The quest to get more work out of employees is one that never ends. It’s well known that simply demanding it won’t work, so companies are working on ways to build an environment that reduces inefficiency and fosters creativity and innovation.

They’ve worked toward this in several ways, including the abstract environment. There has been a lot of work done on building teams, improving culture, and getting feedback from employees, and many of those ideas have led to some substantive improvements in the output of personnel.

Now the prevailing thinking is including the physical workplace environment. It’s been known for years that certain colors and lighting types keep employees more focused and relaxed, but now there’s a greater understanding of exactly how the layout of an office or other workplace can help workers interact more productively.

Encouraging Interaction

Synergy is a long-accepted concept of the impact of how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In terms of worker productivity, you could say that what two people accomplish together is more than the combined total of what they can accomplish separately.

Because this is such an established concept, it’s easy to see where it’s helpful to stimulate interaction between workers. The question is how to do it in a productive way. What companies are finding is that good office layouts go a long way towards getting people to talk and share ideas.

When they gather at the office water cooler, they’ll probably discuss TV and sports, just like always. But much of the conversation will be about work, and as they interact, they’ll start helping each other out.

Stirring Things Up

Humans are creatures of habit. We like routines, and we tend to create them whenever we can. We have things set a certain way at home, from our daily schedule to the route we commute to work.

The workplace is no exception. We have our normal work station, with the normal people around us and the normal number of steps to the front door, the copier, and so on. We develop muscle memory and like to do things on auto-pilot. But the less we think about what we are doing, the less we interact with others.

It’s this concept that has led to the development of desk hoteling, where work stations are frequently relocated. It’s often used in workplaces with telecommuting, so that space is reduced–e.g., when one worker needs a desk in the morning and the other in the afternoon, they use the same desk. It saves space but also creates a change of scenery that triggers creativity.

Triggering Some Movement

Most of the time, buildings are designed to minimize the walking of employees. The thinking was that walking around didn’t do anything productive, and that it was best to help employees spend most of their time directly on tasks.

But that thinking is being challenged. Certainly there are issues regarding safety that suggest the outdoor layout remain as efficient as possible so that employees don’t spend too much time on snowy parking lots or dodging lightning bolts. But indoors, it’s different.

The fact that workers get up and move at all is good for them in the long term. It has a wide variety of health benefits. But it also helps stimulate thinking and, once again, gets workers to interact with each other. So many companies now are actually working to make their layouts less efficient for the short term to trigger interaction for the long term.

Productivity is an interesting concept. On the one hand, it can be measured very accurately in terms of output. But on the other, it can be difficult to nail down in terms of the potential of workers to achieve more. The results shown by companies that have undertaken these strategies may be more difficult to define in the short term, but they’re undeniable.