Smart workplaces strive for both increased performance and attractiveness

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By Kati Barklund

Edition 6 – October 2015 Pages 30-33

Tags: workplace management • productivity

The workplace can and should be used as a strategic tool to support work and cooperation, to shape the experience of the brand and to produce competitive advantage for the organization. Even when not used as a strategic tool,the workplace still affects all these elements and there is an overwhelming risk that it can instead have a negative impact if we are not aware of this relationship.

The workplace makes a great difference to outcomes and it is becoming an important differentiator between successful and less successful organizations.I also strongly believe that the workplace management area is of key importance for us in the FM sector to bring facilities management to a higher level, and shift from a cost focus to more of a value focus. This is something we need to do together within the FM industry and we really should take the driver’s seat. But, let’s start from the beginning.

We can see four key drivers of change within the workplace strategy area,and these are:

• Cost/Price pressure;

• Sustainability and corporate responsibility;

• Technology;

• and the war for talent and productivity.

When it comes to the cost/price pressure area, we still see a lot of focus on the cost side due to the economic situation, maturing markets, global competition and the fact that costs,for example, staff costs and rents, rise continuously. The rent is for example generally really high, especially in the urban areas. We know here that the utilization tend to below at almost never over 50%. In our own utilization studies regarding both our clients and ourselves we have generally seen a 35-45% utilization of work desks. In UK for example, the Real Estate managers see a reduction of almost 50% of the need of space within five years and we can see the same development in the Nordic countries as well.

However, we also see a change from only being cost focused to being more and more value focused. Are we getting what we need, could, and should get for the money and time we are investing? Are we really optimizing the value? And this is especially important in the field of FM where the overwhelming focus over the last years has been on diminishing cost. This is without always reflecting on the relationship between FM services and employee satisfaction and productivity. In many cases the productivity cost can be so much higher than the actual saving we are making.

Regarding sustainability, the focus on the issue continues to be even harder, and not only regarding environmental responsibility but also social and economic responsibility. We see a shift from just seeing sustainability as a hygiene factor to seeing sustainability as a business opportunity and a way to attract both employees, clients and business partners. In the future, companies will get neither clients nor employees if not being sustainable.

In the technological arena, we see this as both a driver and an enabler. Technology is both driving and making change possible, and I am not only referring to new technology, but existing technology that has become both cheaper and more available. For example, QR code technology is today more than 20 years old, but we have only recently started to see and take advantage of this technology. We,both as private persons, employees and organizations, have become much more mature when it comes to technology.

Today we are more used to technology and to trying out new things – and if it does not work, we try something else. We also tend to see possibilities with technology to a greater extent than before. We see how it can help our lives and work –to simplify, improve, streamline, fasten and secure – and we have begun to demand it.

Corporates are also fighting a war for talent and increased workforce productivity, so when it comes to this fourth area, we see that corporationstoday are fighting a war for talent and productivity and that the workplace, meaning “office, home and third place”, is really becoming an important differentiator.

What we can see is that:

• Unemployment remains high. However, both private and public sectors struggle to recruit and retain talented people in several areas and regions. We also know by looking at the demographic development for example, that this war for talent is increasing. We will have even greater lack of talent in many areas and regions in the future and therefore even a greater war for the talent.

• The workforce at our workplaces today is diversified. We have for example a four-generation workforce today; and although I believe that much of the same things are important to people regardless of generation, there are some differences as well in preferences and attitudes towards work and workplaces.There are also other variations amongst the people, for example, when it comes to cultural and religious differences, personal backgrounds,and of course different personalities like introverts and extroverts.

• Many people at work today are not engaged. According to Gallup,63% of employees are not engaged and 24% are disengaged as an average of 142 countries . Many people come to work and lack motivation and just do a minimum effort and are “less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes”. Also many are “actively disengaged indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers”. How does this affect creativity, efficiency, productivity and performance of the employees and the organization? And how great is the potential of getting more creative, efficient and productive employees if we can increase this engagement?

• Many people (47% according to Leesman as an average of more than 100.000 sampled respondents) feel that their workplace does not enable them to work productively. If I feel that my office doesn’t help me to work productively, why should I go to there? I might rather work from home, from a café, or from somewhere else.

• There is a strong relationship between perceived comfort and self-reported productivity, with differences in productivity as high as 25% reported between comfortable and uncomfortable staff and, “with a 1 to 4% increase in perceived productivity for a 15% increase in satisfaction. ” You cannot of course measure productivity objectively when it comes to knowledge workers. Productivity differs a lot from person to person, but also there are many different factors affecting productivity, and it is impossible to know exactly what factors have the greater affect. For example how much does the workplace or different aspects of the workplace influence productivity? Instead, we measure the perceived individual productivity and whether we feel that our workplace enables us to work productively, as in the Leesman Office survey mentioned above.

• As the World Green Building Council said : “There is overwhelming evidence which demonstrates that the design of an office impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants”.

• “Appealing workplace facilities consistently double the likelihood of a candidate choosing an employer regardless of the combination of other variables .” It is really important that the workplace signals what we want it to signal and that it shows that we are practicing what we are preaching. Everything in our workplace sends signals, and not just the design but also behaviour, services and solutions. The workplace needs to be trustworthy and consistent with our mission, values and offering. The workplace is an important platform for the brand management of any organization.

In conclusion, people are the largest expense and most important investment for any organization. What may appear as a modest improvement in employee health or productivity, can have a huge financial impact for the organization. The overall picture above is pretty general, no matter what company or business area. Of course, there are differences and some organizations in some areas and countries have slightly better or worse figures, but in general, we believe that every company can do a lot better.

Organizations can attract and retain more people, save more money, be more sustainable, have more satisfied, engaged and productive employees and overall perform better. I know that some organizations have realized this and I know that more will follow.

Workplace management as a single function?

If we look at the workplace management area, we see lot of interesting things happening. Traditionally we have had a silo thinking here, but now the workplace management area is becoming a more coordinated function. In the UK for example,25% of Real Estate managers say that they already have seen this happen, and 40% predict they will see this happen within five years. We also see these new workplace titles and functions like Head of Workplace and Chief of Work. The main objective for this new function is to increase productivity and performance and to enable this, the coordination of HR, IT and CRE/FM-functions is absolutely necessary. These are all important parts of a holistic workplace and the common aim for the workplace function is of course to make work, work better!

An holistic lifecycle perspective on the workplace

In our Smart Office model, we have both a holistic and a lifecycle perspective on workplace management. Smart for us means that the workplace is attractive, productive, efficient and sustainable during the its whole lifecycle. As we see it, we can use the workplace as a strategic tool to:

• Strengthen the brand.

• Attract and retain people (both employees, clients and partners).

• Maximize the output by enabling cooperation and making the employees more satisfied, healthy, inspired, engaged, creative, efficient and productive.

• Optimize the use of space, resources and money.

• Increase sustainability regarding both people, planet and profit.

Even when not used as a strategic tool, the workplace still affects all these parts and there is an overwhelming risk that it can have instead a negative impact regarding attractiveness, productivity, efficiency and sustainability,if we are not aware of the relationship and really use the workplace as a strategic tool. This applies to all workplaces and offices regardless of what organization or business area it occuies. The workplace impacts the business results!

If we look at our holistic model, we see that it is always the employees who are to be supported in the workplace and all these parts – meaning the process, place, technology and services – need to be in place so that the office can fully support employees in their work. These parts need of course always to be in line with the mission, vision, strategies and goals of the specific organization.

We believe that a Smart Office is:

• Centered around the people working there. What attracts and motivates them? What do they need to be able to perform at their best?

• Based on the activities that are to be performed in the workplace; where and how are these activities best performed?

• A place designed for flexibility. Flexible in a way that it is accessible and used every day,depending on different activities and that is open for changes and innovation over time.

• Enabled and enhanced by technology, which efficiently supports the required ways of planning and performing work.

• Enabled and enhanced by the services provided, regarding both function, convenience and experience.

• Sustainable in every possible way, by balancing economic, environmental and social aspects.

Treat the workplace as a process – not as a project!

If we look at the lifecycle side of our model, we must consider the entire lifecycle of the workplace, which is normally up to 10-20 years or even more. In the beginning, we have a project, often lasting up to a few years, before moving to the new workplace, and the project normally ends six months after moving in. In most cases, we could say that the workplace is already OLD on day one when we move in, because during the project we haven’t followed up the needs and adjusted the process, place, technology and services. Over time it just gets worse, with a discrepancy between the needs of the workplace and the support to make changes. This is because we treat the workplace as a project instead of a process. These needs of course vary and change all the time and we need to continuously follow them and optimize the process, place, technology and services.

In practice this should be a never-ending process. A process – not a project! In order to stay smart, the workplace needs to stay attractive, productive, efficient and sustainable through its whole lifecycle.

The basis for workplace lifecycle management

Before we make a workplace change, whether it is moving to a new office or transforming the existing office, we usually conduct a utilization analysis. We want to know how we are using the workspace, so that we can have a better idea of what we might need in the new workspace. How are we working? Where are we working? How much space do we need? What kind of space and workstations/collaboration areas do we need and to what extent?

We want to get a better understanding of why we are using the workspace the way we are using it, how well the workplace corresponds to our needs (are we satisfied, does it enable us to work productively etc.), but also to get a better picture of what we require in the future. This can be achieved with workplace utilization analysis, including with the use of heat sensors, but also with qualitative analysis with questionnaires and interviews.

Yes, of course we need to conduct utilization analysis before a workplace change and there really is a huge potential in reducing square meters, increasing the number of employees and increasing employee satisfaction and productivity. All of this is enabled by objective and reliable facts. But, what we tend to forget is that the workplace is a process, and that things change continuously. This means we need to continuously monitor and adapt to ever changing needs in order to keep supporting the needs of the employees and the activities conducted in the workplace.

However, in most cases, we only conduct utilization analysis before a workplace change and often for just a short period, so even immediately after the change, the workplace does not meet the needs, and day by day it just gets worse, until we have another workplace change project after maybe a few years.

Utilization analysis, and especially permanent sensors are an excellent basis to start following up the workplace in more effective. This- when used as the basis of a workplace governance model that includes continuous metering of important workplace parameters like engagement, self-reported productivity – combined with more qualitative methods to follow up the changing needs, would help us keep the workplace smart during the whole lifecycle, and not just in the beginning.

In conclusion, we believe that it is really time to take a more holistic lifecycle perspective on workplace management in order for organizations to perform better. This will make a difference. Smart workplaces and holistic workplace lifecycle management is good for people, good for the business and good for the environment and yes, the workplace really impacts the performance and attractiveness of the business! W&P

About the Authors

Kati Barklund

Kati Barklund works as Group Innovation Manager at Coor Service Management Group. Kati is also global ambassador for WE (Workplace Evolutionaries) and Board Member of IFMA Sweden

e [email protected]




  1. Mitie, Executive Research 2014
  2. State of the global workplace, Gallup, 2011-2012
  3. Leesman Office Survey 2015
  4. The Impact of Office Design on Business Performance: Cabe
  5. The Holy Grail of Measuring Workplace Productivity: University of California, Berkeley.
  6. Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices, World Green Building Council
  7. Does workplace design affect employee attraction? Hassel and Empirica Research
  8. Mitie, Executive Research, 2014


…Appealing facilities consistently double the likelihood of a candidate choosing a particular employer, regardless of the combination of other variables…

…Communities where power is held collectively by the many instead of by the few; and where technology connects members and allows them to collaborate and learn without requiring them to be in the same physical location…

…Our problems and opportunities are not unique to our businesses, industries or countries. Together we can tackle the issues and we all have this opportunity now, more so than ever….



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