Making Data and Research Work For Your Workplace
Assuming the needs of your workplace based on a generalized perception is quite the gamble. In order to fully understand the areas in which your workplace could be better supported, analyzing data rooted in strong research is an absolute must as it can be the difference between a thriving workplace and a severely stagnant one.
Eleanor Forster is the Managing Director for Leesman in North America and her fascination with understanding how people and space influence and interact with each other are integral to her role at an organization that strives to create a better employee experience.
Leesman provides a wealth of crucial data that FMs need to better support the needs of the workforce. It’s not only FMs who can benefit from knowing these facts though, it’s HR and CRE too. Through collaboration between departments, there’s more chance at providing a workspace that works effectively for its employees.
Leesman specializes in helping organizations optimize their physical work environments. How much has that changed over time and what do you think are the most important elements of optimizing a physical workplace in 2018?
Forster: We have now surpassed 380,000 individual respondents for the core Leesman survey, which puts us in an extraordinary position to look at the impact of the hard and soft infrastructures on employee experience. From our extensive database, we see that understanding exactly what people are doing in their role and then wrapping the design to support those roles is critical. If someone has a very complex role, the workplace needs to work harder for them. Simply put, a desk cannot support all work activities for those with a range of responsibilities, they instead need to access to a variety of spaces that support the variety of activities they’re undertaking.
We talk about ignoring demographic diversions or “myth busting.” A key workplace discussion at the moment is around millennials and how to create workplaces which work for this particular demographic. Yet, from our data, we see that millennials actually record higher employee experience scores than all age groups apart from the 65 or over age group. On the other hand, the 35-44 age group report the lowest employee experience scores in the database. What’s more is those in the 45-54 age group have the most complex work activity profile, so they place the highest demands on the infrastructures provided for them. This highlights the importance of understanding what employees are doing and focusing on how the workplace can support those activities, not focusing on their generation.
We see in our research that supporting individual, focused work is essentially a hygiene factor for a highly effective workplace. With the drive to create more collaborative space to meet new business objectives, we can see statistically that an employee’s sense of personal productivity is closely linked to the support of their head down, focused work. Workplaces that have layered collaborative space over an infrastructure that is not supporting the individual could see little or no benefit.
Why do you think so many organizations have tried to get themselves “millennial ready” and do you think it’s a valuable practice despite data suggesting they are not actually rebelling against outdated workplace strategies?
Forster: That’s a bit of an opinion, to some extent. All of us have our personal challenges and technology is moving quite fast now, but I started working when the Internet and e-mail had just started and now this huge technological advancement has happened.
To focus just on one group is a folly. Although millennials are a large demographic making up the workforce in the corporate world that we’re measuring; if you’re only getting ready for that generation, you may be ignoring those within the organization who have way more complex and responsible roles. It would be a risky strategy to only approach a certain percentage of your employees and especially to ignore the ones who tend to have very complex lives both inside and outside of work.
That 35-44 age group are the lead satisfiers in the database and the group above that is registering the most complex working lives. Activity and job complexity are a far bigger physical driver than trying to create a design tailored to one age group.
What do you think FMs should be focusing on in order to increase employee satisfaction and productivity through physical work environment changes?
Forster: When we implement any of our Leesman surveys, it’s one standardized tool but within that there are a number of sections. Integral to any workplace survey are the physical service features. We have over 90 lines of inquiry that apply to those features in terms of what people feel is important and how satisfied they are with them.
In terms of a delivering a highly effective workplace, being able to benchmark in our database can provide FMs with an excellent resource for understanding what areas are being impacted. It’s not something that you’re pulse-checking every few months, it’s an assessment of employee experience every year or two and change can be implemented off the back of that. A lot of enterprise clients utilize it to make sure they’re staying in line with their objectives and FMs are also staying on top of what they’re getting back in terms of workplace experience and physical features.
You wrote an article about how the workplace can be an obstacle and enabler when it comes to social cohesion and improving productivity. How can an FM ensure they are doing everything they can so that their workplace is on the enabler end of the spectrum?
Forster: Obviously there are a number of factors and not just the FM side of things can create issues. Within our Leesman survey model, we’ve got questions that look at the overall impact space is having on employees and environmental psychology questions in terms of pride, productivity and other factors.
If we see a low pride score, for example, I can almost guarantee that if I look at general decor, general cleanliness or refreshments then there are going to be certain areas where that score is also low.
What are some of the biggest developing workplace trends Leesman has identified over the past year or so? How do you think these have affected / will affect FMs?
Forster: One thing is creative collaboration. That brings up a lot of conversations around activity-based working (ABW), people are trying to understand whether their organization is right to move to that way of working — whether they want to align that from an organizational objective point-of-view or they’re consolidating into smaller spaces.
That moves into open plan spaces, but understanding within those open plans whether they are moving into a whole new way of working with ABW. There’s a lot of demonization of open plans and what we’ve seen within the database is, simply put, you can have a phenomenally good open plan or very average one. The biggest difference we see is the provision of a variety of different types of work styles.
In terms of the trends at the moment, if I was looking at some of our clients in New York, it’s about creating more access and visibility to colleagues by looking at that infrastructure for things like open stairwells and to be able to take down silos, basically.