Feng Shui, simply translated from Chinese, means “wind” and “water.” Together, the words represent harmony and balance.
Feng Shui can be traced back 6,000 years in ancient China, when the art first found its roots in the dispersion of energy or “chi,” which was thought to flow through the universe and influence our daily lives.
“Through the knowledge of Feng Shui, people are believed to be able to make themselves more compatible with nature, their surroundings and their own everyday life, so that they can make an impact on their finances, health, and emotions.”1
In the office, moving furniture and other objects to conform with Feng Shui practice is thought to make employees more productive, happy, and energetic.
Although you may not be sold on this ancient Chinese practice, studies have shown that physical aspects of the office do, in fact, alter employee performance. And, although these studies do not specifically test the success of Feng Shui, they can help law firm managers improve employee efficiency through a few, related workplace changes.
First, employee performance has been shown to fluctuate with air temperature. A study by Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE, and Cornell University, found that when office air temperature dropped from a comfortable 77 degrees to a chillier 68 degrees, typing mistakes increased by 74 percent and typing output decreased by 46 percent (via Ergonomics Today).
So, the next time your employees complain about hot or cold, take them seriously. And, look to rent office space that has floor-to-floor (or room-to-room) adjustable thermostats.
Second, in a different study, experts discovered that 80 percent of participants preferred working at adjustable workstations that permitted them to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the day. More importantly, these workers scored higher on productivity measures (via Ergonomics Today).
“We found that the computer workers who had access to the adjustable work surfaces also reported significantly less musculoskeletal upper-body discomfort, lower afternoon discomfort scores and significantly more productivity,” explained Hedge, director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, in a press statement reported by Ergonomics Today.
Therefore, when it’s time to replace those dingy old office desks, look for adjustable options. Include standing space for highlighting or hole-punching briefs, and then include sitting room for those moments when lawyers need to buckle down.
Finally, not only do employees benefit from a few aesthetic changes around the office, but the firm’s bottom line improves as well.
It turns out, law firms can save money on office rent by simply using existing space more resourcefully.
For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, a law firm in large U.S. cities pay as much as $1 million to $2 million a month in rent to house 300 attorneys. Yet, in reality, many agree that attorneys are given way too much office space.
“It’s such a big line item,” says Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner for Paul Hastings LLP, a major U.S. law firm (via WSJ). “It’s a natural place to look for efficiency.”
So, as your lease comes up for renewal, think about downsizing lawyer offices or doubling them up.
Also consider the productivity implications of close proximity. When the international law firm Allen & Overy LLP moved to a new London office in 2005, the firm looked for a generic floor plan with mixed windowed offices and cubicles. But, at the least, everybody in the firm had soundproof glass walls.
“You can wave at someone going by,” said Edward Mackaness, associate director of business services for that office (via WSJ). “But they can pull the door… if they need the quiet they can create the quiet.”
If your firm can’t afford glass, consider an open-plan office to facilitate peer-to-peer communication. This will help less experienced first-year associates find help when needed. Close proximity of junior and senior attorneys will also create a forum for mentorship relationships.
In an open-plan office, no person works in isolation. And—like family-style dining—this close-knit seating makes more efficient use of office space, which saves your firm on rent.
One of the fundamental principles of Feng Shui is Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang is a representation of harmony and continual change. In the same vein, don’t let your office environment become stagnant. Change it up. If you do, you’ll watch as associates become happier, client work becomes more productively completed, and the firm checkbook becomes more balanced toward the black.
Read more in “Law Firms Say Good-Bye Office, Hello Cubicle,” by Jennifer Smith for the Wall Street Journal.
1. Feng Shui-The Ancient Doctrine of Feng Shui http://chineseculture.about.com/library/weekly/aa041700a.htm