of a crisis

Once we fully emerge from the pandemic, hard times will still be ahead. Although many European economies are enjoying a better bounce-back than forecast, the next 12 to 24 months will be challenging. This means that focussing on tangible goals – like targets, structures, and processes – will help focus our minds.

Equally, this approach will enable us to maintain some of the productivity gains we discovered during the lockdowns. By focussing on the things we can control and measure, we can maintain resilience during the years to come – while developing this essential skill.