You should treat the physical space of your work environment like software. That’s the thinking of Mark Levy, Global Head of Employee Experience at Airbnb. With software, you experiment, upgrade, evolve, and change and you can (and should!) do the same with work environments.

Are you getting the most from your manufacturing work environment? Read on to learn five things you can do to optimize your manufacturing work environment and increase profits.

Productivity and Work Environment

In the late 1920s and 1930s, a series of experiments took place at the Western Electric factory in Hawthorne, Chicago. These experiments have become iconic. They are early examples of a scientific approach to understanding how people perform at work.

The studies established the relationship between employee performance and their working environment. This has become known as the Hawthorne effect.

One experiment looked at the effect of various levels of lighting on manufacturing productivity. As lighting levels increased productivity increased up to a point. After that point, productivity improvements remained the same.

As lighting reduced, productivity reduced. A clear example of how keeping employees in the dark is bad for productivity.

The relationship between productivity and work environment now seems self-evident. The challenge is to understand how many environmental variables there are. Let’s start with five things you can do.

1. Space

A study of your manufacturing work environment can be revealing about space. Most manufacturing environments are not homogeneous.There are some areas that are for storage, movement of goods and people, administration as well as production.

An optimized work environment is one where there is a balance between these different activities. Professional space planning accounts for the smooth movement of materials, finished products, and people. There are no bottlenecks or underutilized areas.

An increase in aisle widths could ease the movement of materials and people. Reduce aisle widths where they are excessive and use the saved space where it will get a better return.

Sounds simple but there are lots of ways of getting this wrong. Look out for the tell-tale signs.

Watch out for overflowing materials in some areas and empty spaces in others. Check if production delays are due to the unavailability of certain components. Track accident levels or damaged materials.

2. Storage

An analysis of space can help to re-allocate space better. Perhaps you need to right-size storage locations? Are materials stored in many locations because the space allocation is wrong?

Are employees making long journeys to get materials or tools? Can items that are frequently needed, be located nearer to where they’re used?

Most manufacturing environments have some storage area. It may be for pre-manufacturing materials or components and for finished products. You have to ask why you are using valuable production space for storage.

Reduce your storage space by better inventory control. Just-in-time deliveries, off-site storage and better-timed dispatch of finished goods can all help.

A wasted resource in many manufacturing environments is the vertical space. Consider going higher with storage of materials, components and finished product. A mezzanine floor may even be an option.

3. Temperature and Comfort

There are many studies that demonstrate the relationship between employee wellbeing and job performance. Do you agree that impacts business results? How can the work environment impact your employee wellbeing?

The design of the working environment has an impact on ambient temperature, airflow, and humidity. All these factors affect how your employees feel.

The design opportunities include heating and air conditioning facilities. The location and type of exterior doors make a huge difference in the internal environment.

Maintaining temperatures of around 70.88 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Expect a decline in productivity at temperatures above or below this level.

If there are problems maintaining temperature consider zoned temperature controls and separate rooms.

4. Stimulate the Senses

Wellbeing and engagement increase if people feel connected with their environment and nature. This could be as simple as a view of the outside environment, indoor plants or access to some outside space for breaks. Even just a few minutes of outside time can be refreshing and increase both wellbeing and productivity.

Just as people prefer some exposure to the natural world so they also need their senses stimulated. A bland, repetitive decor is dulling to the senses and reduces alertness and stimulation.

Using texture in surfaces, color, graphics, and pattern can wake up the senses. There’s even some evidence of a relationship between wellbeing and particular colors.

Bright colors like reds, greens, and blues promote focus. Cool blue can promote clear, creative thoughts. Pink tends to reduce aggression and isolation.

5. Noise and Music

Noise and music need to be appropriate for the workplace. If the workplace needs lots of communication and concentration, noise and music are not helpful. If speech privacy is needed then acoustics can be assessed to provide a suitable private space.

The options to control noise include acoustical ceilings, soft furnishings, and carpets. Panels and partitions can also be helpful. Active noisy areas can be separated from quiet spaces.

Open plan production facilities can be a great way to maximize space use but they are not great if noise is a problem. The wrong noise can be stressful to employees. In the right place, upbeat music can promote a feel-good energetic work environment thereby increasing productivity.

Culture Fit

Organizations should think about the impact culture has on the performance of the business. The work environment is one of the main factors that contribute to a business’ culture.

If the culture is about precision and quality the work environment should have clean lines and uncluttered space. If the culture is quirky, individual and creative then you would have a very different work environment. Exciting color combinations, funky graphics, and music may be the order of the day.

Investment in culture change is designed to produce business results. Aligning all the facets of your culture is key if your business strategy is to be effective. The work environment is a key contributor to this.

I’ve parlayed my HR experience with corporate culture into helping organizations successfully implement their culture with the best interior design decisions. Let’s talk about how I can help you.