Bradford Keen speaks with Tim Oldman, CEO at Leesman, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2020.
02 December 2019 | Bradford Keen
The Stoddart Review, says Leesman founder and CEO Tim Oldman, "tried to hit a number of issues head on - but didn't necessarily provide the evidence back in a way I think that we wanted to as a group of collaborators on the study".
Part of the problem is finding a universal measure of productivity. "I don't think there is a transferable measure of productivity that you can apply across industries across all corporate workplaces," says Oldman.
A widely applicable measure might simply be to answer: "Does my workplace enable me to work productively?" he says. "Clients have accepted that productivity is about personal output. And whilst it might be subjective - subjectively understanding what an employee feels about their workplace and how it supports their personal productivity - it's as good as we're going to get for a long time."
One result of a heightened focus on workplace has been "detaching people from the idea that the productivity of a workplace could be measured by how many people were in it, based on how many square feet they occupied That's a false measure. Let's call that what it is: real estate efficiency, not productivity".
Shock of the new
"One in five new workplaces don't deliver operational benefit to the organisation," says Oldman of his firm's survey findings. "So let's not assume a new workplace is beneficial to the organisation and the employees." This lack of operational benefit suggests that, despite its investment in a new workplace, the organisation doesn't understand what their employees do on an individual level and hasn't removed whatever barriers preventing productivity and engagement were there in the first place.
"The most effective workplaces we measure are those designed in an employee-centric way," Oldman says. This means designing the infrastructure based on what employees need to do their role.
An employee-centric workplace requires relaxation space. Oldman says it "has a directly beneficial outcome on their collective sense of productivity, pride, enjoyment".
Value to FM
Oldman says its 'Leesman+' clients have set as their corporate objective to maintain their rating. Drivers behind obtaining the 'Leesman+' accolade include simple services such as good bathroom facilities, cleanliness and individual deskspace.
"Evidence supports that there's a sort of hygiene factor of workplace," says Oldman. "Amongst all these whizzy spaces there are some fundamental foundation stones a workplace has to have to deliver high effectiveness. I like the idea of FMs on the ground being coached and educated in the value proposition of some of those mundane aspects in being fundamental important components to high performance. I think it's empowering if you're an FM to know that cleanliness and tidiness are critical factors."
Earlier this year, IWFM conducted its own Leesman survey and subsequent workplace change programme. The results have been significant, as CEO Linda Hausmanis recounts
What did you hope for from this project?
We needed to address some fundamentals and the space required investment. It was important to speak to the team and understand what they needed so we could provide the right environment for them to do their best work. We wanted staff to take pride in their surroundings, enjoy coming to work, and feel that they and their working environment had been invested in.
We did three things: first, conduct a Leesman survey, which told us what staff considered activities that were and weren't well supported, an idea of what was important to them within the workplace, and how satisfied they were.
Then, Nigel Oseland's 'Psychological and Physiological Factors in Office Design' workshop provided further insight about what we could change and the potential impact on emotion and mood. Then, the Workplace Leadership Programme through the IWFM Academy provided a balance of theory and practice.
A fourth, fundamental guiding principle was to spend minimally and act sustainably.
We focused on creating light and space but stopped short of full open-plan; people needed quiet and confidential spaces. We didn't replace desks like for like - half of us work flexibly or remotely; we didn't buy new - we recycled and sourced quality used furniture through the Mitie Waste Match service.
What's happened since?
The team is less siloed. Groups are working more collaboratively on cross-cutting projects, in space and with systems that are in harmony with that approach. The mood in the office has lifted.
We are a small operation at a single site, so our challenge was relatively modest. But in line with our vision to be the trusted voice of a profession, recognised for its ability to enable people to transform organisations and their performance, we are trying to be the change we want to see. Reviewing, improving and sustaining our space, technology and the impacts on our people is fundamental to our success.
Teams are, in practice, becoming more cross-functional and operating more cohesively. In terms of the physical space, I try to work open-plan as much as possible and we all have more choice in how we do our work.
We have more to do, but during our first year as IWFM, these changes have done so much to help us on our way to becoming a modern professional body.