As the CEO of your organisation, the actions you take over the coming months around your people and your physical workplaces will have obvious and, in some instances, far-reaching implications.

COVID-19 has upended your business’s historic operational and financial justifications for the workplace. The world has changed, and if you want your staff to come back to the office, even part-time, you need to provide a compelling reason for them even to consider it. If they do, they will be demanding a significantly different environment and experience to the office they left so abruptly in March 2020.

Executive focus on these issues now is essential, critical and time-constrained.

It was Voltaire who famously said, “judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”. In this article, we will lay out a series of 10 simple questions that will allow CEO’s to lead the ‘new world of work’ debate and to arrive at what is right for you, your leadership team and every one of your colleagues.

If you are not the CEO then send him/her this article and then follow up and ask them the questions set out below.

There is a huge body of evidence that shows the connection between the workplace and your company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace. These 10 questions are designed to generate a strategic conversation amongst business leadership teams with regards to how their workplace can contribute to productivity and effectiveness and competitive advantage in their marketplaces.

This set of 10 questions will provide you with the framework to;

  1. Understand this complex issue
  2. Challenge the Board to unleash the performance of the Workplace
  3. Ensure that your workplace is working at maximum effectiveness?
  4. Understand what to expect from your appointed workplace team.

As you might expect each question overlaps with the next, providing a framework of how the CEO and the leadership team should go about understanding this complex issue? This together with an explanation as to why these questions are important and what a CEO should be able to expect from her workplace team. 

1. Whose responsibility is it to make sure the workplace is delivering to its full potential?

As the CEO of your company, if you were to ask this question of your Board what would be the response? Perhaps more poignantly, who would respond?

Who is responsible for the workplace? Is it Corporate Real Estate? Finance? FM?, HR? or even IT?

In truth, all of these disciplines can all lay claim to managing a part of the workplace that is critical. But, I would advocate, that unless the CEO delegates overall responsibility for the Workplace to one person the workplace will remain in a permanent state of disarray and you will lose the potential benefit the current Workplace revolution promises.

This Workplace Lead role acts as a super-connector to removes obstacles, foster collaboration and oversees an environment in which peer-to-peer information sharing, collaboration and production can occur. They will need to engender a ‘one team’ approach across all disciplines and to empower the Workplace team to act as integrators, not just facilitators

A direct reporting line to the Chief Executive Officer would be preferable.

The companies that have executed on this intent and that are learning from their employees about their workplace needs are showing marked improvement in employee engagement, productivity, effectiveness and competitive advantage and perhaps the most telling, customer satisfaction.

Call to Action: The CEO needs to delegate a senior executive to ensure that the workplace is operating at peak performance and enabling your employees to perform at their best.

2. Do we have a workplace strategy?

The strategy of the organisation is led and implemented by the CEO. This provides the overarching context and direction to the activities of the group. The CEO should, therefore, be driving a workplace strategy that supports the overall enterprise strategy.

For a workplace strategy to be enacted there needs to be an in-depth appraisal of the workplace, its function, physical features and services to understand how it currently impacts the activities of its occupants.

While management has the responsibility of appraising the performance of its people, measurement and appraisal of the workplace that support their performance is needed. If the workplace is second only to the cost of the people it houses, surely it is myopic not to understand how it is performing and how it supports or impairs organisational objectives?

This appraisal need not be elaborate or expensive, but each organisation needs to know how its workplace best supports its employees and what they are charged with trying to achieve. This at its very heart is the essence of the corporate workplace strategy.

Call to Action: Our Ideas Indaba will surface all the possibilities for your existing workplace and set out a plan for creating and enacting a workplace strategy that fully aligns with your organisational strategy.

3. Are we being presented with evidence-based information to make decisions about the workplace?

If an appraisal of the workplace is at the core of the workplace strategy as highlighted above, then measurement to date has largely been about the utilisation and efficiency of space, rather than its productivity.

This is evidenced most obviously in our preoccupation with densities and number of staff per metre squared. This cost-based focus has led to occupancy strategies that support higher densities at the expense of performance and productivity. This has neglected the significance of properties, and a means to connect corporations to their markets, customers and resources.

Position or Place, after all, is one of the P’s in the 4 Ps Marketing Mix in E Jerome McCarthy’s 1960 book Basic Marketing: A Managerial Approach.

Call to Action: Undertake a detailed and multi-faceted Deep Dive Analysis of the workplace identifying cost drivers as well as performance data on the key Workplace aspects.

4. How do we measure our productivity?

The ‘productivity’ debate within the knowledge work environment is a subject most likely to fuel vociferous discussions amongst the leadership team. 

The measurement of productivity in a ‘knowledge’ environment is elusive. However, studies have shown that an employee’s perception of the workplace and its ability to support personal productivity is highly indicative of overall productivity.

Many organisations and their advisors have been guilty of ignoring the negative effect of densification has had on the productivity of employees. Every workplace is very different, and the simplicity and universal application of our model mean that we can use the data to compare how the Workplace supports those that work in very different settings.

With only just over 50 % of employees globally stating that they agree that their workplace allows them to work effectively, business leaders should be highly concerned with productivity and with workplace performance.

What CEO’s need is clear information on which factors will directly and positively affect measuring how effective workplace environment design and management contributes to employees performing at their peak.

Call to Action: The Deep Dive Analysis will directly and positively highlight how effective workplace environment, design, services, and management will contribute to employees performing at their peak.

5. How does our workplace support our business goals?

Are the workplaces you occupy, manage, or deliver, proactively supporting the roles of those they accommodate? Corporate real estate is worthless unless it supports the goals of the organisation irrespective of its actual monetary value.

Workplaces have a critical role to play in the execution of the core management agenda. Initiatives such as remote working, collaboration, innovation, agility, employee engagement and leadership all have physical workspace related dimensions.

In a hypercompetitive world, the workplace is a key differentiator in the attraction, development and retention of the best candidates. According to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), job candidates consider the physical workplace a more important factor than leadership, CSR, technology and the diversity and inclusion agenda.

According to research by the Leesman Index, satisfaction with the variety of different types of workspaces, which support various activities is the highest probability indicator that an employee will agree that ‘the design of their workplace enables them to work productively”. This applies in particular to scenarios where the complexity and variety of work-related activities increase.

Call to Action: Build a Streamlined Strategy that aligns all the elements in the Workplace into a that delivers on the 18E’s of a Winning Workplace

6. Have we asked our people if the workplace makes them proud and gives them a strong sense of community?

Before Covid-19 we have been guilty of ignoring the effect of the densification increased space utilisation has had on the productivity of employees. We have been fixated on arguing over what productivity is, and in the meantime, we have taken our eye off the ball. Rather we should be encouraging the board to challenge their teams to seek answers to a broad range of questions such as;

  • Do our workplaces actively support employees doing the job we employ them to do?
  • Do we understand whether different activities conducted in the organisation have differing workplace needs?
  • Do we know if our employees are proud of their workplace?
  • Do we know if the workplace is helping to create a strong sense of community?

We need to encourage feedback from our clients, customers, end-users and employees as part of a specific workplace experience engagement strategy. This is fundamental both to employee engagement and satisfaction as well as the organisations’ continued success.

Call to Action: The Deep Dive Analysis of the Workplace will reveal the perceived Workplace experience across three dimensions, Physical space, Technology and Culture.

7. Have we asked our people how the workplace could be more productive?

Despite the reticence that any board member might experience in wanting to survey their staff they need to get out of their ivory towers and understand what staff feel about the workplace and how it supports or hinders what they are contracted to achieve.

The data tells us that 47 % of individuals who used to commit to an arduous commute to work every day did so in the certain knowledge that the office hinders what they were trying to achieve. What could be any more frustrating and demoralising?

Is it any wonder then Almost 70% of employees want a hybrid solution of working from the office 1-4 days per week.

Call to Action: Ensure collaboration between the multiple workplace functions in a Solution Synthesis to Coordinate delivery of the workplace across existing silos and engender a ‘one team’ hybrid approach.

8. Are we using technology to help our people work productively?

The growing use of technology, provided by the company, as well as the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Device), has led to unprecedented tech challenges in the workplace. How technology is used and workplace go hand in hand, yet in many offices, this is not only disappointing but has a direct impact on the productivity of staff as well as their resultant satisfaction.

The overriding outcome of the working from home experiment has underpinned the impact of technology on how and where people work. A workforce with access to good technology now has the choice of whether to come to the office with the office plays a vital role in facilitating community, collaboration and cohesion.

The clear message is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all approach. The industry will not provide unconventional solutions on a plate. Business leaders need to create and negotiate alternative provision models that suit their needs. But with the right investment in technology and workforce, the existing institutional barriers do not have to stand in the way of agility.

Call to Action: The key to productivity is a designed Service Solution that combines mobility, the freedom to move coupled with technology and services to deliver a choice of working environments that suit different types of work and personal preferences.

9. Are we using technology to measure how our people are using the workplace?

Attaining greater productivity is a holy grail that continues to excite but elude most company executives. Business leaders, economists and politicians are united in wanting to ensure firms get the most from their staff at the lowest possible cost. But where should they start?

With the rise in activity-based working and the home now being another location to add to the bouquet of options, the picture is becoming more and more sophisticated as are the spaces being designed to support the more mobile worker. We have to ask ourselves are any of these ‘innovations’ actually improving the office experience and aiding productivity as opposed to reducing the cost.

But as Harvard Business Review notes “Few companies measure whether space’s design helps or hurts performance, but they should. They have the means. The same sensors, activity trackers, smartphones, and social networks that they eagerly foist on customers to reveal their habits and behaviour can be turned inward, on employees in their work environments, to learn whether it’s true that getting engineers and salespeople talking works.”

Call to Action: Measurement or appraisal of the office is rarely undertaken. Through studies based on motion sensors and trackers, we can identify and measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the spaces, services and interventions to Unleash Performance.

10. Do we think our strategy is maximising the full commercial potential of our workplaces?

We cannot answer this question for you, but we do know that you will not be able to answer this question without having done the work required by the previous nine questions.

Conclusion

As I have highlighted throughout this article, little connection has been made about the vital contribution of the workplace as a performance inhibitor or facilitator. Considering the cost impact of the workplace, it is puzzling that there has up till now been little or no assessment done on its commercial impact to the organisation.

We can help you create a better and more effective workplace that delivers a superior workplace experience for your staff and your customers that improves your competitive advantage by following the WorkplaceFundi Signature Solution.

WorkplaceFundi helps CEO’s increase competitive advantage by leveraging the physical workplace to create an engaged basis for growth that enhances human performance and reduces cost.

Hit me up on andrew@workplacefundi.com and let’s see if there are some opportunities you are missing out on!