How the six factors of productivity enhance workplace practice

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By Andrew Mawson and Karen Plum

Edition 8 – Winter 2016 Pages 34-37

Tags: productivity • workplace • facilities management

Within the facilities management sector there has been a notable dearth of scientific enquiry into the impact of the discipline on workplace performance; with more of a concentration on industry standard practice, than robust evidence-based FM. By contrast the HR profession in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere in Europe, spearheaded by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) has increasingly focused on science-based knowledge which aligns with masters’ level university programmes throughout Europe.

This paper, which looks at the results of a partnership between a workplace consultancy and academic organisation into ways of enhancing knowledge worker performance, could be said to mark the start of a movement towards ‘evidence-based FM’.

Within the built environment, the term “evidence-based design” (or EBD) is a familiar phrase for a corporate real estate, FM or workplace professional; and is described as1: “a process for the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence from research and practice in making critical decisions, together with an informed client, about the design of each individual and unique project.”

“Evidence-based management”, is a logical extension of a practice which started in healthcare, where “evidence” to support decisions is clearly vital, and must be based on science (not just opinion). Most of us will have witnessed management decisions seemingly made on the basis of personal choice, politics, or fad, so, it makes sense to bring in sound evidence to support management decision-making.

The principles of human resource management (HR) were applied in a paper2 published in 2011 on ‘becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner’ with the following definition: “Evidence-based HR (EBHR) is a decision-making process combining critical thinking with use of the best available scientific evidence and business information.” This practice could (and should) be applied to facilities management (FM). In fact there has been some discussion in recent years about the similarities between HR and FM3, and the need for the two disciplines to work more closely together within organisations4.

The two leading HR/FM organisations in the UK, the CIPD and the BIFM launched the Workplace Conversation in 2014, which was an online conversation which saw employees all over the world with an active interest in the future of the workplace share their insights, ideas and comment on the key challenges related to creating better workplaces and suggest practical solutions to the issues raised.

The results of this collaboration, The Workplace Conversation Report5, revealed that UK companies are jeopardising their ability to compete in the global economy by failing to adapt their workplaces to meet modern demands and that many organisations struggle to cope with the systematic changes that workplace modernisation requires; particularly large organisations with very ingrained working cultures and organisational structures; which are not doing enough to motivate and engage knowledge workers.

Knowledge-worker productivity

Peter Drucker first described the rise of ‘knowledge work’ back in the 1950s and not long before he died in 2005, declared that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.”6

Knowledge Workers are people who ‘think for a living’ and Knowledge Organisations are those that predominantly depend on knowledge in order to design and deliver their commercial value. All jobs have some element of knowledge needed to deliver their tasks. However in the Knowledge Economy jobs often don’t have a tangible output (like a product or service). These jobs are at the extreme end of the knowledge work spectrum. In these roles people are being paid to think, fusing their knowledge with that of others to provide new knowledge which ultimately translates into a commercial value.

The difficulty for employers is that many are confused about what exactly is needed to improve the productivity of knowledge workers, simply because knowledge work involves ‘more diverse and amorphous tasks than do production or clerical positions, where the relatively clear-cut, predictable activities make jobs easier to automate or streamline’.7

However, if one facet is clear it is the workplace which is identified as the keystone to improving worker productivity.In 2014, UK Consultancy, Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) launched a major research project into the subject with its research partners, the Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa)8 a non-profit member organization dedicated to promoting evidence-based practice in the field of management.

Under the auspices of the Research Group within AWA’s Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN)9, CEBMa undertook an extensive study involving a review of over 800 academic research papers to answer two important questions:

1. What is known from the world’s academic research about the measurement of knowledge worker productivity?

2. What is known in the world’s academic research about the factors associated with knowledge worker productivity?

The data gathered has provided a deep understanding of the needs of the knowledge worker and helped to identify the main factors which can be associated with their productivity.

Together, using this evidence-based management approach, AWA and CEBMa identified “the six factors of knowledge worker productivity. ”10 AWA believes that if knowledge-based businesses are appraised of these factors,they could have a profound impact on the design oforganisations, culture, leadership competences and workplace infrastructures inthe future.

Furthermore, these findings provide new ‘design requirements’ for everything associated with the organisation.

To carry out the study, reviewers from CEBMa conducted a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) to undertake a review of the world’s most credible academic databases and AWA used its knowledge and experience to translate the academic findings into practical guidelines.The research was sponsored by a group of eight large UK- and US-based companies wishing to understand what academic research had discovered about the determinants of knowledge worker performance.

In reviewing the research the emphatic conclusion is that Knowledge Work is so varied and its outputs so intangible that it is not possible to come up with a single universal measure for Knowledge Worker Productivity.

The conclusion drawn is that traditional measures of output per unit of production like ‘calls per agent per hour’ or ‘units per week’ or ‘cost per unit’ are inappropriate for knowledge based businesses. In fact, they drive the wrong behaviours and have a potential to destroy the value of organisations.

Whilst recognising that a universal measure of productivity for knowledge workers does not exist, it was concluded that it was possible to identify ‘proxy’ measures’ – i.e. factors that influence the performance and productivity of teams. The research identified a range of factors which were correlated with the performance of teams.

Six factors of knowledge worker productivity

The six factors that had the highest statistical association with knowledge worker productivity were as follows and these are referred to as the six factors of knowledge worker productivity:

1. Social cohesion

2. Perceived supervisory support

3. Information sharing / Transactive Memory System

4. Vision / goal clarity

5. External communication

6. Trust

For those in ‘workplace making and managing’ professions (Real Estate, Facilities Management, Workplace, Design, Project Management) these 6 factors provide a new ‘science’ to be used to guide the design and management of the workplace.11

We take a closer look at these below.

Social cohesion:describes a shared liking or team attraction that includes bonds of friendship, caring, closeness and enjoyment of each other’s company12 and researchers have proved that members of strongly cohesive groups are more inclined to participate readily and to stay with the group. 13

What this means in workplace terms is that people need places they can use to work closely with colleagues and to get to know them. A combination of formal and social spaces are needed to cater for a range of needs and types of activities. Locating a team together may facilitate the development and sustainment of social cohesion, but not by itself alone. Also, locating people together may be to the detriment to the relationships they need to have with other members of the wider team, division or organisation.

Encouraging people to sit in different places, taking part in different conversations and enabling the formation of new friendships, getting to know people better (and finding out more about what they know) and sharing of knowledge are key to social cohesion. This is why a mobile workplace infrastructure (IT, space, services) is key to making this happen.

There are a range of things you can do to help facilitate social cohesion spatially; from making sure each team has a “home” which reinforces the sense of team identity and is meaningful to them – to creating shared community spaces on each floor.

These communal spaces help create a ‘heart’ for a building, and encourage occupants to come out from their own locations to meet or eat. Designing ‘destination’ social spaces should be augmented by management initiatives such as running lunches and social events with different themes to bring people together that may not normally meet and help to enhance cross team cohesion, which is often lacking in many of today’s silo’d organisations.

Perceived Supervisory Support: describes how employees feel the supervisor helps them in times of need, praises them for a job well done, or recognises them for extra effort.

The role of ‘supervisor’ is an important one in a knowledge based organisation as the holder of the title has the power and obligation to set the “tone”within the team to help each individual complete their tasks, contribute their own knowledge and ideas and work in harmony with other team members and other teams.

From a design perspective the workplace layout should enable leaders to sit among team members on a daily basis, which encourages routine interaction and helping the leader demonstrate support and forge closer interpersonal relationships. However, the design should also incorporate places for one to one conversations.

However, if, due to the nature of the business, private offices form a part of the office landscape, consider fitting them out so they can double as meeting rooms when the occupant isn’t in.

Information Sharing: Refers to how teams pool and access their knowledge and expertise – which positively affects decision making and team processes. This leads to the idea of a team ‘Transactive Memory System’14 (TMS) which can be thought of as a ‘collective memory in a collective mind’ – enabling a team to think and act together.

The office design should incorporate places where teams can work in close proximity, (but without distracting their not-in-the-discussion colleagues), to make quick updates or just-in-time problem solving easy.

Collaboration and meeting spaces should feature a range of different designs to lend them a relaxed and creative feel and to help encourage people to feel free to share their knowledge and information. Equip these spaces with IT and social networking tools so that people can ask questions of the network and receive contacts and answers.

Vision and goal clarity: Vision refers to the extent to which team members have a common understanding of organisational and team objectives and display high commitment to team goals; which is why it is also referred to as ‘goal clarity.’

What this means is for people to be emotionally engaged with the work they do they need to understand how it fits into their team’sand the wider enterprise’s vision and purpose. Essentially this gives meaning to the work undertaken.

Most organisations help to reinforce these shared goals with visual reminders, from the company brand to a list of shared goals in the reception or meeting room areas. Messages can be reinforced by the creation of staff walls which allow teams to pin up images from their latest project – reinforcing their team’s vision, purpose and key goals so they are reminded of their contribution to the larger objectives of their department or organization. They also serve as an explanation of the team’s role and purpose to those visiting the area.

External Communication: The ability of teams to span boundaries (team and organisational) to seek information and resources from others. Researchers have noted that the more external communication knowledge workers experience with colleagues outside their team or organization, the more likely they are to be innovative15

By contrast if employees glean all their insights and knowledge from within just one team there is a danger of ‘group think’ – thinking they know best and rejecting any external ideas (or not even looking for any). A lack of exposure to the outside world through events, reading, social networks or professional institutions can result in the people becoming out of date, devoid of challenge and new thinking. Employees should be encouraged to join networking groups to meet colleagues from other organisations while within the organisation, the facilitation of a ‘work anywhere’ programme that enables people to work with teams in other parts of the building or on other sites will help increase their exposure to other points of view.

For teams who frequently need to coordinate with members of other teams, the provision of touchdowns within the team’s own cluster of desks, will enable those ad hoc members to gain insights as views are exchanged, or problem solving happens.

Trust: The firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of others is created by the expectation that the actions of other persons will be to ones benefit or at least not detrimental to him or her16. Trust in colleagues and teammates equates to trust in others and is typically called horizontal trust; while vertical trust refers to trust in authority and in this scenario equates to trust in management.

If a workplace is designed entirely with enclosed spaces with opaque walls so that people can’t see what’s going inside; this isn’t going to support trust. Having some measure of transparency not only helps occupants feel more open to knowing what’s happening, it can also facilitate finding a colleague or feeling encouraged to join in on a discussion.

Trust can be supported by making things both physically and behaviourally open and transparent so as to indicate that there’s nothing to hide. Trying to break down barriers between teams who need each other (and discouraging silo’d working) is harder when there are physical batteries between them.

Putting the six factors into action

As we’ve outlined above, one of the greatest challenges for the modern workplace is in measuring the productivity of knowledge workers which is why leaders keep asking us: ‘How can we find out how we stack up against the six factors?’

Through the course of our research we have gathered together a fully validated question set with which to enable teams to score themselves on the 6 factors; and we can even allow each team member to score the teams they work with on the 6 factors.

Putting the intra team and inter team views together we can build up a pretty good picture of how an organisation works against the six factors which is proving to be valuable on a number of levels.

Preliminary results from an ongoing case study17 have already provided us with a useful evidence base that addresses how an organisation can be measured on the factors, and their use of the experience to generate a different language to address relationships within the company. We hope to bring you more details on the outcome of this study on a future date W&P

Karen Plum

Karen Plum is responsible for Research and Development activities undertaken under AWA’s Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN).A Business studies graduate, Karen spent her earlier career in HR before joining AWA, over 18 years ago.Within AWA’s Explorer Groups, Karen has led research into ‘Knowledge Worker Productivity‘,‘Managing the agile workforce’ and ‘Cognitive Performance’
Email: [email protected]


Andrew Mawson

Andrew Mawson is one of the founding Directors of AWA and holds the executive position of Managing Director. He’s a leading pioneer, thinker and speaker on matters ‘work and place’.He’s a major contributor to our Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN) and regularly participates in the Transition Group. He’s heavily involved in the Explorer Groups and directs AWA’s research programme’
Email: [email protected]


1. “Evidence-Based Design for Multiple Building Types: David Watkins and D. Kirk Hamilton.

2. Rousseau, D. M. and Barends, E. G. R. (2011), Becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner. Human Resource Management Journal, 21: 221–235 available at:










12. François Chiocchio 1959

13. Dyaram, Lata and T.J. Kamalanabhan.”Unearthed: The Other Side of Group Cohesiveness.” Kamia-Raj, 2005

14. Wegner, D. M., Giuliano, T., &Hertel, P. (1985).Cognitive interdependence in close relationships.

15. Hülsheger et al. 2009 American Psychological Association.




…Peter Drucker first declared that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century…

…traditional measures of output per unit of production like ‘calls per agent per hour’ or ‘units per week’ or ‘cost per unit’ are inappropriate for knowledge based businesses…

…What this means in workplace terms is that people need places they can use to work closely with colleagues and to get to know them…

…Trust in colleagues and teammates equates to trust in others and is typically called horizontal trust; while vertical trust refers to trust in authority and in this scenario equates to trust in management…

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