To anyone who has worked in a dingy basement office without air conditioning or the latest technology that has left them feeling tired and uninspired, it would be little surprise to learn that our working environment has a major impact on employees’ productivity and performance.

But HR professionals are only now just beginning to understand their role in optimising their organisations’ working environment, instead of leaving it to an office or facilities manager.

“HR plays a key role in building the right culture across the company, and the design of the office space is indicative of that culture,” says Sarmad Tiwana, group head of HR at Gulftainer in the UAE. “By having the right seating arrangements and office layouts, HR can positively impact the employees’ mindset, especially in this region, where people tend to get emotional about their office spaces.’

New research is helping HR professionals to quantify the impact of workspaces on business culture and performance. A recent Steelcase Global Report, Engagement and the Global Workplace found that UAE workers “were actually quite dissatisfied with their workspace size, office furniture and noise level, and didn’t have as much access to shared spaces, such as meeting rooms and social hubs, as employees in other parts of the world”. It went on to conclude that office space is one of the most important factors in employee engagement.

Last month, real-estate consultancy Knight Frank reported in September that grade A super-prime office addresses were almost at full occupancy. So with the crème de la crème of Dubai office space being snapped up, many businesses may have to choose from less desirable offices – making the emphasis on designing the layout of the working space even more important.

“An office design reflects the style and status of a company,” says Ahmad Dandari, CEO and chief architect of Spazio Interior Decoration, Dubai. “If the company wants the employees to be charged with energy, and filled with the spirit of the company, then it is necessary to have the appropriate design.”

“The layout sets the desired tone for engagement and transparency across any organisation,” adds Tiwana. “Whoever is part of this exercise, be it HR or any other department, should also ensure that key stakeholders are involved right through the process.”

Without this consultation, it’s all too easy to get design wrong. The latest Leesman Index – which benchmarks workplace effectiveness - found that only 54 per cent of the 70,000 employees it surveyed said the design of their office space enabled them to work productively. And a global survey by conducted earlier this year discovered that 58 per cent of high-performing executives (HPEs) need more private spaces for problem solving, and 62 per cent of HPEs find their office environment “too distracting”.

Basics that every employer needs to consider include “good transport accessibility, sufficient working space, a rest room, and a conference room for meetings and training,” says Dandari, who also recommends creating a comfortable, attractive social space for employees to take breaks and talk with colleagues. Because if you don’t – perhaps your star talent will be lured away by a competitor who has.

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