The role of a Facilities Manager in Space Planning & Employee Wellbeing

Workplace wellbeing has been trending recently in business circles. As experts in business productivity have contributed with proof, it stands clear that space planning and intelligent building design play a big role in the quality of life for professionals which in turn directly influences the output of a company.

What is the connection between space planning and wellbeing?

There are many aspects that factor in an individual’s sense of wellbeing at work, starting with their social surroundings and level of interaction with peers. Introverts and extroverts alike have to co-exist and work as a team, while issues like personal space and freedom of expression need to be accounted for. Space allocation has a great impact on how these workplace relationships are formed. For example, crowded desks and narrow spaces have been shown to have a negative effect on mood and productivity, while details like air quality and light intensity create subconscious limitations.

How has Space Planning changed?

Space planning has changed over the decades to accommodate new work trends and technological advancements. From individual offices with common areas in the middle (think of a Mad Men set design) to the fully open plan office developed in Berlin and meant to promote equality amongst workers, to the famous cubicle (fun fact: Intel CEO, Andy Grove, used one), the ideal office design has been a product of each decade’s view on wellbeing and productivity. Break rooms and lunch spaces have also become an important topic, as shown in a recent Safety & Health Practitioner report. Encouraging employees to have a nutritious lunch away from their desk has been proven to promote a happier office life and lower the levels of stress associated with office jobs.

These days, as cloud computing has taken off, the office can be anywhere: a skyscraper, a plane, a coffee shop or a living room. Subsequently, this has had two major effects, one positive and one negative. The former is that people have flexibility now, they can change their surroundings with ease if they feel stifled or bored, while the latter refers to the stress of never being truly out-of-office.

Is hotdesking necessary?

This has also made the concept of “hotdesking” become, well… hot. In densely populated areas like London or San Francisco, where every centimetre of office space translates into an additional expense, hotdesking has become a necessity rather than just a buzzword. This is a practice where, for example, a company with 100 employees only rents 80 desks. The surplus is usually routed through flexible, work-from-home schemes, common working areas, and other remote solutions. This works into the modern workforce’s need for flexibility, as highlighted by a Facilities Show social media poll, where 55% of respondents ranked flexible work arrangements as more important than free fruit or exercise time.

Fac Poll

Another key aspect where space planning affects wellbeing is when it interferes with an individual’s sense of focus. A conductive workplace should provide employees with a space where elements don’t compete for their attention. The open plan office struggles here, mainly due to noise pollution. Different teams and departments have different work styles, from boisterous meetings where great ideas are produced to quiet developers who implement these strategies. There is still no perfect ratio that fits all companies, but many have found success in balancing the open plan with a few individual rooms, where quiet meetings or phone calls can be held.

What role do Facilities Managers (FMs) play in the wellbeing levels of employees?

FMs are key decision makers in areas that directly influence the physical and psychological wellbeing of employees. Lighting levels, air quality, thermal comfort, and safety features are all under an FM’s control. This, in turn, has a big impact on what FMs expect from field service companies. Things like being able to comply with high-detail, scheduling-intensive contracts can be a great competitive advantage. If a field service company employs quality software, they can prove that they’re able to uphold service level agreements and implement a planned preventative maintenance strategy that shields the FM from any liabilities.

All in all, the domino effect is clear - employees benefit from fast reactive work that saves them from trouble such as non-functioning HVAC units, foul smells from drainage issues, or poor lighting quality. These are all stress factors that can influence business productivity, so the effect is felt all the way to a company’s bottom line. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s favour to be aware of the link between space-planning and employee wellbeing.