Laziness is at the heart of many failures in workplace design, says Adam Burtt-Jones. The solution is to ask the tough questions of the right people.

It might be due to sheer idleness that a vital product was not ordered in time to meet a schedule. It might be because it felt easier to spend time on the phone to a ‘colleague’ than deal with the customer’s complaint that a contract went sour. It might be because the procurement team always chose the cheapest light or chair, desk or coffee that morale in the office sunk to a new nadir never conceived as possible.

Whatever it might be, this form of thinking, working and planning is lazy. It is no good. It has to be weeded out. Sadly, it is all too prevalent and it has far-reaching consequences in the modern workplace.

It is laziness that causes decision-makers to give control to finance teams and specialist procurement consultants. It is laziness that causes a designer to give way to the client’s desire to specify ‘that’ chair. Instead, the client team, the employees and the designers must embrace the tough decisions and do some research. Tough questions need to be asked about the functions and purpose of an organisation and what the workplace requirements really might be. The aesthetic needs to be put to one side. The budget – yes, even that – needs to be left in a drawer until the real items needed to make a space effective are determined.

This is critical because no matter who takes charge of the process, there is always a risk that the creation of an effective workplace takes second place to the notion of just ‘an office that looks nice’. Or worse, that an effective workplace takes second place to a cheap space.

Because, despite the theories around what makes an effective workplace, there is always a temptation to do what has always been done: talk to fit-out companies and not to designers, and avoid challenging client pre-conceptions. This is the lazy, low-cost, short-term and unsustainable approach and almost always stores up problems and issues in the long run. What’s worrying is that it is still occurring more than it should and impacting on how the UK economy functions.

A workplace that does not engage with the people who use it – which includes any supplier or customer making a visit just as much as the employees operating in it every day – can become seriously ineffective. Worse, a workplace that is not effective is, by definition, not a productive space. Therefore, it becomes a cost to the business or organisation hosting it. It immediately becomes just another space – an area within a built fabric framework and in which any human capital benefit is ignored. Leesman’s Tim Oldman has argued this for a long time and because there are now more than 60,000 respondents to the Leesman Index, he has the data to support the argument.

Ignoring the desires of employees – the human capital – leads to a lack of effectiveness and seriously damages productivity. That means organisations lose money, jobs are at risk and lives are affected – all due to lazy thinking.

Therefore, by creating or engendering an ineffective workplace that fails to engage with employees, the managers responsible – and that might be HR, FM or the CRE directors – create a vicious circle of inefficiency and low productivity. Almost certainly this is because they took easy, lazy decisions about the design at the outset.

We cannot afford lazy thinking anymore. We have to take the harder option – which means choosing innovation over laziness to create the kind of workplace that is not only effective but also one that people actually enjoy using and is productive, efficient and makes everyone happy. Even the finance director.