Considerations for Effective Workplace Planning

Introduction

In the current economic climate, it is not just employees who are coming under scrutiny in most organisations, but the effective use of work space as well.

With major advancements in the use and accessibility to mobile technology, it’s less difficult and in some instances a lot more efficient for both employer and employee to agree a flexible working arrangement. So in addition to the traditional arrangements for office based personnel, employees have become able to do the job from home and work from several locales through the working week. Even when in an office environment, hot-desking, touch-down areas or hotelling are all common arrangements being designed for the mobile employees.

In providing this flexibility, it is necessary that the employer considers how in order that the business premises are utilized to their maximum efficiency. It’s really a major task for just about any employer, who will not wish to see rows and rows of empty desks day after day.

Successful workplace planning is one thing that lots of firms are considering. There is much to take into consideration such as minimum space requirements, lighting requirements, fire exit and disabled access considerations , to name but a few. So seeking the help and advice of a dedicated workplace planning contractor can be a good commitment.

It’s not only about successful planning and utilisation of space. Is mobile working along with the construction of touch down areas best suited for your business? In most firms, the company way of life as well as the flexibility of employees will mean that such initiatives are appropriate. In other companies it might not. There are numerous areas to consider in arranging the work area environment. No two businesses are identical. For one business, it might be determined that a stimulating working climate for employees is required, whereas with other companies effective use of area within the office site will be a priority. Which ever is the best for your business, you’ll want to make certain that the company’s culture and values are clearly appreciated by employees.

The task itinerary can take weeks or in the case of larger initiatives several months to finish. Either way, from the beginning the task needs to demonstrate a clear plan to maximise the use of space, office and layout design, building timescales and management of contractors whilst on site. The company’s employees will also need to be temporarily relocated while the work is undertaken. There are also exacting health and safety regulations with regards to the work place, which must be adhered to in the planning of the project.

Work environment planning contractors will undertake an audit of the company premises in an attempt to fully grasp if this type of system is likely to be a success. From your contractors perspective, it’s a valuable exercise, to take the time to discuss and agree the specifications with the client to ensure that once the course of action is agreed, work is going to be scheduled to make sure the minimal disruption to the business.

Building contractors carry out office fit outs to improve the operating environment of any organisation.

What should be taken into consideration when planning the workplace area?

One of the most critical considerations when undertaking workplace planning is to be absolutely clear about what tasks will be performed in the designated areas. Different layouts, different furniture, the amount of space required, should all be considered depending upon the tasks to be employed in the area. So whether the workplace is to be for permanent staff or flexible workers, consideration needs to be given to the comfort of the working environment, to aid productivity.

Permanent workers will spend many hours at their work station so it is important that consideration is given to individual work areas. The correct provision of the appropriate office furniture and equipment all aid productivity and efficiency levels. Each employee will require their own personal space around their work station. No one likes to be cramped in and there are many variations of desk design, from single to multi desk designs to ensure enough space for each employee.

Comfort at the work station is a key priority to ensure that health problems are avoided through being in the seated position for long periods of time, so a comfortable chair is essential. Lighting is also a key consideration. A more pleasant working environment is created where the office has good natural light , but consideration will also need to be given to avoid glare on computer screens. Telephone communication also needs to be well positioned on the desk. Equally, for the flexible worker, ease of connecting up a laptop and mobile phone will be essential.

It is important to take into account all of these issues to, as far as possible avoid distractions from other areas of the office which could interfere with work. However, employers need to get the balance right, as it is just as important to maintain good communication and working relationships within the office. Ensure that every employee has ample space to effectively and efficiently undertake their tasks, without being distracted by other workers close by. Therefore, in some cases, the inclusion of a meeting room to enable one-to-one or group discussions to be held, may be another effective element of the office design.

In my opinion, the most effective way in which to ensure that employees buy-in to what the employer is trying to achieve is to consult with the employees. Through consultation, the employees can give their views on what type of workstation will be best suited to performing the tasks.

For example if the environment is to be used by a sales person, where regular communication with clients is required, then a slightly more secluded working environment may be preferred to avoid background noise, particularly if discussing detailed proposals or contracts. A sales person is one type of employee who will have flexible working requirements, where a small amount of their working week will be spent in the office, whilst the rest of their time will be spent out on the road visiting potential and existing clients.

If the environment is in a finance department or call centre, then the use of system desking or multi seated work stations may be a more appropriate solution, where a number of employees can be seated in a work area together. Whatever the intended working environment consider the views of the employees.

Wherever businesses wish to minimize overheads, give some thought to office refurbs along with workspace assessment campaigns.

Health and Safety in the office

Whatever the office conditions, the employees should be allowed a degree of flexibility to arrange their work station to suit their own needs. As long as the employer has provided and considered the requirements of the working environment to allow employees to undertake their work effectively, employees will want to add a personal touch to their own work area. As long as employees do not place their own health and safety or that of others at risk, then there is nothing wrong with the employer allowing some flexibility with this.
Guidelines for use of equipment at the workstation

Taking time to ensure the comfort of employees at the workstation can eliminate health and safety problems in the future. Every one enjoys working near a window and if this is possible, the glare from windows onto a computer screen can make reading of the screen difficult. Therefore, window blinds or shades need will need to be installed to enable employees to control lighting conditions.

In situations, where the workstation is to be used for longer periods of time, guidelines recommend that the use of computers may require an anti-glare filter to be placed across the screen to eliminate problems with reflection. A computer screen is recommended to be at least 25cm from eye level.

It is also necessary to ensure that enough electrical sockets are available, for additional communications equipment such as mobile phone chargers and laptops.

Employees may also require printers or scanners to be located on their workstation.
The correct seating is critical of any workstation design. Perhaps the most important feature of the workstation is the provision of the correct type of office chair. Many hours will be spent seated at the workstation, so the better the quality of office furniture, the less likelihood there will be of receiving complaints from employees about discomfort in the back, shoulder or neck area of the body. The chairs comfort and design can impact upon how effective or productive the employee will be. So it is good practice to test some office chairs for comfort before purchasing too many.

Good morale amongst employees is positive for your business and a comfortable working environment will help the cause. I was recently involved in a project to set up a new call centre to house eighty call centre agents. Following much discussion with the office design contractor and consultation with around twenty existing agents, plans for the new look office were agreed before the contractor went away to draft the plans. The existing agents felt that team working was important and therefore it was agreed that the most effective office layout would be for the call centre agents to be grouped in teams of six around a circular desk system.

Once the plans were finalized, over a three month period the office layout was developed. Taking time to involve the existing agents has proved very effective indeed, with all call centre disciplines showing good signs of improvement.

An enormous spectrum of industrial shelving can be obtained to fit each and every businesses needs.

Fire Exit Considerations

No matter what type of business you operate, employers must comply with regulations around safety at work, and this includes what to do in the event of a fire.In today’s health and safety led environment whether it is at home or in the office, the installation of smoke detectors is common place.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, was introduced to provide guidelines for businesses on what reasonable steps should be taken to reduce the risk from fire, to occupants of the premises . More importantly the Order contains advice to business owners to ensure that a safe escape plan is in place should fire occur.

Generally speaking, ensuring fire safety within premises is a common sense approach. It is important that in any workplace planning programme, that time is taken to identify for example, where the nearest exit routes are for employees to safely leave the building and where employees should congregate upon evacuation of the premises.

In some premises of course, hazardous materials may be in use within the building and therefore it is wise to seek further advice from the fire service who can advise on how to take specific precautions. Equally, office buildings on several floors will also require advice from fire safety experts to ensure safe escape routes are identified. Many businesses now appoint fire marshals whose responsibility it is, to make sure that every one within the building is briefed about what they should do in the event of a fire.

In any work environment , escape routes should be safely and immediately accessible at all times and suitable for the number of people likely to use them. They should not be obstructed in any way and accessible for emergency services.

Guidelines do recommend that at least two fire exits should be available if a premises is to be occupied by more than 60 people. The guidelines also extend to the number of flights of stairs and passages of corridors, so your workplace planning considerations will need to comply with the regulations.

Disabled Access

There are many considerations for employers to be mindful of when planning to accommodate disabled people within offices and premises. Under the Disability Discrimination Act every business is required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the working environment to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against.

These include making adjustments to the workplace to ensure ease of access for the disabled and providing suitable modified office furniture to provide the same level of office comfort as able bodied employees.

Conclusion

It can be a cost effective solution to engage with a workplace planning specialist to review the layout of your current workenvironment. There are many rules and regulations to comply with, so taking time to consider the implications of exactly what is required is imperative. Do not under estimate the amount of issues to consider in making your workplace a pleasant working environment.

Unfortunately we live in a society where employees are quick to point the finger of blame at their employer for failing to provide the correct workstation or office furniture. So the contractor and client should take time to undertake a site survey, establish what is required from both the employer’s point of view and that of the employee to ensure that the end result meets both the needs of the employer and the employee. Productivity and morale will be greatly improved in a pleasant working environment.



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This post was written by Noel D'Costa on July 16, 2010

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