There is no doubt the physical spaces our employees work in have improved dramatically over the past decade. Increasingly, offices are now open, bright and aesthetically pleasing. However, many organisations are missing the opportunity to create truly great employee experiences where their people can thrive.
This is the final article in our series that focuses on the key elements that directly impact the employee experience. Our first outlined what employee experience really is and why it is so important. The second identified leadership as the most important factor, whilst the third highlighted the importance of operations as a key people enabler. The last article outlined why tools, and in particular data, can have such a big impact on empowering employees.
All about collaboration?
There has truly been a pendulum swing over the past decade. The trend has clearly moved towards open-plan workspaces where employees are encouraged to interact freely and engage with one another. It is rare now to find an office with old style offices and cubicles – rather they have been replaced with shared spaces and Activity Based Working (ABW) where no-one has an allocated desk and all are actively encouraged to collaborate freely.
Whilst this sounds like a good idea on the surface, it often comes with a number of unintended consequences.
We’ve often found that these new modern workplaces make it challenging for certain cohorts to feel welcome. This includes mums often struggling to find appropriate places to work as they still (mostly) carry the responsibility of dropping kids off at school or kindy, as well as millennials who find it hard to develop meaningful relationships as colleagues move around so much, particularly in larger employers with head offices.
The problem with Activity Based Working is that if done for the wrong reasons, or if done superficially, it may not cater for all four distinctively different needs of a modern workspace required to create a great employee experience and to achieve organisational goals.
As Duncan Mitchell of property consultancy TwentyTwo points out “Businesses are using Design Thinking principles to re-engineer their systems and process to create better customer experiences, so why aren’t they applying the same principles to creating work environments for their people?”
“Why are businesses scared to ask their people what sort of work environment would let them their best work? Research shows people have fairly basic requests – fresh air, fast WiFi, some sort of outlook etc. I don’t understand why HR professionals haven’t stood up and taken the lead in these projects.
The Four Needs of a Workspace
In order of priority, we believe a working environment needs to allow employees to:
Focus: Do your employees have suitable abundant space to concentrate for significant periods of time, without distraction from noise or movement? A simple way to check if you have a distracting environment is to look for employees with headphones in their ears trying to drown out other employee’s conversations. This has become the new normal for businesses, but doesn’t make sense – people are trying to overcome the noise with more noise. Office movement is a modern phenomenon that persists in distracting employees – just watch how often your people’s eyes pop up from their work to see who walks past them. The consequence? It becomes almost impossible to achieve a state of Deep Work – as identified by Cal Newport – meaning high rates of rewarding productively cannot be achieved.
Collaborate: For employees to collaborate meaningfully, organisations need to be thinking beyond simply open-plan spaces. Employees need appropriate places to engage with one another to ideate and explore, with a range of tools at their disposal to capture useful thoughts and ideas including hi-tech (audio/visual equipment, touch screens) and low-tech (large writing walls and post-it notes). Consideration should also be given to facilitating virtual collaboration – this often requires specialist spaces with acoustic privacy.
We are continually surprised at the number of offices without a suitable place to do this kind of creative thinking.
Learn: The best kind of learning is continuous learning, including meaningful and ongoing coaching and mentoring. Yet, for this to become a reality, organisations need to not only invest in developing the skills required to do this effectively but also provide the appropriate space in which to do it. Consider whether your office has an appropriate place in relatively close proximity to the normal working space, where employees and team leaders can sit down and discuss progress without distraction or interruption. We don’t mean a meeting room though – as this can sometimes make employees feel like the discussion needs to be hidden.
Socialise: This last one is an interesting one. With so much choice about where and how to conduct work, there actually must be a desire to be in the space in which we work. Assuming the previous three elements have been achieved – consider whether or not people actually enjoy being in the space. Not just to work, but to engage. Do people choose to stay back after normal working hours to relax with colleagues; do they show off their space to friends and family? If not, why not?
With working from home and increased flexibility on the rise, we must ensure our spaces are designed to attract team members in, offer choices, a sense of pride and somewhere to have fun.
As Zak Hogg from Workplace Strategists and founders of ABW Veldhoen + Company suggests “Some organisations are starting to actually think about using the workplace as a way to attract and retain talent, and form part of the value proposition, and think about supporting their people in what they actually do more effectively.
“Those organisations who really get it are truly thinking strategically about where they are heading, what it asks of their culture, and how they go about supporting their people at work for a consistent experience through their property strategy.”
At Humankind, our goal is to develop employee experiences with spaces where communities are created, great work is achieved, and amazing customer experiences are delivered.
It is clear that this needs to be deliberately designed and can never be left to chance.