An inconvenient truth: across 1,600+ corporate workplaces, almost one in two employees do not believe that the workplace support them working productively. Understand why, then transform the workplace from a liability to an asset.
For the avoidance of any doubt, Leesman has never measured employee productivity. We believe organisations themselves are best placed to do that. But since 2010 we have asked every Leesman Office respondent to what extent the workplace provided “enables me to work productively”. To help understand what exactly we’re testing, try transposing the words “work productively” with the central responsibility that employee has. So if a lawyer: “my workplace enables me to solve my client’s legal issues”. Or an info sec specialist at a bank: “my workplace enables me to protect the bank from hackers intent on bringing us down”.
Since spring 2016 Leesman has been heavily involved in supporting the Stoddart Review. This major piece of investigative work aimed to synthesize disparate industry rhetoric and present a coherent ‘one voice’ proposition on the role of workplace in organisational performance. The exercise was superbly facilitated by the British Institute of Facilities Management who have exercised real restraint in allowing the non-partisan enquiry team to sniff out topics and turn stones wherever necessary. The Stoddart Review aimed to get the topic matter on corporate leadership teams’ radars. The pitch: your workplace impacts your P&L. So what? Every exec knows that workplace hits bottom line profitability. But our industry stands accused of failing to show how workplace design and management can proactively contribute to, rather than merely deplete, corporate profitability.
The riposte given for repeatedly failing to engage boards in this debate by architecture, design, workplace management and FM: executive boards are not interested. So the Stoddart Review sought to take a packaged case directly to the board, not arguing for board representation, but instead, for what they should be doing themselves – leveraging their physical and service infrastructures as key performance assets to increase organisational effectiveness, revenues and margins. One of the key strands of the Stoddart Review was a three-day open house where workplace thinkers presented to a review panel, of which I was a member. What quickly became clear, is that our industry is confused and embarrassed by its lack of understanding of productivity. This was most evident in the numerous presentations that ignored the request to discuss employee productivity and instead explored the “productivity of space”. Too often we heard that more people in less space equalled higher productivity and that since measuring employee productivity was difficult, we must concentrate on making places more productive. It’s not surprising then that boards were disinterested: the savings available are marginal. But employee productivity became a brick wall which most Stoddart Review open house presenters just hit head on.
Cognitive psychologists and accident investigators call this “target fixation” – a visual fixation with the obstacle rather than the safe space around it, causing motorcyclists, pilots and five-year-olds riding bicycles without stabilisers for the first time, to collide with the object they have ample space and time to navigate safely. Skiers are taught to look not at the trees, but the space between the trees. Motorcyclists to look through the turn, not just at the apex. Workplace professionals are crashing into the problem rather than looking for the route around it.
Workplaces should be more productive. It’s an inconvenient obstacle for many that just 55% of the 215,000+ employees in the 1,600+ workplaces Leesman has measured since 2010 agree that their workplaces support their personal productivity. That’s concerning, no? Workplaces have many reasons for being: to help build a sense of collective endeavour, reinforce brand values, or facilitate greater knowledge transfer. But underlining this all must surely be a fundamental basic of enabling an employee to do the job they are employed to do… productively? Executive boards have lost sight of this, in the main because their advisors have seen that it’s easier to manage the cost or occupant efficiency of space, than it is to face up to a workplace failing in its key reason for being. Workplace professionals have to come to terms with this and see the incredible opportunity to engage organisations in strategies to improve on those statistics and transform the global value proposition of workplaces.
The Stoddart Review still has much work to do to get to those executive boards. But those behind the study have the desire to try to do so. And initial findings are that boards do look ahead, not just at the apex, are interested and want to know more about employee productivity. Workplace professionals need to start looking forward, not just in front.
Tim Oldman | CEO| Leesman
As the Founder of Leesman, Tim sought to offer the workplace market, the first truly independent, unified and standardised pre and post occupancy evaluation tool. The Leesman Index is now recognised as the largest independent database of workplace effectiveness data, the outputs of which are supporting organisations in their workplace strategies.