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The Office Agenda brings together our extensive insight into what makes an office that people – from employees to the board – prefer.

Places People Prefer

The Office
Agenda

Design

Will a CWO improve your productivity?

The first report from the Stoddart Review examines the connection between the design of a workplace and the performance of the people who occupy it

What role do working environments play in the productivity of office workers in the UK? That’s the question the Stoddart Review (a not-for-profit initiative involving experts from across the property sector) set out to answer. The results, published in a report entitled The Workplace Advantage, provide plenty of food for thought for those in charge of British businesses.

The research that underpins the report uncovered an explicit link between how well a workplace supports the activities that employees undertake and the extent to which they say their workplaces help them to work more productively. This may sound obvious, but the report also suggests that few organisations place sufficient strategic importance on the physical working environment as a key driver of organisational performance.

“Most companies only review their workspace when there’s a lease event, which can be as seldom as once every 10 years,” says Polly Plunket-Checkemian, Programme Director of the Stoddart Review and Strategy Director at Broadgate Estates. “We believe they should be continuously asking whether the workplace is keeping pace with changing working styles. Most companies appraise their employees once a year: why don’t they do this with their workspaces as well?”

Productivty
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Despite the growth of flexible working, the report points out that 91% of employees are still solely or predominantly based at a single location, 64% of them at their own desk in an open plan area. Moreover, for those companies that do offer remote and home working, the office still serves as the most effective enabler of people interaction. “What we found is that progressive companies realise that they can use the workplace to enhance their status as knowledge facilitators, by creating spaces that promote creativity and collaboration,” says Plunket-Checkemian.

People-centric workplaces

Matt Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing at British Land, describes the report as important and timely. “There’s a growing understanding of the importance of workplace as a tool for companies, in the sense that it can – and perhaps should – be an extension of the brand; a physical symbol that the company cares about its staff and is committed to invest in them,” he says.

Webster says that the report’s findings chime with British Land’s way of thinking about offices. “Focusing on productivity is about providing workplaces and locations that allow businesses to thrive,” he explains. “Wellbeing is at the heart of that – looking at how we can create people-centric workplaces. That involves thinking carefully about factors like air quality, lighting, access to daylight and access to nature, and all of that feeds into the way we design our office buildings and campuses.”

In this respect, the smart buildings revolution is key, providing a wealth of data on the office environment that can be used to enable continuous optimisation of the workplace. Webster highlights British Land’s refurbishment of its own head office, York House, as a good example of how a focus on wellbeing through design can have a dramatic impact on people’s productivity, social interaction and general engagement at work.

But Plunket-Checkemian emphasises that the report is not suggesting that companies constantly refit their offices; the key is to create flexible workspaces where alternative work settings are readily available. Webster agrees: “Flexibility and adaptability are key words for us, and we collaborate with our customers to make sure they’re getting what they need out of their workspaces. We see ourselves as their business partner; it’s not just about providing a space and leaving them to it.”

The start of a conversation

The Workplace Advantage was sent to the CEOs, CFOs and HR Directors of FTSE 350 companies when it was published in December, and Plunket-Checkemian says it is intended to be “the start of a conversation between business leaders and the workplace industry that will lead to behavioural change”. She hopes the conclusions of the report will trigger board-level discussions about whether a company’s workplace is enabling it to be as effective as it can be.

The CWO: the role that is changing the workplace

The report concludes that there is a strong case for the creation of a new role: Chief Workplace Officer (CWO). This person would act as a bridge between the human resources (HR), IT, corporate real estate (CRE) and facilities management (FM) functions, representing the employee in the workplace ecosystem.

Plunket-Checkemian concedes that this is an ideal that may still be some way off becoming a reality. But the principle of viewing the workplace as a major contributory factor in company performance is highly topical – not least because, as economist Duncan Weldon points out in the report, a 1% gain in productivity across UK business would add almost £20 billion to our national output.

To download a copy of the report, go to stoddartreview.com

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