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The Issues and Debates in the Effect of Physical Workplace for Project-Oriented Companies

Introduction

Amidst the increasing competition in the current business environment, companies face the challenge of developing innovative approaches to remain competitive (Boutellier, Ullman, Schreiber, & Naef, 2008). One of the areas that received attention in workplace strategies. The workplace environment has evolved to an extent that conventional workplace approaches such as fixed and inflexible work arrangements are no longer valued by modern-day workers who prefer adaptable work settings (Akimoto, Tanabe, Yanai, & Sasaki, 2010; Akkirman & Harris, 2005). In addition, the significance of collaborative work environments is increasing as a result of the team- and project-based work (Vischer, 2008). Based on the assumptions of environmental psychology, the design of the physical work environment has an influence on the behaviors of employees, which in turn affects the efficiency, success, and productivity of an organization (Wall & Berry, 2007; Wolkoff, 2013). The layout of the physical workplace is an important issue for consideration for project-based organizations since most of the employees in these companies spend the bulk of their time in indoor environments, which subsequently influences their skills and performance (Brown et al., 2011).

Statement of the Problem

The particular problem that proposed research study seeks to tackle is the rising levels of occupational stress among employees associated with the design of their workplace environment. The environment in which an employee spends most of his or her working time plays a crucial role in influencing job satisfaction (Bluyssen, Aries, & van Dommelen, 2011; Chandrasekar, 2011; Knudsen, Busck, & Lind, 2011). Recent statistics paint a dismal picture regarding the issue of employee wellbeing. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the 2011-2012 Labor Force Survey revealed that organizations lost 27 million working days because of sickness absence, which is linked with work-related variables (Health and Safety Executive [HSE], 2013). 10.4 million working days out of the general number of missed days were attributed to workplace depression, anxiety, and stress (HSE, 2013). In the United States, the 2013 Work Stress Survey showed that the prevalence of work stress is 83%, which is 10% higher relative to the previous year (“Work stress on the rise,” 2015). The issue of workplace stress, declining employee productivity and efficiency are emerging and pointing to a rising trend. An inference that can be made from this observation is that organizations are not paying attention to the significant role played by the design of the physical work environment. In addition, it is possible that recommendations made in the literature are not tailored to suit the specific needs of a project-based organization. This requires organizations to consider how the physical workplace design affects their employees. Given the negative organizational outcomes attributed to occupational stress, it is crucial for organizations to implement a more holistic approach to support the wellbeing of their employees to ensure their optimal productivity (Davis, Leach, & Clegg, 2011; Kabir & Parvin, 2011). To this end, specific recommendations that can be applied to particular organizations are needed instead of relying on general ones, which are likely to be unsuitable for all organizations. In addition, the majority of literature places emphasis on the significance of workplace design; however, the elements of better workplace design are not clearly delineated.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed case study research is to develop and assess an intervention, which project-based organizations can adopt to enhance the efficiency and productivity of their employees. The intervention will be developed based on a comprehensive literature review, which will help to prepare specific recommendations to be implemented in the selected project-based organization. The researcher will be substantially involved in implementing and evaluating the intervention. The development of intervention will focus on the aspects of the physical work environment, including furniture, noise, flexibility in the workplace (Dul & Ceylan, 2011), comfort, communication ability, lighting, and room temperature, quality of air, incorporation of plants and flowers (Dollard & Bakker, 2010); using colors (Hassanain, 2010), and a view of the natural environment from a window. The intervention will be implemented in the selected project-based organization. The general recommendations found in the literature regarding the use of the physical workplace environment are yet to be empirically evaluated in the project-based organization. As a result, there is no guarantee that the recommendations presented in the literature will be helpful for PBOs. The developed intervention will focus on improving efficiency as well as productivity of employees. The outcomes of the intervention in the proposed research will be the efficiency and productivity of employees, as well as organizational success. Their experiences with the implemented intervention will also be documented. Knowledge acquired during the course of this study is significant in helping project-based organizations in using their workplace design to enhance positive outcomes for both employees and organization.

Research Questions

In the proposed research, a comprehensive intervention addressing the design of the physical workplace, which draws upon current recommendations available in the literature, will be developed and evaluated. The aim of the research is to assert whether the intervention will result in positive outcomes for employees and organization in terms of employee wellbeing and productivity. Their experiences with the intervention will also be studied in order to determine the areas of improvement. The research questions listed below will guide the proposed study.

Qualitative Research Question

Q1. What are the attitudes and perceptions of employees regarding the intervention?

Quantitative Research Question

Q1. What is the impact of the intervention on employee productivity?

Hypothesis

H10. The intervention will not have any impact on employee productivity.

H1a. The intervention will have a positive impact on employee productivity.

H10. The intervention will not have any impact on the success of the organization.

H1a. The intervention will have a positive impact on the success of the organization.

Definition of Key Terms

Intervention. In the context of the proposed research, the intervention will refer to the actions, which enhance the physical workplace design in order to improve the wellbeing and productivity of employees (Robertson, Ciriello, & Garabet, 2013). These actions will draw upon recommendations made by previous research studies with respect to improving the physical workplace environment.

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Physical workplace design. The design comprises of the physical or tangible aspects of the workplace environment that determine the working conditions (Egan et al., 2007). Examples of the components of the physical workplace design include the quality of indoor air, workstation designs, lighting, room temperature, noise, equipment, and color (Frontczak & Wargocki, 2011). Essentially, the physical workplace design describes the surrounding conditions in which a person works. The physical workplace design constitutes part of the broader work environment (Johns, 2011).

Project-Based Organization (PBO). PBO refers to an organization whereby a significant number of its activities and processes are executed in the form of projects. The focus of the organizational model is the completion of projects; therefore, teamwork and interaction are important prerequisites for the effective functioning of these organizations (Dul & Ceylan, 2011). PBO is common in a number of industries such as construction, graphic design, and technology firms, wherein work is mainly divided into projects. These organizations face unique problems associated with coordination and effective teamwork; as a result, the nature of the physical workplace design plays a crucial role (Dul & Ceylan, 2011).

Brief Review of the Literature

Numerous studies have been performed to investigate the effect of the physical workplace environment on organizational outcomes. There is a widespread agreement in the literature that a better physical workplace layout leads to better organizational outcomes (Haynes, 2008; Lan, Wargocki, & Lian, 2011; Leblebici, 2012; Lee & Brand, 2005; Nieuwenhuijsen, Bruinvels, & Frings-Dresen, 2010). For example, a study performed by Lan, et al. (2011) surveying senior managers in the US showed that 89% of respondents considered an effective workplace design to be a crucial factor in enhancing employees’ productivity. Based on these findings, the authors suggest that organizations can enhance their overall productivity by improving the design of their physical workplace environments. Another study performed in the UK by Miller, Pogue, Gough, and Davis (2009) showed that a better workplace design improves employee productivity by about 19%. The researchers also surveyed employees and reported that 90% of respondents believed that a better interior workplace layout results in improved performance (Miller et al., 2009). Other studies have also reported similar positive effects of better physical workplace design on organizational productivity, efficiency, and success (Hepner & Boser, 2006; Mills, Tomkins, & Schlangen, 2007; Oseland & Burton, 2012).

Researchers have also attempted to delineate the aspects associated with better physical workplace design. The most common approach adopted by researchers entails ranking various physical workplace aspects based on their importance. In this respect, Oseland and Burton (2012) report that furniture is the most important aspect in the physical environment followed by noise, flexibility in the workplace, comfort, communication ability, lighting, and room temperature, whereas the quality of air is the least important. Another study by Pfeffer (2012) reports that employees consider furniture to be the most important, enhancing the performance of workers by about 10-15 percent.

Some studies embarked on exploring the impacts of the aspects of the physical environment. In this regard, noisy work environments have been found to lessen productivity by nearly 40 percent and increase the probability of work errors by approximately 27 percent (Naharuddin & Sadegi, 2013; Preston, 2012). Lighting has been reported to lower productivity by 20-28 percent (Price & Clark, 2009; Vischer, 2007). Color has also been reported to affect mood, attention, productivity, and wellness of employees (Raanaas, Evensen, Rich, & Patil, 2011; Singh, Syal, Grady, & Korkmaz, 2010).

In the literature, some authors have made recommendations that can be incorporated into the workplace environment. For instance, some studies have recommended the incorporation of plants and flowers into the workplace environment (Srivastava, 2008; Taiwo, 2010; Vink, Koningsveld, & Molenbroek, 2006). Offering workers with a view of the natural environment through a window can also have a positive impact.

Research Method

The proposed study will utilize the mixed methods approach to evaluate the impact of the intervention on the wellbeing and productivity of employees as well as their views regarding the intervention. The need to triangulate the qualitative results of the study was the reason for choosing the mixed methods research. The researcher will seek permission from a PBO for implementing the intervention that focuses on improving the aspects of the physical workplace environment. Prior to implementation of the intervention, employee productivity will be assessed as well as their views regarding the present physical workplace environment. The intervention will be evaluated twice in three-month cycles. The quantitative component of the research will place emphasis on assessing the outcomes of the intervention, particularly regarding the productivity of employees, which will be compared before the intervention and after to document any changes. The quantitative component of the proposed research will also analyze the impact of a workplace intervention on the success of the organization. The qualitative component of the proposed study will focus on studying the experiences of employees concerning the intervention, which will focus on exploring their views, attitudes, and perceptions about the intervention.

Operational Definition of Variables

The independent variable for the quantitative component of the proposed study is the intervention whereas the dependent variables are employee productivity and the success of the organization. The operational definitions for the outcome variables are described below.

Employee productivity. Employee productivity is based on the amount of employee output. The productivity levels of employees will be measured using the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ) – a scale used to measure employee productivity by estimating their limitations on the work environment (Johns, 2011). The QLQ captures four aspects of productivity including output demands, mental demands, physical demand and time management. It comprises of 25 items with the score ranging from 0 indicating limited none of the time to 100 indicating limited all the time (Johns, 2011). Therefore, a lower score indicates higher productivity since the employee faces a few limitations in the work environment (Johns, 2011). The reliability of this scale has been affirmed by various authors, including Johns (2011), who shows that the scales have an internal consistency of 0.77-0.97 and a test-retest validity of 0.69-0.80.

Organizational success. There are numerous measures used to determine the success of an organization ranging from financial metrics, employee-related metrics, market-oriented measures, and employee-oriented metrics among others (Boutellier et al., 2008). Given that the proposed study is tied to the work environment, employee-oriented measures are the best-suited measure of organizational success. In particular, the proposed study will use employee satisfaction as a measure of the success of the organization. Employee satisfaction will be measured using the Workplace Collaborative Environment Questionnaire, which captures a number of aspects related to satisfaction based on the physical environment including the quality of the spatial environment, their collaboration experiences and perceived interaction and collaboration effectiveness (Hua, Loftness, Kraut, & Powell, 2010). The items in the questionnaire comprise of five-point Likert scales that range from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). A higher score indicates a higher level of satisfaction with the physical work environment and vice versa (Hua et al., 2010).

Measurement

Data collection for the qualitative aspect of the research will be performed using semi-structured interviews with employees and observations of employees in their work environment. Semi-structured interviews offer flexibility when gathering data, which is a prerequisite for performing qualitative studies. Interviews will capture information related to the views and perceptions of employees regarding workplace intervention. In observations, note-taking will be used to gather data whereas interviews will be transcribed for subsequent analysis using thematic content analysis. For the quantitative component of the proposed research, self-reported questionnaires distributed to employees will collect data related to employee productivity and satisfaction. Significant differences in employee productivity and satisfaction before and after the workplace intervention will be reported.

Summary

An increase in the occupation stress and declining employee wellbeing is an issue of concern for organizations. Although studies have affirmed the important role that the physical workplace environment plays in improving organizational outcomes, occupational stress is still prevalent. In this regard, the proposed study will develop a workplace intervention and evaluate its subsequent impact on the organizational success measured using employee productivity and satisfaction, and explore workers’ views regarding the intervention. The proposed research study will employ mixed-methods research characterized by the collection of qualitative data using interviews and observations, and quantitative data using questionnaires.

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