Can your building make your staff more productive?

by HRD23 Mar 2018

A world-first study by the University of Sydney’s Coaching Psychology Unit has introduced the concept of a Positive Built Workplace Environment (PBWE).

This holistic approach to workplace wellbeing means positive workplace psychology extends beyond HR functions into building design, interiors and the social environment of a workspace.

The research, “Towards a Positive Psychology of Buildings and Workplace Community: Delineating the Benefits of the Positive Built Workplace Environment”, was conducted by Professor Anthony Grant, Sean O’Connor, Ingrid Studholme and Ariella Berger.

It includes a qualitative study conducted at International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three, at Barangaroo in Sydney as a case study for how a PBWE promotes both organisational performance and employee wellbeing.

The paper describes “green” in the context of a PBWE as part of the key physical components of buildings that encompass design flexibility with a sustainable “green building” ethos.

“For many years, we’ve seen the benefits of positive psychology in the workplace, including values-based leadership and values-based workplace environment or design on employee wellbeing,” said Professor Grant.

“However, it is only now we are seeing the next wave of this workplace shift, where the two high-impact fields are brought together in a powerful integrated model.

“We are also seeing a more sophisticated approach to the structure of the workplace environment beginning to emerge where open-plan, flowing workspaces are balanced with accessible private rooms and workspaces.”

Professor Grant said this is facilitating a shift from a hot desk setup to a more genuinely cooperative workplace environment.

“Beyond this, there are now fantastic examples of where this purposefully wellbeing-oriented environment is structured to allow serendipitous ways of meeting, which is of course where we see some of the best workplace innovation emerge,” he said.

“In this next generation model, which is uniquely reflected within the International Towers environment, we can see the three basic human needs of self-determination or autonomy, competence and relatedness being brought together by the design and management of this new generation of workplaces – the Positive Built Workplace Environment.

There are many organisations who have open-plan, free flow workspaces, but very few have also harnessed a specific set of human needs and values and encouraged the leaders to enact those values across all levels of the workplace, Professor Grant said.

“It is the synergy between positive leadership, positive design, and positive values that makes the real difference,” he added.

“In today’s complex business environment, being high tech or ‘green’ is not enough – International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three, has shown Australia and the world how to combine sustainability, aesthetics, design and – most importantly – positive principles to create a truly flourishing workplace,” he said.

A PBWE puts the onus on the building property management team to move beyond the mere profit motive to actively promote positive values such as inclusiveness, respect and engagement, according to the study.

These principles are in place across International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three, with work environments designed to encourage and inspire cross-functional team interaction – including open spaces, visible gathering spaces, transparent activity rooms and connectivity between staff areas and event tenancies.

Moreover, International Towers’ management went as far as only sourcing lobby umbrellas from a company that could provide proof of ethical manufacture and supply chain.

Key findings of the report were that a well-designed working layout and “green” working environment can:

  • Increase organisational productivity by 19%
  • Increase individual performance on cognitive tasks by more than 61%
  • Reduce respiratory complaints and headaches by 30% and help people sleep better
 
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