Leveraging the workplace industry

  • Prioritise effective user experience over economy-focused, space-saving strategies

  •  Choose the reporting lines with care. The CFO, COO and CEO produce different emphases and outcomes

  • The role of the chief workplace officer (CWO) is emerging

One of the greatest weaknesses of today’s workplace industry in the UK is that it is dominated by a silo approach – different packages of advice and outcomes come at different stages in the lifecycle of the workplace.

Important decisions on key elements such as budgeting, design, value engineering, fit out, furniture, behavioural/change management, post-occupancy evaluation, refits and workarounds all take place at different times with the people involved rarely working together towards common performance-driven outcomes. This affects the ability to deliver a continuous strategy.

The result of this mode of operation is that the workplace industry constantly appears to be pursuing the next best thing. It is susceptible to being seduced by trends rather than pushing its clients to innovate from within. This in turn leads to the industry being seen in negative terms. In other words, the industry has an image problem.

Reporting lines

One key determinant of this fragmented approach to workplace strategy is the reporting lines that many companies follow. The traditional reporting lines of facilities management into the financial director and chief operating officer often guarantee a traditional, cost-driven approach. However, it is clear that progressive employers who see workplace, tech and human capital on an equal footing are changing those reporting lines. A direct line into the chief executive officer creates different parameters and opportunities.

The companies that have contributed to this research have made clear that reporting lines matter when considering the link between strategic workplace and organisational intent. The companies who are doing it successfully appear to be learning directly from their employees about their workplace needs. They are then training their custodians of the workplace, whether executives or individuals embedded as workplace advisors, to focus on performance-driven outcomes from their advisors and supply chain.

PokerStars (see page 27) has changed the reporting lines, spent time coaching the CEO and taken a disciplined approach to measurement. At Thomsons Online Benefits (see page 33), workplace decisions are made based on defined productivity measures and a clear understanding of staff needs.

A clearly articulated and demonstrable contribution to the organisational value proposition, rather than an operational cost focus, holds the key. Those who differentiate between the stakeholder priorities of the CEO, CFO and CTO will build an integrated case which addresses each of them. Focusing on productivity gains rather than operational savings will always deliver greater long-term benefits.


Balance of responsibility

The overwhelming verdict of companies that contributed to this research was that the design and fit-out process was systemically tipped against those responsible for the workplace. Office projects have for too long been procured by teams whose objectives are financially driven rather than people-driven. According to evidence presented to the Review by design teams, the majority of projects are cost-planned before the workplace designers have taken a brief, and designers are allowed minimal to zero engagement with the end users or the executive board. This inevitably results in lower levels of employee satisfaction.

Dan Pilling, workplace designer at Maber Architects and deputy chair of the BIFM Workplace Special Interest Group, says, ‘I would be embedded within some client facilities management teams and I found time and again that they were frustrated at being locked out of some key decisions.’ He proposed a ‘centralised portal’ which would ‘enable all stakeholders in the workplace sector to access and participate in what I feel is lacking an objective view, free from sales angles, or workplace solutions tied to specific products and sensationalist Google-esque case studies’.

But this is slowly starting to change, says Pilling. ‘What’s happening now is that there have been very interesting conversations about who is in control and who should be at that table. The fact is we have a multifaceted problem which needs multifaceted input.’

The research carried out for The Stoddart Review into what the industry can do for companies’ workplace strategy, end-user experience and productivity highlighted a number of recurring themes:

- There is a business case for prioritising effective user experience over economy-focused space-saving strategies

- Choose the reporting lines with care. The CFO, COO and CEO produce different emphases and outcomes

- There is a need for a new role as an interlocutor between the needs of the individual teams/business units and the infrastructure teams that deliver them

Organisations can be better clients by owning the writing and development of a clear and simple brief.

This last point is vitally important. A simple brief enables everyone in the process to work towards a sensible business case, to avoid mis-selling pitfalls and to start commissioning solutions based on what employees need rather than on the latest trends. But it is important to remember that a simple brief belies the amount of collective time and effort to get it right. As Neil Usher, workplace director for Sky, says, ‘It’s worth remembering that the brief isn’t the solution. It’s an aspiration drawn from the data and stories captured and the possibilities the journey prompts.’

Focusing on productivity gains rather than just operational savings will always deliver greater long-term benefits

However, in building this persuasive business case it is crucial to differentiate between different stakeholders’ priorities and to build an integrated case that addresses each of them. But in the experience of some of the executives consulted for this review, the workplace industry has so far failed to properly articulate this. The industry must get better at bridging the gaps, acting as a translator between operations and board level and demonstrating the business case clearly.

Despite these obvious gaps, our research has highlighted several good examples. Strategic outsourcing and energy services company Mitie (see page 37) has linked its service directly to the business strategy of its clients. An app under development at Cushman & Wakefield evaluates how effective people’s meetings are. This allows instant ratings on room, facilities, IT, timing, effectiveness and even whether a meeting is needed at all. Application of marginal gains theory means some are focusing on the individual and their performance.

Workplace should always be in beta

Although there are examples of innovation taking place and pockets of good practice, the facilities management and broader workplace industry as a whole is still selling its products and services into companies rather than pushing its client base to innovate from within.
The challenge for the industry is to make a seismic change in the way it operates.

Overwhelmingly, people are expecting to get the workplace design right first time and are then leaving it alone for the next 10 years. Demands on the workplace are constantly evolving and to maximise its impact in a fast-growth world means seeing it as a constant work in progress and budgeting and planning accordingly.

However, there are many examples of commissions that started with headroom for innovation and evolution but which had become full by the time they were completed because they were built to a static allocation model. The industry is being hamstrung by rules of its own making and it needs to up its game.

The workplace is an asset which, like any other, needs regular attention so it does not become a liability. Decision makers should be finding out directly from their employees what their workplace needs are and training their workplace advisors to performance-driven outcomes. Workplace transformation is not a project to be undertaken once a decade or a project to be outsourced and forgotten about. Good workplace design is key to performance, engagement and the bottom line and this makes it a really crucial consideration for all business leaders.