How The Physical Workspace Impacts The Employee Experience
This is part of a series of posts exploring the employee experience, that is, creating a place where employees actually want to show up, not where they need to show up. This series will explore what I define as the three employee experience environments that all organizations much focus on which are: physical, cultural, and technological. This is a growing area that I am extremely passionate about because it sees organizations shifting away from thinking of work as a utility to actually focusing on creating what Pat Wadors (the chief Human Resources Officer of Linkedin) calls “beautiful experiences.”
As a starting point you can read this post on “Why The Future of Work is All About The Employee Experience.” This first post will look at the physical environment and how that impacts the employee experience, following posts will explore culture, technology, and look at some frameworks and models for creating experiences.
The physical workspace is the one we can see, touch, and taste, and smell. It’s the art that hangs on the walls, the office floor plan, the demographics of the people we work with (old, young, diversity, etc), and any physical perks we might get such as catered meals in a beautiful cafeteria, an on-site gym, or a lounge area that employees can use to unwind a bit. Before reading on think for a minute about your physical workspace and how it makes you feel. Do you get excited and energized or do you feel as if you are walking into a hospital or doctor’s office?
As a work futurist part of my job is to tour offices at organizations all around the world to see how they are designed and perhaps more importantly why they are designed in certain ways. Many people believe the offices are actually are going to become exciting but I am seeing the exact opposite trend: “The Office Space Isn’t Dead, It’s Making A Comeback.”
Why should organizations invest in creating physical spaces that employees want to show up to? Well the answer seems like it should be simple common sense. For starters employee well-being is strongly correlated to employee productivity and performance and even a small shift in well-being can have a dramatic impact. Perhaps one of the largest factors of well-being is the physical workspace. Employees who enjoy and like the environments they are a part of will be more engaged, productive, happy, and healthy. There are numerous reports, indices, and studies such as Gensler’s Workplace Index, The Leesman Index, Steelcase, and others that explore the relationship between the physical space and business performance metrics, productivity, and what employees value. So what should organization’s be doing and thinking about?
Focus on multiple ways of working
Gensler identified four key areas that need to be available for employees which are spaces to: Focus, Collaborate, Learn, and Socialize.
This isn’t just about an open floor plan or a cubicle, it’s about giving employees multiple modes of working. The most progressive offices I have toured don’t have a single floor plan, they have multiple. Consider SAP which has an open environment, cubicles, a collaborative innovation hub, a co-working cafe, conference rooms, smaller meetings rooms, and areas for presentations. Linkedin, Cisco, Airbnb, and many other organizations have similar environments. So the key is to shift away from having a single floor plan to integrating and incorporating multiple floor plans.
Make the space reflect the culture
Cisco is a global technology company so it’s no surprise that their offices are quite technologically advanced. While Cisco maintains a mostly open plan they are working on capabilities that allow any employee to show up to a desk or conference room and have that space adapt to them. In other words the temperature, lighting, and even the employee’s contacts and work information are magically beamed to whatever location they are working from. Pandora , the internet radio streaming company art throughout their offices that reflect their love of and passion for music. Again, the key with both of these examples is that the investments these companies are making reflect the values and culture of the organization. They are not just throwing around bean bags, pingpong tables, and cool looking art just for the sake of doing so, these are strategic investments.
Look at how employees work
At Atlasssian and Mars Drinks, they used sensors on employee desks to find out how often they are used. Over time both companies realized that employees don’t really work much at their desks, they move around, go to conference rooms, find quiet areas, and prefer to work from other spaces besides their desk. As a result both companies completely redesigned their facilities to accommodate this. You can see the Mars Drinks redesign here, it’s beautiful and most importantly strategically designed based on how employees prefer to work. Of course you don’t have to utilize sensors on all the desks at your company, you can simply ask employees what they value and care about and make investments in those areas.
Treat physical space like software
In software you iterate, make changes, upgrade, and evolve. The physical space needs to be thought of in the same way. In fact this idea of treating your physical space like software came to me from a conversation with Airbnb’s Global Head of Employee Experience, Mark Levy (who I will be recording a podcast with next week). At Airbnb they are constantly experimenting and testing new office layouts and environments and your organization should be doing the same thing!
In upcoming posts I will look at technology and culture as well as provide some frameworks and visuals for designing and creating employee experiences. In the meantime I’d love to hear from you so leave me a comment below!