by Andrew Mawson — This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of FMJ
In recent years, the many cogs and factions that make up the facility management industry have begun to coalesce around the term “workplace.” This is evident in the sheer number of FM events that have adopted the label including IFMA’s own annual conference, World Workplace.
The genesis of this trend is multi-dimensional – shaped by social, economic and technological factors – but a dominant driver has undoubtedly been a greater understanding around the impact working environments have on people and broader business performance. The very best workplaces in the world – some of which were on show at Workplace Week in New York last month – have changed our expectations around the look, function and purpose of office space. These workplaces are designed much like ecosystems – every inch designed with the comfort, wellbeing and productivity of the people who occupy them in mind.
It is an approach increasingly referred to as “workplace management.” Naturally, the FM sector has a stake in this new worldview. However, a genuine shift from FM to workplace management demands more than just a change of label; it requires the complete reimagining of users’ relationship to the workplace.
Historically, FM has been limited to a cost-driven management of buildings and the operation of services, but this new function is responsible for the curation and management of the workplace experience. Workplace management is about designing and delivering multi-faceted, minute-by-minute, multi-sensory experiences that create an emotional response. It is about designing workplace experiences in much the same way a retailer would, considering every second to deliver a specific “mission.” It encompasses thinking about journeys and destinations, the fusion of space, information, services and how these reflect organizational personality, support human effectiveness and are attractive to your target employee.
There are excellent examples of other industries designing environments in an effort to increase performance and achieve better outcomes. In manufacturing, for example, the design of factory space has been led by process and science. This is epitomized by the Toyota Production System, a lean management method developed by the Japanese car manufacturer in the 20th century, which revolutionized manufacturing by cutting out as much waste from the production line as possible. Key to this method was identifying the areas of the factory plant that added value, which saved money and boosted productivity in the process.
Similarly, in the retail world, a great deal of time and money is spent on understanding how environments impact customers, influence their buying habits and keep them coming back. Big food retailers and car brands such as Jaguar Land Rover are constantly investing resource into fine-tuning the products and services they provide customers. Here, the objective is to not simply increase sales but improve important supporting elements like customer loyalty and brand image.
Corporate organizations, however, are missing a great opportunity to apply many of these important lessons to their own workplaces. The aim should be to treat employees (or users of a workspace) in the same way the consumer world serves customers – by designing effective workplace experiences, engaging people on a human level and even cultivating strong emotional connections between people and organizations through the design of workspace. Building environments that communicate the organization’s brand and objectives is key to this agenda.
The rise of the knowledge worker
As industry and the economy shifted from the factory floor to the corporate workspace, a new type of worker emerged. Creative and technology industries flourished, and businesses became more reliant on employees with specific professional, creative and technology-based skills. Meanwhile, the inevitable technological advances in artificial intelligence and automation over the coming years will eradicate even more process-related jobs and place further responsibility on these knowledge workers.
Today, then, the most valuable assets in a modern organization are often the employees who are generating the profit. So, the onus is on employers to create environments that generate positive workplace experiences and provide workers with the tools to boost wellbeing, engagement and productivity and to enable them to perform at their best.
In a competitive commercial world, designing the best possible workplace and workplace experience is crucial to recruiting and retaining the best talent, too. Knowledge workers are in high demand and they require workplaces that provide them with qualities such as freedom, flexibility, collaboration, comfort and easy access to technology.
Enabling cognitive performance
With businesses now essentially recruiting for “brainpower,” the goal should be to create working environments that do not consume energy but are designed to support elite knowledge workers’ mental performance. Yet there are a significant number of factors that affect an employee’s ability to do his or her job in the workplace. These include a person’s lifestyle habits such as sleep, hydration, nutrition and general fitness, but also environmental elements like lighting, noise, interruptions, and temperature – all of which, if not carefully managed, can create a drain on cognitive capacity.
The human brain is not what it seems. We only have one brain and the majority of its capacity is devoted to managing human physiology: our temperature, our digestion, our cardiovascular system and so on. So, anything that places a burden on our brains consumes cognitive capacity. If someone is too hot, the brain is working to cool them down. If someone cannot see well because of poor light, the brain has to deploy capacity to “approximate” what words and pictures look like. If someone is distracted by a conversation, they have to deploy more brain power to overcome that distraction. If someone has to fight to connect their laptop to the AV kit in a meeting room, the same is true. All of these “experience failures” detract from the pool of cognitive energy a person can devote to business related intellectual tasks. One fundamental aspect of workplace management, therefore, is the creation of fault-free workplace experiences that are frictionless and place no burden on a person’s cognitive capacity resources.
Previous research carried out by Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), however, found that employees are not always appreciative of the impact these factors can have on their performance, and they find it difficult to break these bad habits when left to their own devices. So, the workplace management function should not solely focus on designing and managing the workplace experience but also on educating the users on how to live their work lives in order to be at their most effective every day. If a building has been refurbished to improve elemental factors such as lighting, space and sound, or to introduce new ways of working, this should be accompanied by a change management program that encourages people to alter their behavior.
Dehydration and bad nutrition, for example, can have a detrimental effect on cognitive performance, even causing physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue – which means employers should coach their employees and encourage consumption of the right foods and levels of water. Likewise, if an employee requires an environment for a specific task – maybe a quiet area for concentration work or an informal space for a group brainstorming session – it is the role of workplace management to ensure that this is clearly signposted and that employees understand expectations within the workplace.
Meanwhile, more intangible factors are at play when defining the workplace experience that are likely not familiar to the average FM practitioner. These include aspects such as social cohesion, supervisory support, vision clarity, information sharing, external communications and trust. When it comes to social cohesion, for example, networking areas can significantly improve an individual’s connection to colleagues. Open areas as well as a policy of openness and transparency, on the other hand, can engender a greater level of trust. Organizations need to teach employees new tricks to help them to be more social and give them the opportunity to be more productive.
Ultimately, the role of workplace management should be to determine the most effective experience and conditions for organizational and employee performance, effectively creating a baseline for any future design. In 2015, AWA facilitated the creation of the Workplace Management Framework with a cross-industry UK group. The Framework aims to identify and maximize the strategic and economic benefit of the workplace as a business tool. At the core of this framework is the necessary alignment of the workplace design and services with the core purpose of the organization. Some practical steps that organizations can take to develop a strategic workplace management function include the creation of company-wide workplace vision statement, a workplace strategy endorsed by senior business leaders and the implementation of quality improvement processes. Once an organization has designed a workplace experience, it could even set out a series of measurements that determine whether this is being adequately delivered.
However, this will require a transition from a set of disparate support services to a holistic workplace management function. Creating the right experiences hinges on everything from brand values and marketing image to the functional needs and demographics of employees. Developing positive workplace experiences is therefore only possible through the collaboration of areas such as FM, IT, property, marketing, sustainability, HR and external suppliers. Nor should workplace management be static. As technology becomes more sophisticated, science gets smarter and new trends emerge, a new workplace management function should aim to continuously determine and impart the best research on the productivity of workplaces and individuals.
FMs might not currently possess the capability to effectively manage the workplace experience, but the sector can build on a solid baseline of operational excellence. The necessary next step is to create a role that fills this new job description, such as the “chief workplace officer” (CWO). These CWOs will need to understand the creation and management of experiences, the marketing discipline, business strategy and business planning processes, neuroscience, psychology, architecture, IT, risk management, and service management – and be able to link all this to business strategy to land a punch in the boardroom.
Andrew Mawson, Managing Director of Advanced Workplace Associates, is a leading pioneer, thinker and speaker on matters ‘work and place’. He has the unusual ability to span the worlds of business strategy, organizational design, work strategy, workplace design and change management. In his consulting work, he has led workplace change programs with clients including Invesco, UNICEF, Willis, Direct Line Group, National Rail, Royal Bank of Scotland and Merrill Lynch. In 2014, Andrew worked with the UK Cabinet Office as an adviser, participating in a review of 13 government departments’ performance in implementing agile working as part of the government’s Civil Service Reform program, which has been instrumental in reducing the UK Government’s property portfolio by 20 percent.