To-date we’ve surveyed 4,500 office workers across Europe, in nine different countries. The UK results, in particular, threw up some interesting results. Not least that the British feel the least fulfilled in the workplace and cite the most concern with their uninspirational surroundings. While this may highlight some worrying trends it also makes clear the commercial design opportunity to create a real difference.
Indoor air quality is office workers’ number one concern. Interestingly, the UK was the only nation to put this issue above noise, which is perhaps reflective of air quality being so high on the political and media agenda in this particular market.
Like the rest of Europe, where noise and air quality are seen to be the biggest issues across the board, employees are craving greater control over their environments. They want to feel that work spaces are tailored - if only in some part - to their individual needs. Whether that translates into being able to adjust the climate or, at the very least, find an alternative space away from the noise and distraction on the open floor.
The issue is, in the UK, open plan layouts are dominant. 58% currently work this way, whereas private and co-working spaces are more popular elsewhere in Europe.
What this means is fewer opportunities for uninterrupted focus. And the indicates that this could be having much more of an impact on employee happiness (and therefore productivity) than organisations realise.
While open plan designs are intended to help foster collaboration, far more UK employees identify as being naturally ‘independent’ workers. In fact, with only 10% considering themselves as having a ‘collaborative’ working style (the lowest in Europe), could this bias towards open plan be contributing to greater levels of dissatisfaction?
Certainly the research shows that preferred working styles could be a major factor in the general happiness of the office working population.
Across all territories, independent workers are less positive about their surroundings, more likely to feel invisible, more likely to display ambivalence, feel more challenged in meeting their responsibilities and place higher importance on their home and working lives being in sync. This, of course, comes down to much more than their physical environment but there is a connection that’s worth exploring. This is especially the case in the UK where a much higher proportion of people acknowledge they’re most comfortable working alone, yet most are forced into a collaborative setting.
What UK office workers think they want
Strangely, given the choice, most UK office workers would opt to work in open plan settings. Perhaps this is because open plan is what they’re most familiar with - even if it isn’t necessarily the optimal layout for all people, at all times. And perhaps actually not what they really want, which is a space that caters to different tasks. Furthermore, it could be that - while noise is perceived to be a major issue - what it actually comes down to is office layout and bad acoustics. Even more fundamentally, organisational culture.
A shift in mindset
More than anything, what UK office workers are actually craving, is greater flex. 40% want more amenable working hours. But it’s not just about when they work. It relates to where and how they work too.
While over half (53%) see the growing convergence between home and work as a benefit, the research tells us that worklife flex is not being widely catered for in UK workplaces. 57% never work from home, for example, which is high compared to other European countries. Without employers embracing more fluid ways of enabling work, we could see a growing gap between how people want to conduct their lives and the office working reality.
That said, although workers want flexibility, they still demand the structure that ‘going to the office’ provides:
58% of UK workers believe they are most productive in the office. They want and need a place of work.
These insights suggest a need to redefine how we think about the ‘office’ as a destination - taking into account the need for greater ‘flex’.
From a design perspective, supporting a more fluid worklife within office design is about addressing the need for ‘balance’. What the research squarely shows is that it isn’t about creating imaginative ‘playground’ style workspaces. Far from it. Only 1 in 10 people said they would be impressed by corporate ‘fun houses’ featuring games rooms, ball pits and slides. They simply want functional spaces that allow them to do the job they’re paid to do. Stripped-back Scadinavian style interiors with practical features won out, with 25% saying this would be their ideal backdrop.
So, what UK office workers really want is actually far less extravagant than employers may think.
As one of the architect’s that participated in our TGI Live London focus group event aptly put it, what they need is everything and nothing at the same time:
“From a health and wellbeing perspective, architects and designers can support worklife by making everything available. But there is also a need to create areas where absolutely nothing is available. People need peace and quiet - it’s a positive trend. Sometimes it’s good to do nothing.”
For more insights into how the UK benchmarks against the rest of Europe, download the ‘Rethinking Workplace’ report.