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Investing in better office design can pay back

Creating a good work space can maximize efficiency by keeping employees happy and productive. The Budapest Business Journal spoke with four of the top firms in the field of office planning and design to learn more about what they can bring to a place of business. 

Tearing down walls: A relaxation area designed by Office Line uses open spaces.

Because a happy employee is usually an efficient one, local designers and office planners say, truly cost-effective design must take into consideration the comfort, health and well-being of employees. That is why the price-tag of office design is only one consideration, according to experts interviewed by the Budapest Business Journal. They note that a carefully designed workspace can impact the workers who inhabit that space – improving their efficiency and the operations of a company in the long-term.
These decisions require office planners to determine the company’s strategy and its priorities; the working style of employees (collaborative or solitary); past issues and concerns; how agile the workforce is; how often employees work out of the office; the need for collaborative spaces; the size and number of boardrooms; and so on. Designers say they make these detailed assessments through workshops, audits, or workplace shadowing to get the information they need to devise a workplace concept. But this concept may not always be met with open arms.
“We are often drawn to the way things have always been, one desk, one chair, one large and two smaller boardrooms, a kitchen. What we need to do is avoid the superfluous spaces and try to create an office that works best for the needs of the company,” says Tiberius Soltész, country manager of Kinnarps Hungary. But the biggest challenge remains managing that change. “A client may start off open minded but as the time to make a decision nears, they gravitate towards old habits and back to their comfort zone.”

Towards an open concept

One way to cater to the needs of the modern workforce is through an open concept office. Although this setup is not ideal acoustically speaking, it is actually the best use of space, according to Ferenc Masznik, the executive director of Office Line. The open office facilitates different working styles, especially collaborative ones, and since employees are encouraged to move away from their computer screens every hour, it’s usually a good time to take advantage of the communal spaces. “Many in upper- and mid-management have a theoretical knowledge of how collaborative spaces work but that’s not actually what happens in practice. They need to be educated about the nature of collaborative practices including spontaneous meetings of all sizes and lengths for which most large meeting rooms are not even required,” says Károly Kis, managing partner of Blue Business Interior.
Break-out or communal spaces can also contain areas for play where employees can bond with each other through positive and fun activities, says Masznik. These spaces can also reduce the need for external team building activities that have long been a popular way of getting employees to solve complex problems in playful and creative ways, while also getting to know one another’s work habits.

The science of ergonomics

The broad category of ergonomics is an essential component in any office, particularly a well-designed one. Common knowledge of ergonomics is usually limited to a well designed chair, and this certainly is a key component. “Some 85% of sick leave can be attributed to a bad office chair,” says Ottó Feuertag, the owner of Europa Design. But the size of the desk, lighting, air circulation and humidity are also vital parts of this complex science.
Soltész, of Swedish company Kinnarps, says ergonomics have been a hot topic in Sweden for the past 10-15 years. “I’m happy to see that ergonomic work spaces are becoming important to an increasing number of our clients in Hungary.”
Feuertag explains: “Unfortunately, the Hungarian market reacts slower to changes than surrounding markets and is less open to new ways of working. It is more conservative.” Soltész doesn’t see conservatism as a concern, but rather as evidence that Hungarians are perhaps more deeply connected to tradition. The market is changing, however, and multinationals are helping foster that change, bringing their corporate culture into an environment that could do with some fresh blood. “The sitting-standing desk which can easily be adjusted electronically is starting to make an appearance in Hungary,” says Soltész, adding, “It is good for circulation, for your spine and your general well-being.”
Technological considerations are also a big part of new trends, with everything from smart offices to wired and wireless consoles that can accommodate all manner of gadgets.
Green offices are another hot topic, and this also belongs in part to the category of smart offices, where energy efficiency is maximized by automatically switching off lights when they are not required, or significantly reducing unnecessary heating. Environmental considerations extend not only to the use of recycled materials, but also to sustainable materials. Many furniture manufacturers take it a step further by using waste to fuel industrial machinery or by introducing zero emissions programs. “There is also a great deal of used furniture on the market, as well as the option to rent furniture, which is not only an environmentally friendly option, but can also provide big savings,” says Masznik.