Customising workplace design and technology Customising workplace design and technology

In today’s fragile and often unpredictable business sector, productivity has never been so crucial. Dan Smith, General Manager for Integrated Marketing, Xerox, MEA, (DMO), explains how by making small, but influential, changes to the way your office operates, both on a physical practical level and technological basis, substantial efficiency can be achieved.

Dan Smith, General Manager for Integrated Marketing, Xerox, MEA (DMO)

The function and quality of the work environment has a direct and positive effect on the effectiveness of office workers, meaning design and technology should be catalysts to building a more efficient environment, rather than act as barriers to success. Proactively managing the physical layout and the implementation of needed technology will help support organisational goals and attract better employees.

Designs for the way you work

Unfortunately, the majority of today’s workplaces have layouts rooted in the industrial era – one person, one desk, one chair, and one machine, usually placed in rows and rows of generic cubicles. There is still a fundamental notion that the physical setting is merely a backdrop to the work preformed, rather than a primary contributor to the success of an organisation.
However, work culture is very subtle – slight differences in processes impact the way work is done. For example, a lawyer may require a private office for client meetings, while software engineers need open group environments for mind sharing and a pharmaceutical salesman requires a home office to act as a base while travelling.

The concept of activity settings is that an all-purpose open workstation for each person no longer suffices. Instead, people need access to multiple workplaces or settings. Each activity setting supports a specific activity rather than attempting to support all of the activities of a person’s workday. Activity settings do not focus on trying to completely outfit individuals as workstations are designed to do, but instead emphasise serving the shared needs of work teams and of the office force as a whole.

Versatile in nature, people can work anywhere; however they are more inclined to want to work together. Different settings with different features allow people to work the way they need to. Activity settings encourage individual initiative and collaboration. People are given the freedom to optimise their own performance through dedicated and shared home bases, group spaces, up-to-date technology, networks and environmental control. Instead of each person having their own all-purpose workstation, fax, computer, printer and storage and perhaps a small meeting area, each of these things are located inter-dependably. There are computer work areas and places for making phone calls – some of high acoustic privacy for intensive concentration – and open informal meeting areas to allow people to collaborate in less rigid ways.

The presence of activity settings continues to increase today as knowledge work becomes more prominent. With this concept, private offices seem obsolete, as they do not foster collaboration. In addition to public spaces such as libraries, conference rooms, shared storage, a kitchen and shared equipment space, private spaces should be provided within an organization for employees to separate themselves from their workgroup when needed.

When approaching the design of an office, managers must ask themselves these questions:

  • Is this space for an individual or for a group?
  • Is this a dedicated or shared space?
  • Is this space open or closed?
  • A balanced combination of areas meeting the different space requirements of the organisation is necessary to enhance employee creativity, individual performance and foster teamwork. Admittedly, what can be done in terms of design is directly related to the available resources and how much can be invested to make the improvements. However, if managers understand the people and information flow of their business, they are well on their way to understand how to create maximum efficiency.

Maximising IT through document management

Activity settings cannot work without the right level of technical support. In fact, easy access to the right technology is one of the most critical factors impacting workplace quality. IT must be used correctly to re-invent work environments and foster collaboration.

In order to optimise IT, businesses need to focus on the information the technology is managing. It’s the information – moving in and out of organisations by document form– that generates new ideas and drives decisions. However, the costs that lie in the production, distribution and use of documents are a hidden, overlooked and misunderstood aspect of business cost and productivity.

In a recent survey of executives, Xerox Corporation and IDC discovered that 83% of organisations say documents that contain information – generating new ideas and driving organisational decisions – are critical to all business processes, yet only 44% measure document-related costs.

Effective document management has the potential to unleash a new wave of information worker productivity in the American workplace. In fact, research indicates that information within documents is needed thousands of times per day – to satisfy a customer, to close a deal, to make the most of an opportunity, to minimise a risk. Businesses that improve the way they work with documents improve the way they do business – resulting in additional benefits to the bottom line.

Not all businesses are the same, yet all should consider the following if they want to achieve greater productivity:

  1. Assess how documents impact the business. People spend up to 40% of their workday creating and looking for information in documents. It is a competitive advantage for companies to make that time more productive and less costly. Take the time to assess how your people create, share, store and access documents. Assessment is too often skipped by executives and consultants, yet is essential for linking technology investments to ROI. Find out if multifunction systems that copy, print, fax, scan and e-mail, can better meet the company’s document management needs than multiple standalone devices.
  2. Review current processes. By understanding where knowledge exists and how it is transferred, businesses can identify inefficiencies before adding new technology. Ask: Are employees spending valuable time writing, editing and printing documents that become outdated within a few weeks? Can employees access the documents they need when they need them? Are obsolete documents taking up space in a warehouse?
  3. Review current communication activities. 90% of customer communication is through documents, making the content and distribution of these documents vital to the way the company wins and keeps customers. It is important to determine how to best get the right information to your customers in a way that will have the greatest impact.
  4. Understand new technology options. Multifunction systems are now offered at a price range to fit every budget. Assess document output needs and consider outsourcing as a way to free up time to focus on core business objectives. For example, recent improvements have made network colour printing extremely fast, easy to use and affordable. Adding colour to documents can make businesses appear more professional and help communicate important information more effectively.
  5. Go beyond print management. Printing and output is only part of the equation. The real productivity advantages come in re-thinking the whole way that work flows through the office. Combining software programs and XML tools with the new output devices can result in a solution that helps people more quickly understand and route information within documents – significantly decreasing time spent on document processes.
  6. Remember the employees. Billions of dollars are spent on technology without considering the impact it will have on employees. To ensure new technology is deployed most effectively, consider work habits and cultural norms that will be affected and train employees so they understand how the implementation will integrate with your current processes.
  7. Measure return on investment. Establish metrics and benchmarks for productivity improvements before making the technology decisions. Companies that improve their management and control of documents and the information they hold will demonstrate reduced print and output costs up to 40%.

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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