the WBDG Productive Committee


Effective and efficient use of space means creating the right environment for concentration, learning, communication, and collaboration—the building blocks of productivity for building occupants. Organizations, business practices, educational settings and learning methodologies, and the workforce have changed dramatically in the past two decades. Technological advances, demographic shifts, and continual demands for innovation have created pressures for environments to catch up with the changing nature of organizations, work and workplace. Organizational effectiveness today means using space more wisely. This does not just mean cutting costs. It means designing for flexibility to enable space to change as work groups, activities, and projects evolve.

The Office of Government-wide Policy at the GSA headquarters building in Washington, DC

The Office of Government-wide Policy at the GSA headquarters building in Washington, DC was designed to maximize flexibility, allowing new occupants to change the space to fit their group and individual needs.

Information in these Productive pages must be considered together with other design objectives and within a total project context in order to achieve quality, high-performance buildings. Also, workplace productivity strategies support sustainable design principles, functional programming and functionality, and should be taken on balance for the longevity of all the issues considered.

It is often hard to quantify the impacts of specific components of the indoor environment on productivity, because individual and group effectiveness is tied to many different factors-including compensation levels, management practices, and environmental comfort. It is difficult, if not impossible, to isolate individual physical factors, such as the presence or absence of team rooms, daylighting, natural meeting places, or control over the environment. This problem is exacerbated in the case of employees whose "output" is knowledge or insight that cannot be easily quantified.

Pie chart of Human Productivity Improvements Linked to Daylighting. The chart shows rent at 14%, salaries at 84%, maintenance at 1%, and energy at 1%. A 1% productivity savings can nearly offset a company's entire annual energy cost. Chart is based on two field studies - one in school and one in retail. H.M.G 1999

Nonetheless, an increasing number of studies are beginning to suggest that support for communication and collaboration as well as for individual cognitive activity are fundamental aspects of organizational productivity. The GSA agrees and concludes in The Integrated Workplace that "since people are the most important resource and greatest expense of any organization, the long-term cost benefits of a properly designed, user-friendly work environment should be factored into any initial cost considerations."

One way to do such "factoring" is to consider the total life-cycle costs of the building or property each year. In private sector offices, such costs are typically, in order of magnitude:

  • $200 per square foot per year for salaries
  • $20 per square foot per year for amortized bricks and mortar costs, and
  • $2.00 per square foot per year for energy.

In this situation, an additional $2 per square foot per year for bricks and mortar costs (e.g. for providing greater flexibility) would pay for itself if it generated a modest 1% increase in salary "productivity." Note: Design strategies that increase user satisfaction and that improve individual and group effectiveness should therefore be considered not as cost 'extras,' but as productivity investments that enhance an organization's overall success. Buildings can be more effective, exciting places to work, learn, and live by encouraging adaptability, improving comfort, supporting sense of community, and by providing connections to the natural environment, natural light, and view.

The patient floor at Christ Hospital Joint and Spine Center includes a dedicated gathering space for visitors with natural daylighting and views

The patient floor at Christ Hospital Joint and Spine Center includes a dedicated gathering space for visitors with natural daylighting and views.
Photo Credit: © Tom Rossiter

There are five fundamental principles of productive building designs:

  • Promote Health and Well-Being
    Indoor environments strongly affect human health. An effective environment should be designed to support and enhance the health and well-being of its occupants. Sustainable design principles also help achieve this objective.

  • Provide Comfortable Environments
    An environment designed and operated to provide the highest achievable levels of visual, acoustic, ergonomic, and thermal comforts for its occupants is the underpinning of worker effectiveness.

  • Design for the Changing Workplace
    Providing spaces with flexibility, social support, and technology to promote new ways of working, learning and engaging in a number of activities is a cornerstone of change and innovation.

  • Integrate Technological Tools
    Effectively integrating technological tools and distribution networks required in today's environments to enable occupants to perform activities or their duties starts first and foremost with properly designed pathways and spaces.

  • Assure Reliable Systems and Spaces
    Reliability is one of the greatest concerns for building occupants—it directly affects their safety, health, and comfort. Occupants must be able to rely on sufficient functional space, building systems, equipment, and tools that function consistently and are properly maintained.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Additional Resources

Federal Agencies