Building a Workplace? Do the Math.

Statistical Analysis Can Lead to Healthier, Happier, More Productive Work

December 4, 2014

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

This post was co-authored by Timothy Deak, a social strategist at NBBJ.

We have intuitions about the human experience that we use to inform design. For instance, we’ve always known that daylight is important. Exposure to the appropriate spectrum of light throughout the day enhances health and well-being, immune responses and productivity. But who knew that you could directly show that something like daylight in the workplace positively affects an employee’s perception of well-being? Using detailed surveys and statistical analysis — most recently of our own company and a large consulting firm — we can validate those intuitions with concrete evidence.

Converting raw data about the workplace into design-validating evidence requires statistical savvy. Using SPSS, a powerful statistics program, we can compare different variables (like daylight and well-being) to see whether there is a correlation between them. On top of that, we can determine through regression analysis how much one variable (like the ability to focus) can be explained by others (like acoustical privacy and access to restful places.) With statistical software, we can safely say the observations don’t result from random chance — they’re likely caused by the variables we’ve identified:

Well-being: A regression analysis of our internal survey data shows that half of all possible responses to people’s sense of well-being at work can be explained by access to a task lamp and satisfaction with their ability to focus. What’s more, the ability to find a space to suit one’s work and one’s satisfaction with access to daylight are both positively correlated with well-being. If we were to offer every employee a task lamp, improved access to daylight and a broader diversity of workplaces, the model suggests that people’s well-being could be much improved.


Surveys indicate that as employees’ satisfaction with noise levels increases, so does their satisfaction with their ability to focus (trend line with data points omitted; click to enlarge).

Ability to Focus: The internal survey shows that one-third of all possible responses to an employee’s ability to focus can be explained by access to restful places and acoustical privacy. Correlations from the consulting company survey show that as satisfaction with noise level improves:

    1. People take less time to work away from their desk to concentrate, and
    2. The ability to focus increases.

This provides strong statistical evidence that people’s perceptions about noise impact their ability to focus — and suggest that we ought to design our spaces to accommodate this perception.

Collaboration: We’ve built statistical models to identify the factors that contribute to informal collaboration. The consulting company survey shows that two factors — one, the ability to share information and, two, having access to people who can help — account for sixty percent of people’s sense of effective informal collaboration. In turn, seeing one’s team, knowing about team activities and having the ability to work across teams contribute greatly to an employee’s ability to find people who can help.

We’ve always sensed that certain factors are important to a productive workplace. Now, our ability to directly tie those factors to specific outcomes means we can design a workplace for maximum impact.

Image courtesy of M.Kemal/Flickr.

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