Hot-desking is actively harming workplace productivity, say employees

Issues around design and noise levels also cited in research, with concern over effects of open plan offices

Workforce productivity is being harmed by open plan offices, hot-desking and excessive noise, research has suggested.

In a survey of 11,000 office-based workers across Europe, one-third (32 per cent) said the design or layout of their workplace led to a drop in productivity, a figure which rose to 45 per cent among those whose employer had a hot-desking policy.

The number of employees who said hot-desking harmed productivity increased from 31 per cent in 2016, suggesting workers have not become comfortable with the practice despite its increasing popularity among employers.

In the UK, the survey found workers in open plan offices – 73 per cent of UK respondents – were more likely to say the internal design and layout was negative for their productivity than those in a more enclosed environment (36 per cent versus 14 per cent).

Simon Collett, head of professional services at Savills, which conducted the survey, said office environment continued to be a major area of contention, with issues of noise a particular issue. The proportion of workers saying noise levels were important to them rose to 83 per cent this year, up from 77 per cent in 2016.

“While we’re never going to return to everyone having a private office, those fitting out open plan spaces need to look at acoustic solutions as a major part of the working environment,” Collett said.

But the report did find improvements were being made. More than half (53 per cent) of UK office workers reported they were now happy with their workplace, up from 48 per cent in 2016. 

It also found 39 per cent of UK workers said their workplace had a positive impact on their mental health (up from 33 per cent in 2016), while 34 per cent said it was good for their physical health (up from 25 per cent in 2016). 

However, across Europe only a third (34 per cent) said they had been asked their views on their office environment by their current employer.

The report, What Workers Want, surveyed individuals in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, with 1,000 workers polled in each.

Speaking to People Management, Scott Dixon – an Edinburgh-based writer – said he turned down a job this week based on first impressions of the office, which was open plan and had a radio playing loudly. 

“My head would be ringing working in that sort of environment,” he said. “In my opinion, it's counterproductive as people like to be settled at a desk they can call their own and be familiar with their layout. It's unsettling and unnecessary.”

Matthew Webster, head of wellbeing and future-proofing at British Land, said space and place had a vital role to play in not only boosting productivity but employee wellbeing. This was pressingly important, he said, in an age of technology and flexible working, where the workplace had to act as a central hub employees wanted to spend time in. 

Speaking at the recent CIPD Festival of Work, Webster said: “Employers need to consider three pillars: progressive policies, culture and workplace design. They need to ask themselves: Is the environment we choose to spend time in enabling our people to work to the best of their ability?

“In a culture where people can work ‘anywhere’, there must be a reason for working ‘somewhere’.” 

Steve Lang, director in Savills’ commercial research team and co-author of the report, said that while employers had yet to nail the productivity issue, they were heading in the right direction when it came to the office.

“More UK workers now say they’re happier with their office than any other time when we’ve run What Workers Want, and there’s been a big improvement in physical and mental health in the workplace over the past three years, indicating that employee wellbeing and health are being taken seriously,” said Lang.