Shaping high performance workplaces
As cultural, digital and generational shifts all make their impact on the way we work together, how can our workplaces support greater productivity?
Attitudes to our workplaces are changing. In an increasingly connected world we are seeing greater flexibility in how and when we work – whether at home, in the office, or on the move. At the same time, new generations are bringing different expectations to the workplace: what it looks like; how teams work together; and what it means to have a work-life balance.
This change of attitude sits against a backdrop of the UK’s productivity puzzle. Only last month data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that output per hour across all sectors fell 0.1 per cent in Q2 2017 following a 0.5 per cent fall in the previous three months, putting the UK behind the US, France, Germany and Italy.
The challenge for businesses is therefore twofold: to shape workplaces that attract the best talent, and to deliver higher productivity.
Solving the puzzle relies on businesses fundamentally changing how they view the physical workplace, looking beyond functional concerns like cost per square foot and recognising the value a well-managed work environment can add to their bottom line.
The commercial case for businesses and for UK plc is quite clear: studies such as the Stoddart Review’s Workplace Advantage report estimate that better management of our work environments could deliver a productivity boost of between 1 and 3.5 per cent – adding up to £70bn to the UK economy.
Achieving this is, however, much harder. It relies on understanding the factors that can make or break employee productivity.
Learning from the consumer world
One answer lies in recognising that, at a most simplistic level, an employee is just another customer. Consumer-facing industries like retail and hospitality rely on physical surroundings such as sounds, sights and smells to create an emotional connection which ultimately influences human behaviour. Why shouldn’t this be possible in the workplace too?
Together with Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), we been reviewing the findings of over 100 consumer studies and best practice examples as part of our Workplace Experience project. Our goal is to understand how we can put ‘workplace consumers’ at the heart of the workplace design and management process as a means to building loyalty and boosting employee performance.
One of the first things we have learnt is the need to give ownership of the workplace to the people who use it, establishing an employee-led team of ‘workplace guardians’ to shape how the workplace looks and feels. This could range from seemingly small things like the menu choice in the cafeteria, through to how meeting spaces are set up to support greater dialogue and team working. By understanding what employees are looking for, we can tailor better experiences for them that boost their performance.
Building a brand
Of course, there needs to be a balance, and the shaping of the workplace must reflect the culture, messages and values that employers want to instil in their teams, whether that is promoting greater collaboration or a drive for innovation.
Flexibility is also essential. The advent of new technologies and social trends has the potential to radically alter working practices, so a static approach to the workplace won’t work in the long term. Again, we can take lessons from the consumer world. In the retail sector, brands work hard to establish loyal customers, but they also need to stay alert to new trends or risk losing out to new more fleet of foot challengers. Businesses need to make sure they are thinking in the same way if they are to retain and develop talented teams.
Creating and managing successful workplaces is a long-term commitment and it will take businesses time and money to put the relevant structures in place. However, the commercial rewards are high. By understanding the workplace consumer, businesses can ensure that they create environments which boost productivity and foster long-term loyalty from their teams.