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A roundtable discussion organised by the IWFM and Ricoh discussing how organisations' physical environment relates to their workforce performance.

© iStock
© iStock

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02 September 2019 IWFM and Ricoh

In July, a group of workplace and facilities management professionals were brought together by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) and IT services business Ricoh to discuss how organisations should best match the physical environment they provide to the desired performance of their people – it was a wide-ranging agenda against which four key themes emerged: making the business case for workplace; people-based insights that drive decision-making; the change management challenge; and creating a better workplace. This feature distils the insights from the discussion

The business case for workplace

Workplace and facilities management professionals need to treat workplace design with a beta mindset: always in flux, continuously being improved and quickly adapted. After all, businesses change annually, so why approach workplace design and fit-outs with a three-to-five-year focus? Or spend huge sums of money every decade only to watch the space deteriorate over the next 10 years until the process is repeated? This only leads to dated workplaces that memorialise the abandoned fads and trends that dominated the previous decade.

It’s much better to use a progressive workplace investment plan in which you don’t spend all the money at once and risk it being spent incorrectly. Staggering spend over three to four years would enable workplace managers to determine if any serious issues have arisen from any new designs and processes, and how to deal with them, rather than realising all the money has vanished and that users are now stuck with an ineffective workplace.

Designing by iteration – regular testing with peer and user review – is the way software is rolled out. This approach better aligns with an agile and flexible way of working, and it also keeps senior leadership and finance on side because it approaches planning and budget concerns in stages.

Cost and reduction can often be starting points for change management discussions – but telling people that “the CEO wants to save loads of money” is not likely to lead to a positive change project. But a little bit of cost pressure is good for everyone. It focuses minds, even if workplace and facilities management professionals can be reluctant to justify the financial case for change projects that to them are self-evident.

But efficiency and effectiveness are two ways of talking about the same topic. Property consolidation may be about reducing square feet and net property cost, but it also requires bringing people together through an improved collaboration and work experience.

Sometimes workplace changes made on a smaller budget can yield big results because expectations are lower. Tight budgets force teams to generate sophisticated ideas, whereas large budgets with big expectations can lead to dissatisfaction.

So we need to be better at managing the workplace over its full life cycle. It’s good for budgets and for relationships with the c-suite. Workplace professionals need to know how to speak the language of the business life cycle and, in turn, translate what the property life cycle means for the business. An example might be second-hand furniture. Even large organisations now seek to use it; firstly to adhere with their sustainability ethos, but also because workplaces can change so fast.

People-based insights that drive workplace decision-making

Picture the evolution of our profession’s role into something similar to a general manager at a five-star hotel having access to data and data analysts to understand what the building is “communicating”. All the “data stuff” will happen behind the scenes while the FM, now five-star GM, is engaging clients and guests to find out more about their experience and improve it.

But the data alone won’t be enough – people’s preconceptions will remain a barrier to change. Different types of data carry different types of weight, depending on who is using it. Some might favour space or cost metrics; others might favour opinion, people queues and occupancy feedback surveys.

Data can also be political. It can be accepted and rejected depending on people’s willingness to/desire for change. Those with organisational or social power within the company can impose a collective opinion even if the data contradicts it. The power plays often come from a middle management ousted from their private offices because the CEO has ordained the shift in working practice. 

So perhaps flexible working with private spaces and greater democracy in the workplace occurs – but displaced mid-level managers may still be unhappy. They may feel they haven’t been part of the decision, pushing back against the workplace manager and recruiting others to join in the dissent.

Data speaks to people who like data and it speaks to the logical side of the brain. But you’ve still got to fight the emotional and political sides. If the logic of the data doesn’t convince, you may need to tug on emotions or lobby to others for change.


The challenge of change management

A workplace should be efficient, effective and easy, and it should evolve along with the organisation’s culture. Indeed, the workplace is part of the culture – we need to think about change in terms of adaptation not adoption.

Give people the opportunity, tools, resources and knowledge to change themselves. When choosing a change model, don’t use decide, announce, defend (DAD) – that puts leaders first and users second; use engage, deliberate, decide (EDD) instead. The latter takes more time and effort, but yields better results.

At times, FM has been a self-defeating force, overcomplicating design and change by focusing on minutiae rather than a broader view of people-related issues in the workplace. Creating a fantastic workplace and taking people on the journey is a simple proposition, but we tend to make it complex. Part of this is a lack of understanding or lack of interrogation of preconceived ideas.

There’s a tendency in the industry to say things over and over again, and then everybody accepts them. Take the Churchill quote: “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.” Who has deconstructed, tested or proved it? Is it true, or do we say it because Churchill did?

One recurring problem is the ongoing lack of honest case studies. To this end, perhaps a new approach to conferences is needed; only book speakers willing to talk about the many cock-ups of their careers, so that we can all learn from honest mistakes.

Successful change management should involve taking users on a journey around their future workplace, rather than simply showing them a two-dimensional floor plan. As you’re doing so, ask them how they imagine interacting with and using the space – and use those stories to inform design.

© Getty
© Getty

Creating better workplaces

The starting assumption with creating great places to work is that having the right data can provide a contextually appropriate workplace design. Space is a part of this, but so too are cultural fit and enablement, shared camaraderie, a sense of purpose in the work being done, and functional technology. These factors will always trump funky sofas in ‘Instagrammable’ workplaces. Make the case for a workplace that works.

But another significant aspect of this is engagement of users to understand their needs. Tighter and smaller budgets can often force greater engagement to ensure the money is properly spent. The result is a workplace stripped of the superficial and kitted out with elements that really matter: think good coffee instead of sleep pods.

These human needs are constants – they will outlive workplace trends and fads. For instance, sustainability, once thought of as a passing fad, is today deeply ingrained in society and, as a result, in organisational strategy and planning.

Sustainability is, in fact, about human survival, involving the productivity and wellbeing of the next generations. So from this perspective, think wellbeing and health, nutritious workplace catering, clean air, flexible working and the like. They are here to stay as they each fulfil constant needs. These considerations, when implemented, grant users choice and autonomy over how and where they work, as well as how they live.

Data is an essential component for creating great workplaces, but we need to be aware that not all data is useful or appropriate as evidence. There are different types of data: objective data, which is independently measured (often with technology); and subjective data, which refers to people’s opinions. There’s also the distinction between quantitative and qualitative data. But the time, money and effort spent so far has been disproportionately about gathering data rather than focusing on the solutions we need.

Part of finding the right solution comes back to the beta mindset. It is ongoing, and the profession and industry’s journey is far from finished. For instance, the broad-brush, self-organised agile workplace that is based on the assumption that everybody is a free-willed, self-organising individual has helped workplace thinking develop to where we are today – but it’s not the end state.

Again, what we consider to be smart buildings are actually high-performing buildings that simply respond to data in a determined number of ways. A truly smart building would have to do something that humans couldn’t have done themselves – analyse the data and provide insight to building managers that they could not have extracted independently.



The workplace is like any new product on the market: in reality, it will never stop undergoing further development. We have to listen to the feedback and appreciate the pain points. Blanket solutions won’t help – for those tasked with maximising the value of the workplace, flexible thinking will always be a requirement. 


Chas Moloney, marketing director at Ricoh UK

Chris Moriarty, director of insight and engagement at IWFM


Ian Jones, director of workplace services and estates at ITV 

Jenny Thomas, head of marketing communications at IWFM

Julia Thomas, services marketing development manager at Ricoh UK

Kari Allen, head of partnerships at b2bpartnerships 

Neil Usher, chief workplace officer at GoSpace

Nigel Oseland, environmental psychologist and workplace consultant

Peter Brogan, head of research and insight at IWFM

Rachel Edwards, senior workplace consultant, development at Lendlease 

Richard Sutherland, business development manager at Ricoh UK 

Simone Fenton-Jarvis, workplace consultancy development director at Ricoh UK

Tim Hollands, senior property services manager at Landsec

Tony Knight, business development manager at Ricoh UK