According to the Financial Times, the UK has experienced a slump in productivity growth since the financial crisis that shows no sign of coming to an end, and our slowdown has been more acute than any other western country.  Despite the slowdown,  multiple worker surveys find workers stressed, unhappy and feeling unable to cope.  So what is the answer?  Commercial interior designer and office furniture consultant Andrew Morgan of Morgan Stewart Interiors believes modern office space is at least partly to blame.

It seems that Public Health England agree – in their report ‘The Impact of physical environments on employee wellbeing‘ stressed that office furniture needs to promote greater flexibility – in terms of both the adjustability of equipment as well as different working options.  It isn’t only productivity that is the problem – the wrong chairs can create and worsen musculoskeletal disorders, which are a huge contributor to absence.  However, Andrew believes that poor office furniture or the wrong layout can also lead to more stress in the workplace – and both will have an impact on productivity at work.

Andrew explains:

“Light plays a huge factor in keeping staff motivated and relaxed at work – and also in keeping people healthy.  When furnishing any space, we look to maximise light and create a feeling of space – sometimes we’ve even achieved this while increasing office capacity.  Getting this right will have a huge impact on morale – and so will using furniture specifically designed for the workplace, not occasional use.

Andrew says that the financial crisis has led to managers ‘cost cutting’ on office desks, chairs and storage, with managers wrongly assuming that better quality providers will be more expensive.

“We have seen local authorities shopping for desks on the high street to cut costs, despite having some of the highest rates of staff sickness in the UK, then querying why their wellbeing programmes aren’t working.  Leaders should focus on the cost of ownership when doing their sums, and use office furniture that is fit for purpose, whether sit-stand desks, ergonomic chairs or just high quality office furniture – it needs to support your staff and perform a function – and well designed furniture will do just that.  

“We often find that cost of ownership is the same – however the cost in terms of improved staff wellbeing, a better impression for visitors to your building and better teamwork – I’d love to be able to measure this, because this is where the REAL value for employers lies.”

So is it simply furniture that makes the difference?  Andrew  Morgan believes that layout is equally important, and for clients in Surrey, (and for larger orders elsewhere) he will personally design office layouts free of charge when providing furniture.  He says:

“The right layout can easily house more people, create more light and can make people feel relaxed – it doesn’t need to cost more, either, because high quality furniture is designed to last.

“I’m rarely asked to re-furnish the same space twice, because our furniture lasts for years, so I want to make sure my clients get the best from their investment.  However I often have repeat business from satisfied customers who want to improve another part of their building, or who want bespoke furniture to solve a storage problem – I am often asked to furnish the Chief Executive’s home office as well!

It goes without saying that where a team are showing poor productivity, it is important for leaders to look at every aspect of performance.  It’s just possible that in striving to improve, changing office furniture and layout could be one of many factors worth a second look.