January 29, 2019

The We In Workplace: How To Improve Workplace Performance

by Brian Forbes in Uncategorised

Workplace strategies without user experience data may lead to costly ventures like open office.

When was the last time you shopped at Sears? Took a ride in a Taxi?

The emergence of Amazon and Uber has resulted in rapid disruption of traditional retail and urban transit. How they disrupted long established markets has become clear: they focused on user experience.

Perhaps more importantly, they used empirical data from user experience as continual feedback to lead their design and business models. Though Sears and several TaxiCos tried to copy the disruptors model, they could not recognize nor respond to changing trends fast enough to defend their markets.

WeWork (now The We Company) is the undisputed leader in the co-working market. They also focused on user experience as a means to disrupt their market, Commercial Real Estate. Attempts to copy their model in the enterprise have also resulted in less than stellar results.

A great example is the current controversy over the open office concept. Harvard University recently completed a study concluding most employees respond to open offices almost exactly opposite to its design intent. Employee interaction and collaboration decreased in an open environment.

The failure of open office to achieve this result is not only a price per square foot issue. Reductions in employee productivity affect business outcomes, making it a very costly design decision for the enterprise.

How can these costly missteps be avoided in future? Can user experience inform workplace design and predict success or failure much more readily? Put another way, can we put the ‘we’ in workplace data in order to improve workplace performance?

Let’s look at five points that help us arrive at a solution.

Choice Is Good

Consumerization of the workplace, that is, looking to employees as consumers of workspace in order to improve productivity and engagement is a good thing.

One aspect of consumerization is giving employees choice of space that best matches activities during the day. Choice vastly improves their experience of work.

Quiet space is important for concentration, privacy and work production. Informal space is good for unstructured interaction, idea sharing and mentoring. Formal space is good for communication, reporting and training.

Allowing employees to choose the type of space they need promotes engagement and productivity. We need to continue design that is open and not prescriptive, enabling employees to move from space to space as their work activity changes.

Data Is Golden

Data that comes from employee activity is extremely valuable if you want to avoid making costly mistakes following the latest workplace fad. However, in today’s dynamic workplace, yesterday’s methods are not effective.

Manual surveys should be replaced with sensor technology that continuously observes and reports on group preferences and trends. It is only then that work patterns provide clear insight that informs the design process.

Note the perspective on group trends (the ‘we’ in workplace). Data collection is not about monitoring individual employees. It is about monitoring workplace effectiveness. This perspective alleviates any important privacy concerns employees may have.

Workplace data becomes a group effort (think crowd-sourcing) to improve workplace performance and engagement.

Some people ask how much data is sufficient?

Turning off data is like shutting off oxygen. The premise that a workplace performs the same way across multiple business cycles with changing demands for 3-5 years is just wrong. Those who limit or de-value data typically do not see leading indicators until it is too late to respond.

Trust But Verify

How many times have you heard “We don’t have enough space!” or “Our meeting rooms are overbooked”?

Appearances can be deceiving. Opinions can be conflicting. Compromise can be costly. It is important to have a single source of truth.

Surprisingly, this source of truth comes from your employees. Not necessarily what they say, but what they do.

As you collect workplace data it will demonstrate which spaces employees prefer and which they do not. There is little room for debate. If employees are your customers, you should be paying attention to what they prefer and design accordingly. Anything else is just decoration.

Environmental conditions also play a factor. A certain space may be popular in some locations, but under-utilized in others. The reasons may be noise, lack of light, or air quality.

Comparative analysis between one location and another, one department and another, one quarter and another – will help verify performance issues and accelerate resolution. Trend analysis will provide leading indicators of issues, enabling managers to respond proactively to risk factors.

Decrease Cycle Time

“We have always done it this way!”

That may be the motto of companies disrupted out of existence.

Insights gained from data cannot be helpful unless they are acted upon. The ‘set it and forget it’ model of space planning for 3-5 years (or longer) rapidly depreciates in terms of user experience – which may then affect productivity, employee satisfaction, well-being and absenteeism.

The good news? Smaller design cycles require only a fraction of the initial budget and enjoy much greater returns. Planning to return to a site and refresh those areas that are not meeting corporate baselines for user experience will reap dividends.

Think lifecycle investment instead of project. Your employees will thank you through increased productivity.

Continuously Improve

When are you finished?

The short answer is when the workplace stops changing.

It is better to adopt the discipline of continuous improvement vs. continuous reaction. When you are continually listening to your employees and observing trends in workplace engagement, you can be confident that you are successfully controlling costs, mitigating risk and improving employee engagement.

Instead of merely copy-catting the next design, the establishment of good principles of user experience, with careful monitoring of employee-led results for the purposes of continual improvement will lead to sustainable returns.

It is putting the ‘we’ back into workplace.