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18 January 2019
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Bradford Keen revisits the workplace session from ThinkFM where speakers discussed the need for employees to be treated as consumers and empowered by choice.

Namrata Krishna

4 June 2018 Bradford Keen

Employees are disengaged, sick days in the UK total 10 million a year and people want change. They need to know their employer cares about their well-being. This is why workplace design has become such an important debate. 

“We have blurred living, working, learning and our whole world is around knowledge communities – physical and virtual,” said Despina Katsikakis, Cushman & Wakefield’s head of occupier business performance. Workplaces will need to fulfil “functional and symbolic” roles that embody brand culture and values, and facilitate community.

“We’ve been focusing all our energy on driving down the 10 per cent – the cost equation – but not looking at what the impact is on making very small changes to the human performance to engagement,” explained Katsikakis.

The importance of employee engagement was also espoused by Gensler’s workplace consultants Namrata Krishna and Emer Lynam, but it all begins with the well-being triangle.

The triangle’s two points at the bottom meet people’s basic needs of physical and functional comfort while the top point gives employees “a sense of belonging, choice and autonomy”, said Krishna.

The triangle, when considered in relation to workplace design, suggests that staff should be engaged and consulted during the design stages to ensure that all their needs are met. 

Gensler, with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, conducted research that revealed employees, when consulted on the design of the workplace, ranked higher on well-being than those not engaged. Interestingly, well-being scores were not dependent on the degree of participation, said Krishna, only that employees were invited to do so.

Participation gives employees a sense of control and Lynam said their focus is on change management initiatives and “trying to instil a sense of ownership that ‘this is my project, my design, my building’.” By doing so, employees feel a sense pride and engagement, which helps build connections between people in an organisation.

Emma Potter
Colleen Conklin

Stages of engagement

There are three stages at which to break down organisational silos and encourage connections and a collective vision.

Briefing stage: Listen to people about what they want in the building after setting out clear parameters of what is possible.

Implementation stage: Invite people to participate even if the design is fixed as there are other opportunities to engage people.

Evaluation stage: Reflect on the project successes as well as end users’ concerns about the post-occupancy phase. 

Part of this shift to engage staff with their workplace includes treating them as customers. 

“We have a lot to learn from the experience economy,” said Katsikakis. “How much does as cup of coffee really cost? We pay five dollars a coffee for the experience. We recognise in the choices we make in our lives as consumers how much experience matters.”

What this means for workplaces, especially when employees have the choice to work from home, is that they need to be on-demand and flexible, and able to support individuals and corporations.

“When we choose to come into the office, we don’t want to sit at rows of grey desks,” said Katsikakis. People want to have meaningful engagement with others to help drive creativity but also be able to disconnect, focus and recharge. 

There is a large degree of customisability of spaces for individuals in all of the above. Katsikakis gave the example of a three-year-old child who uses Alexa at home. What will she expect when she joins the workforce? 

“She certainly won’t put up with temperature and lighting she doesn’t like,” said Katsikakis. “She’s going to think of the environment as a theatre set-up that’s reconfigurable to adjust to the demands of the people using the space.”

The proliferation of technology is particularly exciting from a facilities or workplace manager’s perspective. Buildings are communicating with managers and the continuous streams of data allow for redesigns and flexibility in real-time responses to organisational needs. 

Technology is providing FMs with insights and abilities to improve occupants’ experiences, but as AI becomes more pervasive, emotional intelligence should be prized, said Colleen Conklin, director of research at Sodexo.

Drawing on work by psychologists Daniel Goleman and Cary Cooper, Conklin stressed the value of emotionally and socially intelligent leadership, noting that it should lead workplace management.

The four domains of emotional intelligence include:

Self-awareness: Understanding your own internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions. 

Self-management: Managing your own internal states, impulses, and resources.

Social awareness: Understanding how others handle relationships and being aware aware of their feelings, needs and concerns.

Relationship management: Being able to induce desirable responses in others. 

The emotionally intelligent workplace

Conklin contended that by focusing on the above, a holistic workplace could be created to include space for employees to express their emotions, collaborate and have honest conversations. They can give their best selves and employers will benefit from this too.

FMs role in all of this is to be “leaders of change management… and understand the needs of the people we service”, said Conklin. They need to become familiar with the space where “human assets meet physical assets” to discover the “touch points” that make the workplace experience favourable.

What we measure and how we do it have changed, said Katsikakis. “Rather than decreasing the cost of things, we’re looking at how we’re actually decreasing things that matter. Reduce wasted space, absenteeism, wasted time, stress, outdated policies, and instead increase choice, well-being, engagement, ideas, collaboration.”

She said this means emphasis will be on shared services, amenities and experiences, and real-time data to demonstrate the value these have on performance. “Within that, FM becomes this conductor, this facilitator of that whole experience.” 

The workplaces that staff need, experts will tell you, are those that allow them to engage creatively with the space and the people in it. They should provide comfort and stimulation as well as room for collaboration and solitude. That’s a lot of pressure to place on designers and FMs, but as with all progress, gradual change implemented with employees’ feedback and analysed data will smooth the transition.