Chief Workplace Officer The Stoddart Review: The Workplace Advantage Report was published in December 2016. The report focused on how the workplace could be used to generate revenue, instead of it being regarded simply as a cost that needs to be managed. I included an initial review of the report in my post, Stoddart Review – Why the Workplace Environment is Key to Productivity.

The report found that by utilising the workplace to their advantage, companies could boost their productivity by upwards of 3 %. This would mean a massive boost to not only individual company success but a significant boost the overall economy. But the report goes on to ask that with the size of this challenge and potential benefit to the organisation, who is responsible for the workplace? The report recommends the creation of a new post, The Chief Workplace Officer (CWO), but who is best placed to fill this important role?

One Question

The report includes a series of 10 key questions that every CEO should be asking their board about the workplace. These questions are insightful and in many cases difficult to answer with layers of complexity that cut across many areas of any organisation. I tackle these questions in detail in a post entitled 10 Workplace Questions All CEO’s Should Have on Their Board Agenda but the very first of these question poses an interesting dilemma.

“Whose responsibility is it to make sure the workplace is delivering to its full potential”

If the CEO of your company or your client’s organisation were to ask his/her board that question what would be the response? Perhaps more poignantly, who would respond?

Who is responsible for the workplace? Is it FM? Is It HR? Is it IT or is it Corporate Real Estate (CRE)? In truth, a case could be made for each one of these disciplines. I would advocate, as does the Stoddart report, that we are in this state of disarray precisely because no one has taken overall responsibility for the workplace.

The workplace at its simplest is nothing more than a resource in the production process. If we are to gain maximum advantage from this expensive resource we need to be able to integrate the workplace and make it work to our advantage. To ensure that this is properly co-ordinated we need a champion at board level to take overall responsibility and accountability for it.

The Stoddart review which was a collaboration between business leaders and workplace experts found that only half of the U.K.’s office workers can say that their workplace enables them to be productive. In addition, the unproductive sector of the workforce believes that the workplace is also affecting their pride in their company, its image and its culture.

In spite of a huge focus on new, more agile and flexible ways of working, ubiquitous connectivity and improved IT tools, Britain’s poor productivity record is showing the biggest gap with other leading western economies since modern records began in the early 1990s. Why is that?

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All Work is Not Equal

The world of work has changed and continues to change at ever decreasing intervals. Workplace projects are now effectively in a state of perpetual beta development.

Since Peter Drucker coined the phrase the ‘knowledge economy’ in his seminal work Landmarks of Tomorrow: A Report on the New ‘Post-Modern’ World in 1959, we have moved from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based one. The ‘knowledge worker’ who Drucker described as someone who predominantly uses their brain rather than their hands as the means of production drives the knowledge economy.

Whilst nearly 60 years has elapsed since the knowledge worker was identified, their tools have advanced but the design of the office as a facilitator of their productivity has struggled to adapt. We have lurched from dark central corridors and cellular offices to the dreaded ‘Dilbertian’ cube to where we currently find ourselves in an open plan sprawl.

The standard 20th-century office facility derives its template from the production floor of the industrial revolution and despite numerous iterations remains little more than an administration factory today.

With the advent of automated processes and procedures, many business leaders have fallen into a trap in believing that all work is not equal and that a lot of what were once knowledge workers could now be regarded as rote process workers. These workers are largely ignored and expected to work in less than ideal surroundings because it is believed that they use very little unique knowledge, skills, creativity or experience in the production of their work. A sentiment prevails that these jobs are one step away from robotic automation.

When executives focus solely on knowledge workers, or what Richard Florida calls the ‘creative classes’ they lose sight of the fact that even highly routinised jobs require improvisation and the use of judgment in ambiguous situations, especially if the goal is to drive performance to new levels.

In his 2010 HBR article  Are All Employees Knowledge WorkersJohn Hagel III said: “Perhaps the single greatest lesson from Japanese auto manufacturers is that all employees are ultimately knowledge workers and that the role of the firm is to both encourage and support problem-solving by all employees”.

These factory workers were the antithesis of the conventional view of “knowledge workers”, and yet were, in fact, essential to performance improvement for the broader firm.

Whilst this is all true we have known for centuries that true creative endeavours require a different environment. True knowledge work depends less on following a repeated formula or prescription and more on applying theoretical knowledge and learning in an unpredictable culture of collaboration, exploration, autonomy and initiative. Such work requires a more flexible approach to facilities and the spaces that are required to optimally perform different types of work.

It is such workers that complain that their offices are too noisy and distracting and are disappointed by the lack of different types of workspace including communal and breakout zones for them to work creatively and fulfil their potential. Unfortunately, it is this precise same worker that is infinitely more mobile, in demand and if not engaged and satisfied will simply move to your competitor.

Workplace as a Strategic Advantage?

So the question remains does the average office facility simply provide a place to work or do they provide a competitive advantage for the organisation? Workplace as a tool for production has unfortunately been a concept rather than an operating reality.

The workplace plays a strategic role in any organisation; it is at the very least the biggest 3D billboard you’re ever likely to own or occupy. It showcases your brand to the world and signals to your employees your values, what you value in others and how much you care for your employees. By improving the employee’s workplace experience and enhancing engagement, productivity and other aspects of corporate success will follow. Your workplace is intimately and directly involved in your ability to attain your strategic goals.

These attributes are not unique and can be seen in almost any workplace across most industries. The pressure to create innovative ideas, products and services to advance any business means that the creativity, intuition and knowledge of your staff is a key differentiator to advance the business. An unsuitable workplace has the ability to crush the efforts of your staff along with your competitive advantage.

CEO’s increasingly expect their facilities teams to be at the forefront in helping to advance these goals. Workplaces are evolving quicker than ever before and we are witnessing dramatic shifts in how and when employees work.  JLL’s research paper C-suite Demands More Productivity states that “Skyrocketing C-suite demands for productivity are creating a “pressure cooker” of expectations for corporate real estate (CRE) teams worldwide“. Improving workplace productivity is definitely the CEO’s highest priority for their property professionals.

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FM’s are experiencing increasing demand from leadership to support both wider cultural change as well as new workplace strategies. If these deliverables are seen as critical to the organisational success, then the role that the FM can play must also be seen in the same light. After all, we are the ones who should be advancing these new ideas for making the workplace a tool for the business and a unique commercial advantage.

Businesses have long recognised the importance of delivering a differentiated and engaging experience for their customers particularly in the service sector. Why then have we not applied the same philosophy to creating memorable employee experiences in our own backyard?

Forward-looking companies are well aware that top talent is looking for more than a job with benefits, they’re looking for Company purpose, flexible working hours, agile and new ways of working. The workplace industry is awash with trendy gimmicks such as ball pens, multi-storey slides, bean bags etc but even middle-of-the-road companies are creating experiences central to the “Place of Work” such as Workcafes, gourmet food, shops, gym facilities etc.

Workplace as an Experience

The essence is that these companies are leveraging the “workplace as an experience” the essence of this approach is that all the aspects and parameters of work, the physical, emotional, intellectual, virtual and aspirational, come together in a carefully orchestrated and unique experience to inspire employees in their day-to-day activities. This matchless approach fosters loyalty and productivity that the competition will find impossible to equal.

Designing our internal experience and organisations from an employee perspective should, therefore, receive the same kind of attention and resources that are used when looking at servicing our customers and creating a great customer experience.

The rise of mobile technology and an on-demand economy are driving employees to expect similar experiences in their personal lives and at work. Contrary to what we may have heard this is a requirement of all ages in the workplace and not the exclusive demand of millennials.

The ‘workplace as an experience’ is becoming a priority amongst leaders. Airbnb has led the way with their Global Head of HR Mark Levy having changed his job title to chief Employee Experience Officer to signal the importance of this to all of their employees.

When asked what he thought ‘workplace as an experience’ means, Levy stated “at Airbnb we are focused on bringing to life and mission of creating a world where you can belong anywhere by creating memorable workplace experiences which span all aspects of how we relate to employees including the work environment we create with them the type of volunteer experiences we offer them and the food that we share together”

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia says, “Everything at Airbnb is a continuation of what it’s like to be a guest in somebody’s house”

The Chief Workplace Officer

The purpose of the Stoddart review was not, as some have inferred, an inward-looking exercise in preaching to the choir. It was not a rallying call to an already converted workplace industry. Publishing in such a mainstream journal as The Sunday Times was designed to reach its intended audience of business leaders, not just property professionals and to raise the importance of the workplace in their organisations.

The report deliberately stands on the peripheral boundaries of the workplace industry to engage those that have the most to gain from viewing their workplaces as a strategic tool. The purpose of the Stoddart Review was to create a conversation around change, it is targeted at business leaders and it’s about taking hard data gained from the Leesman index and seeing what resonates with business leaders.

One of the controversial recommendations from the report was for the formation of a new role, Chief Workplace Officer (CWO). Why use the prefix ‘Chief’’? The idea is that it acts as a pointer to underpin the seriousness with which the position should be taken and that it sits with the other C-suite executives, around the boardroom table.

The Stoddart Review has shown that the interface between people, place and process should be the preserve of a specialist with appropriate levels of access and influence. This role is now meaningful for the first time because of the enormous availability of relevant data.

The CWO removes obstacles, fosters collaboration and oversees an environment in which peer-to-peer information sharing, collaboration and production can occur. The CWO acts as a ‘super-connector’ who knows the right people to turn to and who is able to match the right people to the right opportunities.

The CWO role sits at the centre of what have in the past been strange bedfellows. Corporate Real Estate (CRE), Human Resources (HR), Information Technology (IT) and Facilities Management (FM) functions have not always worked well together. As one would expect this debate has raised competition amongst the four functions as to who would be best placed to perform in this role.

The idea of this role is not a new one; in its more recent configuration, as in the case with Airbnb, it has been called Chief Employee Experience Officer or Chief Employee Engagement Officer. With their eye on the prize and perhaps unsurprisingly HR have put the emphasis on ‘employee’ in the title. The focus on the employee is warranted and I have often advocated that FM is more akin to HR than Operations. I for one do not have any issues with HR claiming the role if there is suitable experience and skills available within the HR pool, then please go ahead.

FM Needs to Reframe Itself

We are undoubtedly in this predicament due to a lack of clarity in who is responsible for this role as well as leadership from those that have had the potential to effect this change. A leader from whatever discipline is urgently required to promote the benefits and drive the workplace strategy towards integration.

Whether that leader is from the facilities management discipline will depend upon the context within the organisation. Whilst FM’s are required to be multidisciplinary in their approach this may not fit the project at hand and better capabilities might exist within the IT or HR department.

If however, the workplace strategy calls for the workplace to be raised to a new level of importance than as James Sutton the Executive Director of the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM)  states;

“This poses an opportunity for FM to reframe how it is perceived in business from what is frequently seen in terms of costs, operational delivery and risk management to one that can drive high-performance workplaces. There is a natural connection with senior FM practice and there are many FM’s already leading the way in this area. This needs to be more commonplace in corporate strategy, structure and culture with the benefits of an effective workplace being better understood not just at the top but throughout the organisation.”

The FM function has come a long way from supervising janitorial services. It has made the move from merely being an instruction taker to an instruction giver. From a budget recipient to a budget holder, FM’s are intimately involved in the formation of the agile organisation and the way it works. As with HR and IT, they have networks that span of the entire organisation but FM have the unique experience where they are the integrators of projects involving all three other disciplines and which have a direct impact on both HR and IT outputs.

FM has the building, space, design, brand and their effect on worker productivity as cornerstones of their profession. FM’s experience in integrating people and technology within the workplace affords them unparalleled experience in shaping a holistic integrated workplace. FM therefore potentially has more impact on wider areas of the business than any of its counterparts.

The benefits of a truly integrated workplace would bring unparalleled levels of efficiency and effectiveness, boosting the bottom line and competitive advantage. With employee engagement and productivity at all time lows, bold and innovative steps are required to meet this challenge.

FM’s have the experience and skills to upgrade to this position. The more important these demands, the more critical the FM role becomes. With the move to more agile working co-working and space away from the central office then who other than FM is better suited to the role of gathering employee feedback?

FM is on the frontlines of using workspace as a tool to advance the organisations’ goals. We are the ones who can and should be advancing new ideas for making the workplace a tool for the business.

FM’s are better placed to understand what workplace service can help staff become more productive, or creating spaces at-the-ready for formal and accidental collaboration that leads to innovation.

FM’s daily provide a choice of workspaces for different kinds of work, access to the right tools wherever staff are working, and spaces that foster health and well-being all of which affects not only the brand that the total employee experience.

We can promulgate FM practices that enable productivity and employee satisfaction no matter where an employee chooses to work that day. We can advocate for workplaces that engage employees and foster their health, well-being and creativity. We are the custodians of the office as a brand and infusing this into the workplace in order to engage and inspire the employees.

FM’s are at the tip of the spear when it comes to taking a thoughtful, deliberate look at how every employee experiences their workplaces and how the workplace enhances the work they produce.

Call to Action

The Stoddart review is a clarion call to action in advancing the workplace strategy as a means to improving productivity. The FM fraternity needs to be first in line with data-driven recommendations for making the workplace more functional and productive. For all these reasons FM is better qualified to step up to the plate and assume the mantle of Chief Workplace Officer because if we don’t, IT will.

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Question: What would be the first thing you would do if you were the CWO?