The Stoddart Review's 'Workplace Advantage' report puts the potential for previously untapped productivity gains in the national debate spotlight. Martin Read summarises this landmark report's findings.
15 February 2017 | Martin Reed
It starts with the number one. The Stoddart Review's report, The Workplace Advantage represents the culmination of months of work and research with the sole aim of exploring the notion that the knowledge workplace can play an unsung but nevertheless critical part in the productivity of the nation.
And in the end it can be distilled down to the suggestion, by BBC Newsnight economics correspondent Duncan Weldon, that a one percentage point productivity boost from a bolder focus on a hitherto under-examined area of economic performance - the country's physical knowledge workspace - could have a substantial impact.
That percentage point of extra performance would, suggests Weldon, "add almost £20 billion to national output, reduce the annual government deficit by around £8 billion, add £250 a year to the average wage packet and increase annual profits across the country by almost £3.5 billion".
That's no small amount, and the pursuit of what is a relatively conservative percentage figure through changes to how the workplace is specified and managed is an understandable focus. With Brexit upon us, the contrast between our gross domestic product and that of other advanced economies does not paint a pretty picture. Britain needs to find new solutions to what has become an increasingly intractable problem. If workplace has been ignored in this debate, and at a strategic level it largely has, now is a good time to make up for it.
The temptation is to solve problems as they arise rather than to take and respond to a more considered view of the end user's overall experience. The solution, says Stoddart Review director Polly Plunket-Checkemian, is for the supply side to work more closely with occupiers on the wider business issues they face - establishing a partnership model that allows suppliers to offer clients a more wide-ranging suite of solutions rather than simply fixing their sights on the immediate maintenance and service issues facing the bricks and mortar.
One example highlighted in the Stoddart Review is a 'backlash' against the rush towards open-plan office space that has characterised recent decades. Many businesses have now concluded that expansive open-plan office space does not give them the greater collaboration or more efficient working that they'd hoped for. They instead recognise how open-plan space can in fact be the antithesis of collaboration, ostracising the introverted, distracting workers from their tasks and causing undue stress.
Research carried out for The Stoddart Review showed that the best-performing organisations were those that saw productivity as a human outcome and not an organisational one; utilisation studies, with increased workplace occupant density as their aim, represent a one-dimensional response that "confuse spatial efficiency with productivity". It claims that the key to any increase in density effectively is mobility - "the freedom to choose coupled with a choice of environments that suit different types of work and personal preferences".
What, then, of the flexible working environment? How can productivity gains come from the workplace when that workplace in fact comprises home studies, coffee shops and other third spaces?
The Stoddart Review, while accepting that the workplace is changing, shows that nine in 10 knowledge economy workers still work primarily in the office or single location.
That said, the workplace is certainly changing and becoming more collaborative and communal where before it was "a manifestation of power and hierarchy".
And that's a crucial change. Review authors describe how the workplace has become a differentiator in the attraction, development and retention of talent, seen as a more important factor than an organisation's leadership, its corporate social responsibility credentials and the diversity and inclusion agenda.
Leesman Index, the research organisation whose 200,000 workplace user surveys underpin much of the data in The Workplace Advantage, claims that levels of satisfaction with "a variety of different types of workspaces" is the highest probability indicator that an employee will agree that the design of their workplace enables them to work productively.
Providing that variety of different workspace is, it seems, the single biggest workplace lever for direct return on investment in human capital. And age is no barrier to this viewpoint; each of the four generations in the workplace cite variety of workspace as a key determinant of their happiness at work.
Slipping silo, social solutions
Stoddart Review authors point to issues that need addressing amongst the organisations involved in projects designed to improve workplaces taking place at different times, and often with different personnel, leading to a lack of a "continuous strategy".
In this, facilities management suffers from its own traditional reporting lines, typically through financial directors or chief operating officers. Another feature in this month's Facilitate proposes one particular solution to this reporting problem - the creation of a 'chief workplace officer' (see p 50.)
The report also looks to the future and the modern organisation's need for business agility. This ability to adapt to circumstance has to be matched by the workplace offer in support of it; business agility demands maximum collaboration between workers, and those organisations that recognise this provide a workplace that allows relationships between colleagues to be nurtured and developed for the corporate good. This collaboration, they say, "is contingent on social infrastructure". And more than this, the review uses Leesman statistics to show how high-growth companies demonstrate "transformation through purpose".
Aimed beyond the sector to a wider business audience, the Stoddart Review's Workplace Advantage report nevertheless puts a clear and compelling case for the workplace to feature more prominently in organisations' strategic planning - ammunition that facilities managers can put to good use. In short, FMs of all stripes will come away with valuable data to help them frame future arguments.
Research carried out for The Stoddart Review into what the workplace industry can do for companies' workplace strategy makes the following suggestions:
- 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
Download the full Stoddart Review report from www.stoddartreview.com