We find out what has changed three years on from the 'Workplace Advantage' Stoddart Review.
02 December 2019 | Bradford Keen and Martin Read
In the midst of this unexpected general election campaign, it's instructive to listen for the words and phrases our politicians deploy as they vie for prominence. 'Mental health', 'wellbeing', 'trust' - all issues with wider resonance in the past three years, for sure - but all most certainly linked to the way the workplace is managed for organisational gain. These themes, alongside that classic intangible 'workplace productivity', have led a new workplace conversation in the three years since the Stoddart Review first reported.
Indeed, looking back it's clear that what The Workplace Advantage report most successfully achieved is the opening up of fresh discussion. Research programmes have shifted focus to assess the business impact of workplace, entire conferences and project agendas have been built around the value of workplace and, of course, we've even seen a change of name for the BIFM itself, this month entering its second year as the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management.
The evolving theme of 'we need to talk about workplace continues to spark further developments. Just a month ago we saw the launch of what IWFM calls a 'world-first' degree-level workplace qualification, its 'Level 6 Diploma in Workplace Leadership, Insight and Change' (see p.23). That phrase, 'workplace leadership', is key, as is the nature of the clients already signed up to take part. Her Majesty's Revenues & Customs (HMRC) has committed itself to the new qualification in what the IWFM calls the biggest company training development programme in its history. The whole skills agenda feels transformed into a wider narrative, one the Stoddart Review helped write.
Also in recent weeks, IWFM announced a research and development collaboration with Microsoft on "a new programme themed around connected and smart workplaces will see IWFM and Microsoft collaborate on new research that could influence workplace performance".
The advance of tech is in itself forcing organisations to consider how their workplaces are configured.
Polly Plunket-Checkemian, senior executive director at property management service MAPP and a participant in the original Stoddart project, points to flexible spaces as one of the innovations driving the workplace agenda.
"This new asset class isn't perfect," she says, "but it has become a popular choice. Its aesthetic has become the baseline for describing the new 'office'. Customers are increasingly discussing how they work - agile, desk numbers, technology solutions - and whether or not an office is necessary at all."
But, she adds, we haven't yet "got the other side of the equation, which is understanding whether [the workplace] provides productive, engaged and proud employees".
For Neil Usher, chief partnerships officer at GoSpace, an important result of Stoddart has been a move away from one of The Workplace Advantage report's core aims: productivity.
"Productivity is a misplaced focus," he explains. "It entirely depends on where an organisation is in its cycle. We are at last realising that there are more upstream targets which may or may not make people more productive, but if they are happier and healthier their pursuit is worthwhile. Creating a fantastic workplace is the right thing to do."
A more structured focus on proving a 'return on investment in workplace' is a discernible post-Stoddart trend, and something likely to become more visible in the year ahead. IWFM is working on a project with Liverpool John Moores University, the output of which could include a tool to help organisations calculate the likely cost and productivity benefits of workplace change projects.
Despite the elevated discussion, the challenge remains in making the case for workplace.
"Many are staying within their swim lane," Plunket-Checkemian says. "They're thinking in terms of cost and efficiency. The confidence to ask for an hour with the FD to run through budgets, growth scenarios, and really get under the skin of 'cost' to influence the debate on 'premises', budget for workplace layouts and tech investment is still embryonic."
Those that want to drive change feel reluctant to share their ideas with the heads of HR or people functions in fear they'd be seen as self-promotional, she adds. And going straight to the CEO for a morning meeting doesn't really happen. "You might find the planning and prep daunting, but doing it changes the lives of the people you work with every day. The Stoddart Review equips everyone for those conversations."
Usher says tech matters. "What FMs will need to do more than anything else in the next three to five years is suspend their fear and suspicion of technology and embrace the possibilities it offers," he says. "Technology can elevate FM in the value chain. It can put FMs in control - data, analytics and most importantly, solutions. Technology is the greatest opportunity FM has had in its entire existence. If it doesn't grasp it, others will."
Hail to the chief?
One of Stoddart's suggestions was a new role, and one potentially integral to the improved workplace experience. Yet three years on, the UK has seen
just two 'chief workplace officers' - with neither individual holding the title today.
And yet "the CWO role has definitely got a place in the current and future workplace," argues Fenton-Jarvis, one of those two former CWOs.
The concept was a facilitating role making the critical connections between HR, IT and FM to enhance employee experience.
Neil Usher is the other former CWO. "Do we change the name and the reality of what it entails then follows, or do we change the role, demonstrate what we can do, and then the name seals the deal?," he asks. "A name change is only a signal of intent. You have to deliver."
Plunket-Checkemian sees the CWO role as helpful but not essential. Nevertheless, it would provide "a highly effective focal point for keeping budget, real estate commitments, UX and brand alignment front of mind."
The CWO role - albeit not necessarily under that name - is an opportunity for service providers, argues Ian Baker, head of workplace and design consultancy at Emcor UK. Occupying this position - as experts in workplace with keen insights into the client's business - would enhance client-provider relationships.
Defining the workplace productivity equation
Forget the frills; give genuine choice of work setting matched with great tech and systems, and practical, practical, practical for the things that support everyday life such as storage and showers. In so doing, make people the best that they can be.
Workplace Productivity = People working in the flow to achieve their potential. Anything impacting that flow is affecting productivity Namely:
Space - noise / distractions / not comfy / poor light and temperatures;
Technology - wrong tools for the job, inefficient tools, lack of tools to collaborate;
Process - duplication, a lack of training, inefficiencies, process which causes people to be irritable; and
Culture - poor leadership, a lack of trust and psychological safety, imposter syndrome.
I would drop productivity altogether; end the obsession once and for all. I see it as more about balance than an equation. Everything in a fantastic workplace exists in balance. It should be a core skill of an FM. I need to thank Heraclitus for the idea, but it's about the 'unity of opposites'.
From a report titled Improving Productivity in the Workplace: Lessons Learnt and Insights from the Whole Life Performance Plus Project, from BCO, Oxford Brookes University, LCMB and Constructing Excellence with BRE.
The UK is fifth in the list of G7 countries in terms of productivity
10% of working days lost to absenteeism or presenteeism in UK companies
40 times: salary cost in office buildings can exceed maintenance costs each year
200 times: salary cost in office buildings can exceed capital cost by almost 200 times annually
8-11% improvements in productivity when air quality improves
7 = comfortable, 1 = uncomfortable: Comfort ratings between 5 and 7 saw occupants perceive an increase in their productivity; 4 or lower resulted in perception of decreased productivity