Before COVID there had been some research on the impact of hybrid work on human capital within knowledge-based organisations; including how working within a distributed environment may impact knowledge sharing, social-network development, learning, innovation and productivity. However, these studies largely used self-reported surveys’ to assess the impact of hybrid work on employee experience.
Over the last few years, changes in working environments have been fuelled by modern electronic collaboration tools, such as Microsoft’s Teams and Salesforce’s Slack, providing for the first time, a complementary dataset from which to measure and evaluate how knowledge-workers connect and communicate with one another in a distributed environment. Each study has contributed to the fundamental need for workplace planners and designers to gain practical understanding as to how to facilitate and enhance human capital, and especially effectiveness of communication, collaboration and subsequent employee experience.
“What makes this research such a standout is the focus on a single Client across the pre-and post-Covid time period using actual use data (digital and self-reported).”
So, a study with a focus in this area, spanning the pre and post covid period based on a large population from a single company was always going to be of interest. With this in mind, I had the opportunity to talk with Cushman & Wakefield’s Rachel Casanova and Sophie Schuller about their study, the current findings of which are to be presented at Workplace Trends Research conference on 19 April 2023 here.
This study started with the question ‘What happened when offices were no longer an active asset to support employee connection, networks and relationships?’ and uses Organisational Network Analysis data (see below) to make measurable and objective findings and insights.
In 2019, Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) worked with a Client to explore the influence of spatial design on organisational networks within their business and investigate the impact of workplace design on self-reported employee experience and communication patterns. As the lockdown began in March 2020, the scope was expanded to include a global Organisation Network Analysis study to understand the impact of remote working on communication and collaboration effectiveness.
What makes this research such a standout is the focus on a single Client across the pre-and post-Covid time period using actual use data (digital and self-reported). C&W has developed a statistical model which starts to evaluate and compare how we develop human capital and build relationships across organisations when we work together versus within a distribute model. In addition, C&W has been able to develop insights into the way in which workplace planning and design may also influence these human-dynamics and their subsequent impact on employee experience.
In the latest study, the researchers developed their own analysis tools and used raw electronic communication data to build and organisational network map for the periods during mandated working from home and periods of mandated return to office, summarising electronic collaboration patterns from email, instant messages, calendar invites and calls using MS Teams.
These data provided the researchers with the ability to compare the effects of hybrid working on human capital relationships. Further workplace planning, HR and employee experience data were anonymously connected to the dataset to provide deeper insights into how the physical composition of the workspace may influence employee experience as well.
There are limitations to this approach:
- Digital data and employee engagement survey results were combined but only measured the mode (email, meeting, chat) and frequency (strength) of communication and not the nature or content.
- Insights from the combined data set were analysed at a building, department and team level ensuring compliance with data protection and GDPR. Initial findings suggest that more significant network clusters exist across each office, although it was not possible to attribute these to a topic, subject, or individual owing to data privacy. Further research into these clusters’ contexts would add significant insight into this exploratory research.
Workplace Trends presentation
Workplace practitioners attending the Workplace Trends Research conference will be interested to learn more in two practical areas:
- How distributed work may fundamentally change the way in which employees develop relationship and strength of networks.
- What aspects of workplace design and composition may drive positive and negative changes within human capital.
In addition, attendees may be interested to learn how such a research programme can be set up and undertaken and the insights and decision support it provides in (cost-benefit) value terms.
From my conversation with Casanova and Schuller, insights from the research are many and will continue to give us evidence-based insights into the way in which networks were disrupted, developed, or leveraged during the initial period of the lockdown. From this we have a good base to look to the future of how workspace is being used.
Whilst clearly there is a detailed analysis to support the study’s findings, I am glad to report that the Workplace Trends presentation will use readily understood infographics to highlight the (current) results, findings. And of course, the C&W team will be on hand to comment on insights and answer audience questions. W&P
Author: Marcus B, 10th April 2023
With thanks to:
Rachel Casanova – Senior Managing Director, Workplace Innovation, Cushman and Wakefield – New York, USA
Sophie Schuller – Partner, Head of Living Lab, EMEA, Cushman and Wakefield – Amsterdam, The Netherlands