Suddenly, wherever you are, whoever you are, the problems we all face are the same: a common threat, governments trying to respond to an enemy it cannot see, friends and family we cannot physically reach, loved ones we’ve never told how much we love, basic survival instincts leading to the hoarding of supermarket basics, and pretty much every semblance of normality derailed in some way.
But business leaders sights are looking beyond these issues. The most pressing concern for them is the prospect of emerging into a business landscape more savage and uncertain than any of us has ever experienced. It might well be short term, but there will be victims.
If there is any certainty, it is the acute expectation that you as a real estate or facilities manager will build contingencies into every aspect of your strategic response plans and slash every 2021 budget line as deeply as you can. It will test you and the best you gather around you to their fullest.
Formulating that strategic response will not be easy. COVID-19 will impact every business differently, simply because every business entered the arena with different strengths and different susceptibilities. That also means there’s no cut’n’paste response plan that worked last time because there hasn’t been a last time like this time.
Your responses and ability to move quickly will be aided or impeded by the views of those above you on three key dimensions: your organisation’s financial position—can you afford to out invest competitors; organisational creativity—is problem-solving baked into the core because it’s going to be needed in every corner of the business; and corporate elasticity—an organisational ability to flex and adjust in the moment as the sands beneath continue to shift for months to come.
You know you will have to reduce costs and slash investments, and you will also be expected to pound your supply chain, because both are blunt but simple first round easy wins. But also expect the heads of the lines of business around you to seek support as organisations shift resources to core business activities. Whole divisions may disappear while others double in size.
Watch out, though, as decision paralysis grinds some business to a halt. The unnecessary counselling of internal peripheral stakeholders or sub-contracting decision making to external advisors simply risks that the positive impact you are trying to make is outdated by the time you get to implement it. And then prepare for the bold movers, where action-oriented leaders will offer a nod to forgiveness rather than wait for permission, hailed heroes if they call it right but cast into the cold if they call it wrong.
For those in property, workplace, facilities management and the myriad disciplines around those, your action plans will be needed quickly. Thrashing your supply chain is only an option if your supply chain is still intact, and many won’t be. Quickly getting your grand project back on programme is only helpful if your organisation still wants to make grand statements, and many won’t. So, as and when social distancing is relaxed, what next? Do we throw away the last 10 years of workplace philosophy and reset plans to post-Lehman reactionist strategies?
Let’s be brutally honest—some of you will have no choice, because the case for workplace as a tool in corporate competitive advantage is not universally understood, proven or accepted. Some have written books trying to make the case, but they are only read by those who already believe. Covid has caught us out.
At Leesman we have spent 10 years gathering data to understand how employees experience workplace, and we have the largest evidence base to know which of the levers real estate, workplace and facility managers can pull for maximum impact. But we don’t fully understand the impact that density, desk sharing ratios, vertical distribution and departmental adjacency have, nor do we fully grasp the interrelationship of concentrative and collaborative space. None of us truly understand how all the moving parts interplay.
I give you a pledge here to try and correct that once we’re through all this.
What we do know however, is that the best workplaces outperform the average ones on employee values like ‘pride’ and ‘enjoyment.’ My genuine fear is that these values will be downgraded in importance as widespread redundancies turn the pre-Covid-19 war for talent into a new capacity-based Cold War: retain just enough of the best to keep us ahead of the rest.
As this Cold War shifts attention from cultural values like pride and enjoyment to more fiscally focused objectives like productivity and knowledge transfer, our evidence across 726,000+ globally distributed employees tells us that the gap between the world’s average workplaces and the world’s best is more narrow. The gap is still significant but is nevertheless undeniably smaller.
But our data and our research outputs here are strong and compelling. We know exactly what creates a heightened sense of productivity, and we also know what kills it. Corporate real estate, facility and workplace managers need to grab and maximise these factors.
So, in this data is a plan that can be built and mobilised.
This research, led by Dr Peggie Rothe and I, was first published in 2018 from data across 400,000+ employees in 3,100+ workplaces and unearthed the statistical drivers of employee sentiment, and perhaps most importantly, the statistical influence of each workplace component in governing that sentiment expression.
We now know what makes an employee feel productive.