Architecture & Design, Human Resources, and Real Estate

5 common workplace problems and how to address them

April 27, 2017
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What challenges do you face in your workplace? Are they shared by other organizations? Changes in technology, skill sets and workplace demographics have created new demands for industries across the board.

Let’s see if any of these common problems affect your workplace and explore the solutions that your organization can use to address them.

The problem: Attracting and retaining talent

Attracting and retaining great people is top-of-mind for every organization and community. Here in West Michigan, 72 percent of business owners are having difficulty finding talent, which is up from 51 percent in 2014, according the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce's 2017 annual survey. As job opportunities evolve with technology and globalization, employers are trying to find new and effective ways to hire, train and support people — and ultimately keep them around.

The solution: There isn’t one perfect formula for attracting and retaining talent, but there are major variables in the formula that employers can leverage to stay ahead of the curve. One of those factors is the work environment itself.

We all know first impressions go a long way, and the impression a workplace has on interviewees is usually enough for them to determine whether they want to spend 40-plus hours a week there. Almost implicitly, people are measuring the degrees of noise, light, mobility, privacy, openness, access and power (as in management and administration). Updating your space to modern expectations can keep your workplace top-of-mind for prospective employees.

As for existing employees, all it takes is a visit to a better work environment — with more light, more comfortable seating, and better support — to get the wheels turning about where else they could apply their skills. This 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey implies that for employees, working in a great environment isn’t just about the short-term perks. It’s about sensing that one’s employer is keen on investing long-term in infrastructure that supports employees’ mental, physical and emotional health.

The problem: Too much noise

One of the greatest distractions when doing our work is, in fact, the work of others — from phone calls to nearby conversations to the buzz of an ongoing meeting, the noise in your space can detract from the quality of your work.

The solution: One of the first steps in solving noise issues is the use of acoustical ceiling clouds to dampen sound. These are often large, flat surfaces that drop below the ceiling.

Additionally, sound masking helps to conceal sound by emitting unobtrusive background sound (like white noise or airflow). The combination of sound dampening and sound masking can curb noise levels significantly.

While many publications once heralded the open office as the next big trend — claiming benefits in collaboration, communication and inspiration — the open office setting also creates a lot of noise and distraction. The use of enclaves provides much-needed privacy and insulation from outside noise and give employees the choice of where they want to work.

Example: Colliers International. When the commercial real estate firm renovated its downtown Grand Rapids office in 2014, the new space was opened to bring bright light and better communication to the office. But to maintain a degree of privacy and the ability to focus, soundmasking was installed throughout. Hear the Colliers team, which worked with us, discuss the new space in this video.

The problem: Disengagement

Recent research shows that as many as 60 percent of American workers polled were dissatisfied with their work environment and disengaged at work. This degree of disengagement costs organizations money, slows projects and drains efforts and resources. While many organizations can absorb the cost of a few disengaged workers, most cannot afford such a high level of disengagement.

The solution: The same research study also found employee engagement positively correlates with workplace satisfaction. It also shows engaged employees typically have more control over their experiences at work. In other words, the workplace can be a huge factor in engaging employees.

People want to feel like they have a sense of control over their lives, work and environment. So, if they’re relegated to a constant state of discomfort or strain, disengagement (understandably) ensues. Whether it’s offering people the option to close their office door, raise the blinds or work in another area of the office (or at home), providing even just a few good choices can increase engagement.

The problem: Obsolete technology

Most of today’s work is done on computers, laptops and mobile devices, which employers readily accept. What remains in need of adaptation are the ways those devices, and the people using them, connect to one another. In fact, a 2016 Engagement Study by Oracle found that less than half of employees say they have the right technology to do their jobs.

The solution: Collaboration technology is no longer a luxury. It’s imperative, because no one should have to huddle around their coworker’s computer when better information-sharing solutions exist. Industry-favored options include Crestron Airmedia, Barco Clickshare and Steelcase media:scape.

The problem: No space to collaborate

Important decisions, big ideas and complex projects require meetings to reach their potential. But for many organizations, effective collaborative space is in short supply. When teams need a place to meet, either no space is available or the existing options don’t support their meeting needs.

The solution: While standard meeting rooms may provide a place to meet, they often don’t do much more. It’s important that meeting spaces be updated to suit the technologies and modes of work now at play in the workplace. Support should include effective and easy-to-use technology, privacy, the right furniture and insulation from other non-meeting spaces.

If you face other challenges in your work environment, share them in comments section.

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