Places People Prefer

The Office
Agenda

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

People

What makes workplaces work?

A new report suggests that many organisations are not getting what they need from their corporate workplaces and reiterates the contribution of the office environment to employee engagement and productivity

The Next 250K, a report published by workplace effectiveness specialists Leesman, examines how the workplace affects employee experience and highlights key areas where businesses are missing the opportunity to increase engagement, loyalty and productivity among the workforce.

The report is based on responses to Leesman’s standardised employee questionnaire over the past seven years, covering 276,422 employees across 2,160 workplaces in 67 countries. The results reveal some thought-provoking statistics. As the introduction to the report puts it: “While employers continue to endure economic uncertainty, too many of their employees are having to weather workplaces that fail to support their basic working day, obstructing individuals’ ability to proactively contribute to corporate goals.”

In analysing the survey results, the report focuses on five key themes and uses the statistics to challenge some commonly held views about the modern workplace:

1. Productivity

The headline statistic is that just 57% of employees agree that their workplace enables them to work productively, while 28% actively disagree. The report analyses the responses of the two groups and finds that the greatest differences come in working activities such as ‘reading’, ‘thinking/creative thinking’ and ‘individual focused work, desk based’ – in other words, activities the employee carries out alone and that require concentration.

This runs counter to the prevailing trend for organisations to focus on designing spaces that facilitate creativity and collaboration. While acknowledging that this is important too, the report argues that “to create a high-performing workplace, all phases and activities that underpin knowledge work need to be deeply understood and well provided for”.

2. Demographics

A common theme of discussions about office design is the need to cater for the millennial generation now entering the workforce. However, those under 25 constitute just 4.4% of those surveyed, and furthermore, they have the lowest level of work complexity. On average, out of 21 activities listed on the questionnaire, millennials select 8.9 as being important to them, compared with an average of 10.5 for all employees and a figure of 11.1 for those aged 45-54.

The report suggests that it is this – the complexities of an individual’s work patterns, and consequently the facilities needed to support them – that should be the determining factor in designing the workplace, rather than which generation employees belong to.

3. Refurbishment and relocation

Many organisations naturally assume that refurbishing their offices or moving to a new location will solve any issues with the workplace. But the survey results suggest this is far from always the case, with just 34% of such projects delivering high-performance results. Out of 147 organisations surveyed after an office refurbishment or relocation, 47 registered below-average figures for employees who agreed that the new workplace enabled them to work productively, and only 50 were judged by Leesman to be high-performing organisations.

These figures reinforce the importance of thinking deeply about the workplace before making major changes. The report says: “Workplace design needs to be recognised for its role in work processes, not merely as an exercise to develop a three-dimensional representation of the brand or as a conundrum to match headcount with lettable area.”

It also suggests that some refurbishment/relocation projects may fail to deliver because spaces designed to encourage changes in working style aren’t accompanied by the necessary behavioural transformation programmes to help employees make those changes.

“Taking a people-centred approach to location, amenities, workspace design and technology ensures that businesses can implement what’s right for them, not someone else”

4. Open-plan offices

While it is fashionable in the media to denigrate open-plan offices, the Leesman research finds no reason to do so. Of the employees in its database, 58% work at an allocated open-plan desk or cubicle, and nine of the 10 highest-performing workplaces in the survey were largely or completely open-plan.

It’s more important, the report suggests, to focus on those elements of office infrastructure that have the greatest impact on employees’ effectiveness in open-plan settings. These include, in particular, noise levels and the availability of a variety of different kinds of workspace. Open-plan offices also benefit collaborative activities that rely on social interaction and learning from others.

5. Mobility

As a result of the technology-driven increase in flexible working, where employees can work ‘any time, anywhere’, many organisations have created ‘activity-based’ workspaces that are designed to allow workers to select from a variety of spaces that support whatever activity they need to carry out.

The survey identifies that “activity-based working can deliver significant operational benefits for those employees who use the environments provided for them”. However, there may be an element of mismatch in this area. Of those employees surveyed who work in activity-based workplaces, only 29% have roles that actually require them. While the data shows that those with complex roles will benefit from activity-based workplaces, these can actually be counter-productive for those with a lower level of complexity. The report says: “In these environments, employees are retaining traditional work habits and are then, in effect, working in conflict with the environment around them.”

Mike Wiseman, Head of Office Leasing at British Land, explains that focusing on your people is the first step in getting your physical surroundings to work for you. “Following the latest workspace trend without regard for what employees actually want or need has never worked well,” he says. “Unused fussbal tables, slides and inflatable furniture demonstrated some time ago that what works for Google won’t necessarily work for anyone else, for example.

“As the Leesman Index findings show, taking a people-centred approach to location, amenities, workspace design and technology ensures that businesses can implement what’s right for them, not someone else – and they will reap the benefits in terms of productivity, efficiency, and retention of their best people.”

To download The Next 250K, click here.

Tagged in: EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT, FLEXIBLE WORKING, PEOPLE, PERFORMANCE, PRODUCTIVITY

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