Alan Pepper is Chief Executive at Avanta Serviced Office Group plc. Avanta Managed Offices Limited was formed in 2004 and as of the 29 July 2013, became a Serviced Office Group Plc company. The company offers high quality and cost effective serviced offices, meeting rooms and virtual offices in prime locations throughout London and the UK.
Productivity is about making the very most of the time spent working.
Decades of statistics suggest that working long hours is no guarantee of business success. Indeed, 2011 statistics showed Greek employees worked the longest hours in Europe, yet their productivity was well below the continental average. Looking at Greece’s economic woes it’s clear that quality, rather than quantity, of work is paramount.
The UK and the United States are already near the top of the productivity table. Much of this comes down to the fact that we have high standards of technology and communications infrastructure, staff are well trained and generally paid well for their labour. However, with recent ONS figures showing that UK productivity has still not recovered to pre-recession levels, there is plenty of room for improvement.
So, where are the opportunities to further increase productivity? How do office space providers help clients to find that extra few per cent that will set them apart from the competition? Well, some answers may be found in thinking about the work environment itself:
Tap into the ‘forgotten’ senses
The way an office looks is often a major decision, and rightly so: it’s the physical representation of a client’s business. In terms of productivity, well designed space can surround an employee with all the assets they need to work effectively. However, this focus on the physical environment means that our other four senses are largely ignored in discussions about the optimal work environment. As office space providers, we’re often guilty of speaking about square footage, rates and service levels to the exclusion of broader ideas.
For example, the sense of smell has been proven to have a profound impact upon productivity and a sense of wellbeing. Takasago, Japan’s biggest producer of fragrances, found that people working with computers made 54% fewer typing errors when the workplace was scented with lemon; 33% fewer with jasmine; and 20% fewer with lavender. Avanta’s own recent research also shows a strong connection between the world of work and our sense of smell – over two thirds of British adults believe that how an office smells affects their productivity, morale and attitude.
Nearly a year after trialling Ascent, a fragrance that Avanta created with the former head of the British Society of Perfumers and distributed to business centre clients, we still receive regular feedback that staff are more stimulated and energised by the aroma.
If there’s one working practice that generates strong opinions, it’s flexible working. There are valid pros and cons, but most agree that an appropriate and sensible flexible working policy can pay dividends for a business. It’s a debate that firms in every business centre are having, to a greater or lesser extent.
The job of a progressive office space provider is to accommodate and, if possible, anticipate potential changes in working practices. Many clients are finding that flexible working doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’, and small tweaks to regular working practices can make their employees’ lives easier, increase company loyalty and have a positive effect on productivity.
One idea that is gaining some traction is to shift the working day by 30 minutes. This allows working parents to complete the school run and all staff to avoid both the morning and evening rush hours. It’s a simple solution, and one that will have a minimal negative impact upon those businesses that don’t need to be answering the phones at 9am sharp.
As an office space provider, this may mean that something as simple as altering the cleaning schedule could make a difference, so that those staff leaving a bit later don’t have to step over mops and buckets in the reception area.
Working from home can also allow employees to plough through their work without the distraction of ringing phones or the ever-tempting office gossip. Here, there is a great opportunity for the office space industry to add services such as virtual offices and call forwarding.
Every business varies, and there are certainly some roles where a presence in the office is critical; but treating a workforce like adults often reaps rewards, through gratitude, trust and commitment, and that’s something that our industry should be fully supportive of.
Location, location, location
The concept of ‘agglomeration economies’ has been gaining traction over the last year – a term that neatly encapsulates the idea that innovation and standards are boosted when similar businesses are located close to each other. New York’s Wall Street is an established example, whilst London’s Tech City is growing rapidly year on year. Entrepreneurship, regardless of sector, follows a very similar pattern.
Indeed, we’ve found from experience that ambitious entrepreneurs flourish when they’re surrounded by similarly driven individuals.
Those entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to be working in the same industry. In fact, people working in different sectors can often bring new perspectives and solutions. This is one of the great advantages of working in serviced offices or co-working spaces in a major urban centre; the cross-pollination of ideas and inspiration.
Some businesses have known this for years, and others have been coming round to it recently. In either case, it underlines the importance of picking the right location for a business centre or serviced office. It also demonstrates that well located and designed office space can be a catalyst for innovation and networking: an integral part of a client’s success.
Office space providers should therefore be thinking about how they can help facilitate cross-collaboration, either through well-designed communal areas or organising social and networking events. This is what will lead to high retention rates and loyal, engaged clients.
Productivity can be increased by looking at the broader work environment and need not necessarily require large, if any, investment.
Whilst all three ideas outlined above could all make a significant impact to a client’s bottom line, they all point to the same truism: that it needn’t be expensive or difficult to increase productivity in business – it’s simply a case of thinking slightly differently – and office space providers can drive that change.