A simple renovation: Transforming office culture by improving indoor environmental quality

Last year, RDG realized a remarkable shift in employee satisfaction, though the accomplishment was not achieved through salary adjustments or management policies. However, we did strategically enhance aspects of the physical office environment by using research-based assessment tools to measure occupant comfort, and then completed a small renovation project targeting the areas identified. By responding to the desires of occupants, employee satisfaction soared to a new level and the company noticed significant increases in revenue generated per employee. But how did a small renovation lead to such significant impacts?

As designers, we are inclined to create spaces based on our knowledge of what works best. That often comes from experience and industry standards related to lighting levels, temperature, air quality, and ergonomics. Another powerful, and arguably more meaningful, way to learn about how well a space works? Just ask!


Before and after comparisons of the RDG renovation.

In 2013, RDG began the retrofit to incorporate new technology into our Omaha office. All employees were invited to participate in an anonymous survey of indoor environmental quality administered by the Center for the Built Environment. The tool allowed us to compare our office to a large dataset of comparable offices around the world to see how our satisfaction (or lack thereof) with the environment stacked up. What emerged was a clear need to address lighting, finishes, and furniture in the work space. The renovation design team scoped the project to address those items and followed best practices to upgrade the office environment in each category. As a result, employee satisfaction jumped from below-average to well above average.

The importance of the physical environment for employee engagement and productivity is well-supported by various research. The design team took into consideration many aspects of this research when considering renovation options. Heschong (2003) found that partition height contributed to an 11 percent difference in the average time employees processed calls in a call center. Workers with the highest partitions handled fewer calls than those with no partitions. Workers who had good views to the outdoors from their workstation also handled calls six percent faster than employees with no views to windows. Workers demonstrated nine percent better memory retention when they had high quality views.

Veitch et al. (2011) found that office workers who were more satisfied with lighting were also more engaged in work. The researchers in this study provided several different lighting conditions and based their engagement measurement on three factors: the interest of participants in reading an article, their persistence in an impossible task, and the duration of breaks taken by participants between tasks. Lee and Brand (2005) used a survey tool with over 200 employees from different office jobs to investigate the role of control and distractions in the workplace. They found that employees with more control, such as a variety of work spaces to choose from and the ability to hold impromptu meetings, were more satisfied with their jobs.

In another study conducted with 95 workstations in an open-office plan, Newsham et al. (2009) found that access to views had a significant impact on satisfaction with the lighting, and that employees who were satisfied with the overall office physical environment were also more satisfied with their jobs. Shell (2015) also demonstrated that employee satisfaction with the physical environment was predicted by lighting characteristics.

Through this research and the pre-renovation survey conducted by the firm, RDG leadership and the design team understood that employees who like their work spaces also tend to like their jobs. The investment in a small renovation, based on the desire to create optimal spaces for collaborative and creative work, had the secondary result of boosting profit. By analyzing a post-renovation occupant survey, we were able to correlate an increase in occupant satisfaction with an increase in revenue. The project reinforced our understanding that people are the final metric of the success of a business and of a design project.

To access the full RDG Planning & Design study, review the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) survey results and report.

before-layout resized

Floor layout prior to RDG office renovation (2013)

after-layout resized

Floor layout after RDG office renovation (2014)

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