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1 OCT. 2018

Greater expectations

In times gone by, business strategies would focus solely on 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 not engaged, happy or healthy. But the 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, management consultant giant Peter Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge work’ in response to the fact that the miners, steelworkers, and men and women on 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 brains. And ideas can only flourish, and cash can only flow, if brains have what they need to function. 

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’.

Leesman, ‘the radiographer of workplace’, exists to arm facility and real estate managers with the data they need to understand what is and what is not working from an employee perspective. Its latest research report, ‘The Workplace Experience Revolution’, is based on a sample of 401,362 employee responses, and the firm’s latest worldwide event series revealed a sequence of business-critical factors on which employee sentiment hinges. 

But why is employee sentiment important? Leesman CEO Tim Oldman believes it is important because expectations have changed. If businesses fail to meet these expectations, they will not attract or retain talent, nor will they be able to unleash the potential of the workforce.  

“Employee expectations are being heightened by what they experience in their personal lives,” says Oldman. “People often find themselves using far more advanced and reliable technology in the home than they do at work. Employees are starting to judge internal service levels based on what they can get externally. This has reset the employer-to-employee relationship.”

Leesman’s work with global brands has revealed that workplaces where employees report the highest levels of productivity, pride, and a sense of community consistently deliver a high standard of employee experience, with exceptional infrastructures that are supportive, immersive and, most importantly, on the side of the user. 

Rory Murphy FRICS, commercial director at Vinci Facilities and board director of the International Facility Management Association’s UK Chapter, believes the newfound 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 workplace needs to reflect the corporate image of an organisation,” he explains. “Not just in how it looks but also how it feels. People need to be treated fairly and be confident that they will be respected and included. The best workplaces are those where people feel comfortable to be the best they can be.”

People need to be treated fairly and be confident that they will be respected and included. The best workplaces are those where people feel comfortable to be the best they can be.

Rory Murphy
Commercial director, Vinci Facilities

The two most costly things to a business 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 facility teams have managed to convince the C-suite that workplaces are vehicles to drive competitive advantage. There is now the recognition that the property, construction and facilities communities, in partnership with the design, architecture and people services spheres, can help organisations boost productivity and improve the workplace experience. 

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.”

Leesman’s Oldman believes it is imperative to understand what your employees do every day – what tasks they complete, too. “It sounds obvious, but the most productive employees are those who have the tools that support their role in the organisation. We can now clearly evidence the factors that most influence an employee’s perception of their own productivity. Offering a variety of work settings is key, as is reducing the destructive impact of noise. Our most recent research shows that an individual’s personal perception of their own productivity is most strongly associated with places that support individual focused work.”

With the right level of investment, assets can increase in value over time. As such, more effort and energy is going into ensuring work environments are not just fit for purpose but also enjoyable, healthy places to be. The goal to make money should not be ignored (you cannot produce good ideas if you’re unhappy or unwell), but there seems to be a newfound recognition that focusing on the people experience can often 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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