Call Center Ergonomics: A Case Study of Design Excellence

By Rick Burkett

If you were to ask the average person on the street to describe their idea of a call center, you’d probably hear the words stressful, noisy, and unfriendly. For designers and architects, these issues should be at the forefront when approaching any call center project. This was certainly the tactic my company took when we were hired to design a new call center for an email, event, and social media marketing agency headquartered in the Boston area.

The rapidly growing company wanted to build a new backup call center in Loveland, Colorado. The property was located in a light industrial park setting, so the basic exterior architecture was already established and under the control of the developer. However, we were able to slightly alter the design to suit our client’s needs.

As with any call center job we handle, our primary goal was to make it more than simply a sea of cubicles. One of the major design features that helped to break up the monotony of the space was creating a central spine that would make the office feel united. To accomplish this, we placed all the common areas in the middle of the space: kitchen, conference room, and manager offices. For these areas we utilized different colors, brighter materials, glass, and subtle lighting to create islands of social activity that would feel like the office hub.

In addition, a large data center component was part of the requirements. Data centers can bring a great deal of noise to a space, so it was critical that the work environment be minimally impacted to ensure high quality communication with callers. We incorporated noise mitigation elements, such as a full-height, acoustically engineered separation wall that prevented the constant hum from the data center from being an issue. Within the space we also integrated as many “soft” sound-absorbing materials as possible. Locating the data center properly in relation to the rest of the space was critical, so we made sure we maintained openness and unobstructed views.

One of the unique attributes of this particular client was that – even though they knew what they wanted – they allowed us to explore a variety of design alternatives. This resulted in features such as glass floor-to-ceiling windows that brought a great deal of natural light into the perimeter areas where the call center reps were situated. This connection to the natural environment proved to be a huge boost to productivity and employee satisfaction. The spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains was certainly a nice benefit for the agents.

A sense of community and belonging also plays a key role in making workers happy, so for the individual call center stations, we went with a honeycomb pod configuration. These clusters of workstations help create a teamwork-based environment, since each individual pod tends to develop a personality of its own. Since feeling like a member of a distinct community also helps with agent productivity, we used low partitions so views were not obstructed and co-workers could see each other. The entire design was based on making the employee experience as positive as possible. As with most of our call center projects, we incorporated an outdoor area with access to sunshine and shade, where the employees could decompress when needed.

Good ergonomics, acoustics, lighting, and some creative license made for a great workspace. The original project size was a 60,000 square-foot space with room for 430 agents. We designed it for future expansion, making it 80,000 square feet with room for 520 agents. The call center has now been open for three years and has continued to grow, filling the additional space and now operating near capacity.

Rick Burkett, AIA, NCARB, LEED® AP, is an architect with over twenty-five years of experience and a partner at Burkett Design. Rick specializes in the design of call centers.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]