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Data vs. Opinion - How to Spark Intelligent Workplace Design

Published on : 7/4/19
  • What drives productivity, employee retention and a sense of belonging in the workplace? Employee experience—yet this remains one of the biggest dilemmas facing organizations right now.

    Today’s business leaders recognize its importance. In a recent Deloitte survey, 84% of respondents said the need to improve the employee experience is an important issue, and 28% identified it as one of the three most urgent issues facing their organization in 2019.

    To address this challenge, many companies have invested large sums into workplace transformation projects—from refurbishments to relocation fit-outs. But these are not always effective. In fact, research from Leesman shows that just 34% of these projects deliver high performance results. And that’s not for lack of energy and investment.

    The problem is that all too often, workplace design is tethered to a top-down process where assumptions about the workspace are formulated by experts and the C-Suite. Those assumptions are then realized as actions with little to no benefit to the employee. In other instances, organizations may adopt a “copy & paste” strategy where they simply replicate what other companies have successfully implemented.

    It’s a costly approach that can be hit and miss, or worse, counterproductive. The approach has to change—workplaces are complex and people are too. The solution to the employee experience challenge is rooted in meeting people’s needs through intelligent workplace design. And with the dawn of technologies and tools that make intelligent design a reality, organizations can embark on that journey, making the timely and informed decisions required to execute a best-in-class experience.  

    Wx helps companies improve their workplace experience through ethnography, IoT and data science.

    Click here to learn more.

    Yannick Villar, experience design expert and Co-Founder of Wx, a consulting studio on workplace experience, shares two truths foundational to this type of design and describes how data-driven solutions are essential for effective workplace transformation.

    Globally, only 57% of employees agree that their workplace enables them to work productively.

    Source: Leesman, The Next 250K Report

    Truth #1: Intelligent Workplace Design Starts with the Employee

    An employee-focused approach brings logic and empathy to workplace strategy. It provides accurate insight into how people are using their workplace, at all levels of the organization. “The features of a specific workspace have to meet the behavioral demands of the people using it or it loses purpose,” Yannick says. “But we have to look at things differently in order to put employees at the heart of our solutions and create positive change.”

    “For example, we recently helped an organization assess their workplace experience after a move to activity-based working. They decided to create a quiet space for people to relax; however, the data showed very low usage. This could have led to the simple conclusion that these types of spaces were not needed. But by pushing the analysis further and looking at the usage patterns of the spaces nearby, we discovered that the quiet area was next to a space that was loud and busy all day. As a result, people looking for quiet areas went for alternatives such as the restaurant or empty meeting rooms."

    What is activity-based working?

    The demand for intelligent design is most apparent in activity-based working (ABW) environments. Fast becoming the main alternative to ‘open plan’ working, this approach recognizes a mobile working dynamic where employees can choose where they work in the office based on the activities they are tasked with. Its aim is to meet specific needs through experience design to support collaboration, flexibility, creativity and innovation.

    Truth #2: Intelligent Workplace Design is Based on Data

    The overall approach to workplace design should be an empirical one, relying on measurement, observation and ideally an integrated data dashboard to inform, identify and assess solutions. This approach helps eliminate “dumb” design mistakes and ensures that the employees’ needs are kept front-and-center. “Data gives us insight into the existing employee experience, and the knowledge needed to select and design solutions that help create the best workplace experience possible,” Yannick says.

    "For example, say your organization has created an innovation space to spark agile working—you must continuously assess whether it’s being used, for what, and by whom. And if it’s not being used, why is that? These are the typical questions data can help you answer. With these insights, you'll be better equipped to make the right decisions, anticipate or address mistakes, and adapt your workplace accordingly over the long-term.”

    The features that have the biggest impact on employees’ ability to work productively are ‘space between work settings’, ‘dividers’ and ‘noise levels’.

    Source: Leesman, The Next 250K Report

    When is Intelligent Workplace Design Needed?

    The short answer is “always.” “When there’s lack of understanding we begin to see environments built on guesswork, ill-designed spaces and clumsy macrozoning,” Yannick says. “Think quiet zones placed next to noisy areas, lockers and cloakrooms that can’t support demand, reduced team leader visibility due to confusing seating and room management. It all adds up to friction and disharmony in that daily journey through the workplace.” 

    Effective measurement and design strategies can help organizations avoid these types of mistakes, which can be quite costly. While implementing a new design approach may seem difficult, it’s a crucial step to create a workplace that works for everyone. Data- and user-driven design is essential for companies looking to undertake any of the following activities:

    Program the space requirement for a new office, which can include defining an optimized flex ratio (or ideally a customized flex ratio for each team), modularizing the workplace to reduce overcrowding, and identifying the optimum size and number of meeting and activity-based rooms.

    Evaluate the current workplace experience and uncover improvement opportunities​, which can remove perception bias, reveal pain points such as noise and visual distractions, and identify opportunities to reduce them (e.g., enclosed privacy pods).

    Design and select technology to make the workplace connected, which supports ongoing digital transformation by integrating technologies that enable employees to communicate, book activities or resources, and make service requests.

    Improve the workplace experience, productivity and collaboration​, by reducing conflict for ‘premium space’, updating inadequate or redundant technology, or minimizing friction when employees move from one activity to another.

    Intelligently reduce space, which helps solve the common problem of excessive space, ensures reduced overheads and promotes efficient use of the building to help improve everything from collaboration to energy management.

    CASE STUDY: Mining for Data

    Wx, a consulting studio and fully owned subsidiary of Sodexo, informed a refresh of a large mining company’s regional headquarters. Flex office layout implementation was analyzed to better understand the usage of various spaces and the needs of the people within each space.

    The floor was made up of 12 different spaces in a flex office format, including various neighborhoods, cafeterias, quiet zones, meeting rooms and more. Analysis by Wx identified consistent misuse of workspaces, overcrowding, and incorrect allocation of furniture.

    These findings helped to inform the organization’s strategy and resulted in a solution that reduced the m² of spaces not sufficiently used, implemented better meeting room management systems, and added adaptable and moveable furniture. A permanent sensor solution continues to track the space occupation and provide insights.

    Measurement Matters

    Capturing and analyzing the right data at the right times ensures that the employee experience is deeply and accurately understood. It also ensures that the value of workplace improvements is quantifiable.

    Ultimately, design built on assumption ignores the real reason the workplace exists—to support and bring value to those who use it. And decisions based on robust measurement are much more likely to create the reinvigorated employee experience required to unlock progress in the workplace.

    Discover Wx

    Wx is a consulting studio, and fully owned subsidiary of Sodexo, that helps companies quantify and improve their workplace experience through ethnography, IoT and data science. Born from the vision to create people powered environments, the Wx studio has developed a methodology that leverages data analysis to optimize the employee experience. Contact us to learn more about Wx, and read the press release.