Studies conducted in the past few decades on the lifestyle of people indicate that the buildings and environment they live, work or study, affects their productivity, satisfaction and learning levels. The relationship between the physical environment and office work efficiency have also been studied extensively to determine the role of lighting, partitions and color. Such findings are being applied to improve the modern office environment. The physical work environment has an immense effect on employees and work groups.
The effect of the design, ambience, lighting and aesthetics in an organization has been well recognized in almost all organizational behavior studies related to marketing and retailing. These factors affect the work environment, employees’ attitude, task performance and job satisfaction. The effectiveness of organizations in terms of productivity, satisfaction and organizational functioning, depend to a good extent on the environmental features. The capability of the surrounding environment to create a pleasant and receptive image is important mainly to service businesses like hotels, restaurants, professional offices, banks, hospitals etc. Bitner 1992). Here the service is generally offered and consumed simultaneously, the consumer experiencing the total service within the firm’s physical facility. Environment strongly influences the interactions between the user and provider from social and professional angles. When this influence is positive, there are more chances that the marketing outcome is also positive. But when the influence is negative, the marketing outcome is more likely to be negative too. The Signage, lighting, color, layout, textures, decorations, pictures etc. , are all controllable to produce desired effects.
The way these are presented can bring about an intended match between user and provider anticipated perceptions, which transforms to powerful impact on marketing results. Offices had started migrating from the fixed wall private type enclosures to the open-plan workplaces around the mid 1970s, due to decreased construction and maintenance costs. The characteristics of the physical settings in the office affects the levels of interpersonal contact. The open plan workplaces offered more flexibility and facilitated better communication between individuals and groups due to removal of barriers.
However, the communication in open plan workplaces is always subject to privacy risks (Kupritz). The removal of the four walls and door affects the privacy of employees, who feel that open plan cubicle workplaces have indeed reduced communication, as these don’t support confidential conversations. An interesting correlation to this shortcoming is observed from the research done by the Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation (BOSTI), which concluded that nearly two-third of workers in open type offices are often distracted by conversations going around them.
The research emphasized on the need of a distraction free environment, which it said was the most important factor affecting individual performance and group performance. The need for greater privacy and fewer distractions in the office environment was addressed by providing visual privacy and soundproofing. Toppers were introduced that offered workstations a partial roof. Frosted glass and plastic films were introduced for visual privacy in partitions and several sound absorbing and masking systems provided for speech security.
Maintaining privacy, sound control and generous personalization policies permitting display of personal objects improves employee satisfaction (Wells and Thelen). Flexible and movable partitions give workers the liberty to alter their exposure to visual distractions and nearby conversations. The comfort of the actual workers are to be given priority when designing the office, such that the physical environment suits the nature of the work intended to be done. The suitability of the physical environment is very important to job performance (DeMarco).
Open access to colleagues, managers and group meeting areas helps in developing closer relationships and boast team morale. One of the most contributing factor for increase in productivity is the arrangement of the restroom and break room. These should be located such that it allows workers to return to the desks in a timelier manner. Individual control over one’s work area is important when designating office environments and any decrease in this perception of control like arbitrary changes or reduction in office space usually lead to decrease in worker satisfaction.
When the workplace needs to accommodate older people, these should be designed such that it is user friendly to them in all aspects. Their workspaces should be positioned at appropriate suitable heights with window access, close proximity to conference rooms, reference materials, supplies and coworkers. At the individual level factors like gender, personal space (that which is secured from strangers) and other personality traits become satisfactory with particular office layouts. Access to outdoor and natural view provides a relaxing and influential environment as air quality affects performance and productivity.
By substantially increasing the ventilation rates in the office, employee morale and productivity can be boosted. Offices having plants benefit from clean air, besides providing greater appeal and comfort. Access to nature removes stress, anxiety while improving psychological function (Larsen et al) While working in small areas such as a cubicle, a sense of spaciousness is very crucial. Often small bits of paper clippings, photos or sticky notes are attached all over the cubicle walls, making an apparent space crunch. These can be replaced by medium sized or larger photos or wall hangings, which create warmth while allowing spacious look.
Making an artificial window within the cubicle using Plexiglas and Mylar film, backed by halogen lighting can also make the spaces warmer. Light is very important to our regular every day activities in the sense it allows us to see things and perform activities. Lighting affects human beings psychologically and physiologically and is therefore a crucial element of the work environment. Earlier the need and arrangement of lighting was restricted to the visibility factor. Subsequent researches showed that lighting directly impacts performance, as the human being is sensitive to certain qualities of light.
It has been found that the quality of light factors like color, temperature and the spectrum of light, are also important as its intensity. Lighting fixtures have begun to become more complicated and have also been designed to incorporate physiological effects and social tastes. Most buildings are lit by a combination of daylight through windows and electric lights. Sunlight has electromagnetic radiation corresponding to a wavelength range that can be absorbed by the eye. Sunlight has a balanced spectrum of colors with elements having wavelengths corresponding to entire visible range.
The artificial electric lights on the other hand have only those elements with wavelengths that are concentrated in certain areas of the visible light spectrum. However it has been found that sunlight does not have any significant advantage in carrying out visual work (Boyce), although it has health benefits like regulating circadian rhythms. Lighting conditions also affect the mood of the people to a large extent, which are likely to affect work behavior and work performance, although this cannot be uniformly applied to all.
Light radiations stimulate chemical reactions in the blood and other tissues when absorbed directly by the skin. It is important to note that the biological lighting needs of people are different from visual lighting needs, particularly for staff working during nights. Exposure to light helps in reducing depression, alleviating pain and improving sleep. Facility lighting need to provide high quality lighted environment while fulfilling human needs for light. The eye is capable of seeing an astonishing seven million colors.
Certain colors among them or color combinations can be irritating to the eye, causing headaches and even deteriorate vision. Some colors and color combinations on the other hand are more soothing and appealing. Thus appropriate use of colors can increase productivity, minimize visual fatigue, while even bringing the body to a relaxed state. Excessive muscular activity and fatigue of the eye occurs when color contrast is high, like when reading a white paper on a black or dark background. Some offices have dark conference or meeting rooms, which obviously have a high corporate look, but would not help in the conduct of business.
White surfaces reflect about 80% of the light while black surfaces reflect 5% that results in a light reflectance ratio of 16:1. According to the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), the maximum light reflectance ratio for a visual task and the adjacent surroundings should be 3:1. Pure bright yellow is perhaps the most fatiguing color. This is because more light is reflected by bright colors, resulting in excessive stimulation of the eyes. Thus yellow should be avoided while painting critical tasks environment or while making legal pads.
Although perceptions of colors are to some extent subjective (Morton), there are certain color effects that have universal meaning. Colors in the red area of the color spectrum are known as warm colors while those in the blue side of the spectrum are called cool colors. The red area includes red, orange and yellow, which evoke a range of feelings from warmth and comfort to anger and hostility. The cool colors include blue; purple and green, which generally relate to calmness but can, also trigger sadness or indifference. White color was found to be neutral having no emotional impact.
The selection and arrangement of furniture is very important and care should be taken to ensure its suitability with the surroundings, while also being comfortable. In commercial establishments, for instance restaurants that wanted people to spend a lot of time and money had comfortable and cushioned seating, while fast food restaurants that wanted its customers to leave after a short amount of time had hard wood or plastic seats. As for home offices, they should be kept as any other room in the house and use of office style desks and chairs should be avoided.
It is better to avoid facing a wall unless there is a window with an excellent view. The corporate culture is communicated in several ways through the design of the work place. The features of any office plan to be implemented should be user-tested, both individually and collectively. The feasibility of any proposed system should be ensured by testing and evaluation. It would always be better to ascertain workers’ preferences and convenience, before putting in place a plan, arbitrarily for the entire work area.