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4 Ways Your Office is Underperforming

Updated: Feb 19

Office Performance

The way we work has undergone huge change over the last few years. First, there was the overnight shift to remote working. Then, there was a gradual transition to a hybrid model. Finally, there was a controversial shift back to in-office work. However, even now most staff are back in the office full time, the way staff work has changed forever. People now work together in small teams more than ever and are also a lot more reliant on technology.


Wherever you are on your workspace journey, your office needs to be a valuable asset to your company. It's likely one of your company's biggest overhead costs, so it needs to help your staff communicate and perform to their best.


However, many offices do not do this. They are failing their staff and companies. While there are many different causes and factors, we’ve found that there are 4 key ways many spaces are underperforming. Every week, we speak to companies that want to improve their workspaces, and almost always uncover at least 2 of these issues.


In this article, we'll explain each of these causes, and the impact they could be having on your company. You'll also learn how you can go about resolving them. By the end, you'll be able to identify if you have any of these common causes of office performance. If you do, you'll know what you have to do to fix them.


Irrelevant Layout

Many companies have offices that are still based on individual working. The space comprises mainly banks of desks, with enclosed meeting rooms and private executive offices. The space may have a small collaboration or breakout area, but it encourages people to work alone, rather than together.


However, these designs ignore the fundamental changes in the role of the office in recent years. With in-office working no longer automatic, the office has to prove its worth. That means your office has to match the way your people work. In 2019, collaboration spaces took up an average of 10% of the office. In 2024, the best office designs feature 30% to 45% collaboration space.


To create the right office for your business, you need to understand how they work now, how they should work, and crucially, the gap between the two. You can gather this data through role & task analysis, staff surveys, and occupation studies. With this information, you can then create an office tailored to your culture that reflects and enhances the way your people work.



Inefficient Layout

Another way your office may be failing your people is through an inefficient layout that wastes space. This issue is a lot more common than you may think. Most companies have 30-40% more real estate than they need. An inefficient layout is particularly pertinent if you have outgrown your space before your lease ends, or you're looking to rationalise your real estate portfolio to reduce cost.


There are several common signs that your office layout is inefficient. The most damaging is an enclosed layout with lots of partitioning and different rooms. If your space is not designed flexibly, then staff can't adapt it to their needs, so they use more space. If your office doesn’t match the way your staff work, then some areas will be underused while others will be overcrowded.


To calculate your space utilisation, take the number of used workstations/ spaces on any given day, and divide it by the total number of those workstations/ spaces. A good space utilisation benchmark to aim for is 80-90%. However, most offices have a space utilisation of around 60%. If you have numbers similar to these, you are effectively wasting 30% of your offices. A more efficient layout would either enable you to add more staff without moving or downsize to a more cost-effective space.


Generic Experience

Another all-too-common office design issue limiting staff productivity is a bland experience that doesn’t match the culture of your company. As a result, it is indistinguishable from other offices. Creating a unique experience is about much more than a company logo in the reception and a few walls painted in brand colour. Your office branding includes the entire experience your staff have throughout the day, from the location of your space to the layout to the coffee they drink.


A bland, generic office design creates a bland, generic office experience. This limits the performance of your people. You are depriving them of the motivation and inspiration they need to perform at their best. It can also limit your recruitment efforts. If your office doesn’t stand out from the competition, you will struggle to recruit the talent you need.


However, you can create a unique office experience that matches your culture. The layout of your space needs to reflect the personality of your company - compact and efficient, or spacious and luxurious? All the furniture and finishes throughout your space are important - everything your people will see in the office. To learn more, read How to Create an Office Design Tailored to Your Culture.


Distracting Environment

One of the most common complaints about open-plan office design is high noise levels. However, this is not an inherent drawback of open-plan office design – it is a result of poor space planning and acoustic design.


On average, employees lose 86 minutes each day due to distractions around them in the office. That's nearly 20% of their working day. Over time that can have a devastating impact on the productivity of your people. Distractions are not only auditory. If your staff don’t have enough space to work alone or with the relevant colleagues, they will be constantly interrupted by other colleagues trying to use the same space. Distractions can also be visual – if there is too much going on around your staff, they will struggle to concentrate.


To reduce distractions in your office, you have to first pinpoint the cause of the distractions. Is it noisy conversations in private working areas? Is it a cramped space not allowing focus? It may be that you need to change something other than your office design. If it is an office design issue, you can then take corrective action. This may involve improving your layout, installing acoustic baffles, or installing sound masking. For more help improving your office acoustics, read How to Reduce Noise Pollution In Your Office.


Improving Your Office

These 4 causes of underperformance, while damaging, are certainly resolvable. True, there are a lot of uncertainties and intangibles around the impact any changes will have on staff and real estate performance. However, by creating a workspace that reflects and enhances the way your people work, you will certainly improve staff performance. A space-efficient layout will ensure you're not wasting precious capital. A unique workspace experience tailored to your culture will inspire your people and make it easier to attract & retain talent. And a distraction-free environment will empower your people to perform to their best.


If you know your office design is underperforming but you're not sure what to do about it, download your Definitive Office Design Guide. It will help you make sure that you know everything that you need to about office design before you speak to an office designer. You'll learn about what is involved in office design, why it matters, what is involved in the process, how much it costs, and much more. Download your Definitive Office Design Guide here. To learn more about the impact and importance of office design, read Why Your Office Design Matters.



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