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News & opinion

1 OCT 2018

Greater expectations

In times gone by, business strategies were solely concerned with revenue generation and cost-saving initiatives. Expenditure was reserved for purchasing stock that would yield a financial return and labourers were paid the bare minimum.

If Gaskell, Dickens and Hardy novels portraying working conditions in the 1800s are anything to go by, the workers of yesteryear were neither engaged, happy nor healthy. But bosses didn’t care so long as their pockets were lined. Back then, there was no productivity puzzle to solve – if employees were not productive, they were out.  

In 1954, Peter Drucker’s coinage of the term ‘knowledge work’ responded to the fact that men and women on the assembly lines were slowly being replaced by people who were paid to produce ideas, as opposed to goods. As factory floors began to morph into corporate workspaces, organisations had to recruit and retain not just bodies, but also brains.

While it is difficult to put a price on ideas, nobody engaged in the knowledge economy would doubt their value. Today, the dial continues to turn from viewing humans as ‘resources’ to treating employees as ‘consumers’, especially when it comes to luring in the next generation of talent. 

While it is difficult to put a price on ideas, nobody engaged in the knowledge economy would doubt their value. Today, the dial continues to turn from viewing humans as ‘resources’ to treating employees as ‘consumers’.

“The aim should be to treat employees in the same way the consumer world serves customers,” says Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and creator of Workplace Week London. “This involves designing effective workplace experiences, engaging people on a human level, and cultivating strong emotional connections between people and organisations through the design of workspace.”

Rory Murphy FRICS, commercial director at Vinci Facilities and board director of the International Facility Management Association’s UK Chapter, believes the current focus on the workplace experience is driven by a necessity to improve productivity, enhance the recruitment and retention of scarce resources, and deliver better and more stretching business outcomes. “The best workplaces are those where people feel comfortable to be the best they can be,” he explains.

Two of a business’s most costly assets are its people and its property. Where the square footage required to house a workforce was once considered a burdensome cost, savvy real estate and facilities teams have managed to convince the C-Suite that workplaces are vehicles to drive competitive advantage. 

For Angela Love, director of Active Workplace Solutions, collaboration is essential in this pursuit. “It’s about working in partnership and not forgetting the needs of the users of the space,” she says. “Every component of the delivery team should be clear on the brief and prepared to work together to understand and deliver it.”

Mawson claims that workplace, facilities management and real estate leaders can extend their role beyond the standard ownership of assets to ownership of the experience by abolishing silos and working together “to design and deliver multi-faceted, minute-by-minute, multi-sensory experiences that create an emotional response”. 

More energy is going into ensuring work environments are not just fit for purpose, but also enjoyable, healthy places to be. The focus, then, is slowly shifting from cost to value. Money is no less important, but there is a newfound recognition that focusing on the user experience can generate this rather valuable side-effect.

  • Jo Sutherland is associate director of Magenta Associates, the award-winning built environment PR specialists, and communications director of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) UK Chapter.

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