9 January 2017 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Smarter use of Britain’s office space could improve productivity by 1 to 3.5 per cent and deliver a boost of up to £70 billion to the economy, a study by workplace, property and business experts hosted by BIFM has revealed.
The findings are published in a new report titled ‘The Workplace Advantage’, from The Stoddart Review.
The study, drawing on data from the Leesman Index, is “a wake-up call” to business leaders as only half (53 per cent) of employees reported that their working environment enables them to work productively.
Authors of the report called for an industry-wide rethink to demonstrate and measure the value of the workplace to counter-balance the prevailing cost focus.
The report also found that mobile working was not the norm and that 91 per cent still work solely from the office and the “social value” of the workplace has profoundly changed to being a catalyst for “community and cohesion”. It also found that “business agility is no longer a luxury, it is critical to survival” and rapid changes in technology could help to empower workplaces.
The review explains that while much has been said about the productivity gap, “little connection has been made about the vital contribution of the workplace as a performance inhibitor or facilitator”.
Alison Nimmo, CEO of the Crown Estate, said measurement has proven to be be one of the problems in discerning productivity.
“Measuring utilisation – how many people per square foot of accommodation – had led design and occupancy strategies to support density at the expense of performance and productivity,” she writes in the ‘The Workplace Advantage’.
Nimmo says the review found a disconnect between the workplace, the industry serving it and the people it is intended to benefit.
The report concludes that there is “no silver bullet for the workplace productivity debate – no panacea workplace plan” but that businesses had to assess and measure whether their workplaces were “proactively supporting the roles of those they accommodate”.
James Sutton, executive director at the BIFM, said: “Raising productivity levels is essential to delivering stronger economic growth and we can see here the impact that workplace can have if it is leveraged as a strategic asset. Those leading the review were continually reminded that the purpose of the workplace is to make employees as effective as they can be.
“When workplace is hardwired into an organisation’s purpose, values and brand it drives pride and engagement and unlocks discretionary effort.”
The report proposes a blueprint for boosting productivity through multi-faceted solutions and highlights agile, high-growth firms leading the way.
One of these was a call for a new role of ‘chief workplace officer’ (CWO) combining the functions of four professions including FM. This would close the gulf between “people, place and process” and raise productivity.
The CWO would be “a super-connector who knows the right people to run to, and who is able to match the right people to the right opportunities”, developing integrated business cases and acting as “the interpreter between individual team / business needs and the infrastructure teams that deliver them”.
The review was conducted through interviews with business leaders, property experts and academics, and analysed data from the Leesman Index on more than 200,000 employees in 63 countries.
Polly Plunket-Checkemian, programme director for the Stoddart Review, told FM World: “Despite the gains to be made, half of businesses in the UK are getting it wrong. They’re tackling workplace productivity by making the workplace more efficient, not the people. And UK employees can tell. According to data from The Leesman Index - an independent measure of workplace performance - only half (53 per cent) of employees say their working environment enables them to work productively. We are calling for a re-think. We are urging British business and industry to demonstrate and measure the value of the workplace to counter-balance the prevailing cost focus. We want them to treat it as the strategic asset that it truly is.”
Dr Kerstin Sailer, a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture, said: “This is a really important report and I agree wholeheartedly with the premise that workplace should be seen as a value rather than a cost.
“It is a difficult message though, since cost is more readily measured (every organisation knows how to do that), while measuring the value is more tricky. The report now gives some answers to the ‘measuring value’ question, but it’s a complicated story and something the experts have to do. Organisations are beginning to listen and I hope this will gain momentum.”
MD of Advanced Workplace Associates Ltd
“It’s good to see the Stoddart Review and BIFM getting more public exposure for the workplace and it’s link to productivity, which many of us have been campaigning on for years.
The key is to have a crisp and tangible articulation of the links between individual and collective productivity and the work/place and a campaign to engage the leaders of some of our great businesses in the debate.
In our own research at AWA we think we’ve found the key to articulating this in a way that business leaders are increasingly ‘getting’ but it relies on a different start point and language, i.e. forget the space and think about the organisation. The key question is ‘What do we need to do to make everyone on the payroll the best they can be individually and collectively every day.’”
1 Learning how to reframe business cases which focus on delivering value to the business rather than just cost – linking back to the organisation’s productivity metrics
2 Understanding the power of measurement and analysis of activity and effectiveness. By accepting that workplace, the demands placed on it and the way it’s used are always evolving, progressive companies are regularly appraising the effectiveness of their space with the same discipline as they appraise their people
3 Making the workplace a regular part of the board agenda and re-orientating responsibilities toward the CEO and HR Director in decisions about how to design the workspace, traditionally the remit of the CFO
4 Recognising that workplace interventions operate on a different cycle to traditional property lease events like renewals. Smart businesses avoid committing all investment and intellectual capital in one go, instead regularly reviewing and refining the office environment
5 Understanding the power of variety of work settings. It is the key to increasing density and is the single biggest workplace lever for direct return on investment in human capital
6 Reversing the trend of value engineering social infrastructure out of design solutions. Places that allow people to meet informally, relax and work in different ways – whether in teams, small groups or alone – are critical as a catalyst for collaboration and social cohesion
7 Changing the level their workplace professionals operate at so they are no longer custodians, but workplace champions. Delivering integrated business cases and acting as the interpreter between the needs of the business and the infrastructure teams that support them, the new chief workplace officer is a bridge between HR, tech, corporate real estate and facilities management and champions the employee experience
8 Using their workplace to build community and brand affinity