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A blog of all things workplace related (when I get time).
© Oseland 2011
I recently read an interesting article in the Toastmasters Magazine on the Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. The article prompted me to share some of my own thoughts on personality theory and communication. These ideas informed my research into The Psychology of Collaboration, carried out on behalf of Herman Miller, which I hope to be published soon. Hopefully you will find my review useful in you day-to-day lives and at work.
So what is personality? Well “Persona” is Latin for "mask", so it suggests personality is the mask we present to the world. But interestingly there does not appear to be any agreed definition of personality amongst psychologists. My own mash-up of definitions is: “Personality is an individual’s unique set of traits and consistent pattern of thinking and behaviour that persists over time and across situations”. Personality is stable but not absolutely fixed. It is a proclivity for certain traits (or characteristics) that in turn affect our behaviour.
Personality theories date back to ancient Egypt but it was the Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 400 BC) who is attributed with developing the first structured theory of personality. He proposed thatt personality is affected by the (in)balance of bodily fluids, termed the four temperaments. He believed that levels of phlegm, blood, yellow bile and black bile are associated with four core personality types: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic. His theory sounds antiquated but modern-day neuropsychologists acknowledge that the presence of certain chemical transmitters in the brain affect our mood and behaviour.
Today’s most popular personality theories are based on attempts to identify and describe personality in terms of traits, or characteristics. In the 1930’s Allport and colleagues found nearly 18,000 words in the English language used to describe characteristics of personality. Since then Psychologists have competed to reduce the number of key traits that describe our personality. If you work for a large corporate you have most probably been subjected to a Myers-Briggs Inventory or the Cattell’s 16PF (16 Personality Factors). They both categorise us according to one of 16 personality types. I find them a little complicated and prefer Eysenck’s super-traits model.
Eysenck has boiled it all down to two core personality factors which not only appear in all other personality theories and tests but also relate back to the Hippocrates’ four temperaments. The extroversion scale ranges from introverted to extroverted, and the neuroticism scale (which is more to do with anxiousness) ranges from stable to unstable. We may lie at extreme ends of the scales or in the middle, the so called ambiverts. I am going to discuss the extreme ends of the extroversion scale.
An extrovert is a social person who seeks company and interaction; they get easily distracted when on their own. They act on impulse, require lots of stimulation, they are thrill seekers and takes risks – they are fans of roller-coasters. In contrast, the introvert prefers the quiet life, they are reflective people preferring their own company and solitary activity; they do not enjoy large social events and get easily distracted when with others. They prefer reading a book to roller-coaster rides.
In terms of communication, extroverts prefer face-to-face interaction, and large meetings; they also tend to gesticulate a lot. Extroverts like impromptu and informal meetings to share ideas. But it can be difficult to extract details from an extrovert. On the other hand, introverts prefer written communications (email and text), and if meeting they prefer them small and planned with advance notice. Introverts are the ones who send you a detailed and lengthy email in response to a simple question, whereas extroverts will mention it over a coffee. Web-conferences are potentially a good format for the introvert as they provide a good means of interaction and sharing data without actually meeting face to face.
One explanation of the behaviour of introverts and extroverts is Arousal Theory. Arousal Theory is a psychological meta-theory that relates to how alert we are in our resting state and the affect it has on performance. If our arousal is too high we may get stressed out, and perform poorly, and if it is too low we may fall asleep and perform poorly. Arousal somewhere in the middle leads to optimum performance. Now extroverts have a low level of arousal so constantly seek stimulation. Introverts have a high level of arousal and so prefer calm and serenity.
Now here is the tricky bit. Complicated tasks can increase our level of arousal whereas detailed repetitive tasks will reduce it. As extroverts have a low level of arousal they are better at complex tasks. However, as introverts have a high level of arousal they are better at detailed and repetitive tasks. Research has also shown that extroverts are more creative but their behaviour can inhibit precision or logic. On the other hand, introverts are good at sieving through large datasets and fine detail. The more successful teams have been found to have a mixture of personality types; we need both extroverts and introverts in the workplace.
Social networking, like Facebook and Twitter etc, is a relatively new form of communication. As introverts can suffer anxiety when meeting people, it was hypothesised that they would use social network sites more than extroverts who prefer face to face interaction. Unexpectedly, it was discovered that extroverts use social networking sites much more than introverts. However, this is because extroverts seek more interaction than introverts regardless of whether it is on-line or face-to-face. More recent studies have indeed find that introverts use online interactions as a replacement for face-to-face ones, termed Social Compensation Theory.
So in conclusion introverts prefer the quiet life, are good at detailed repetitive work and prefer to communicate through email, text and well-planned small meetings. In contrast, extroverts are social animals who are more creative and like communicating through face to face interaction and presenting creative ideas to large audiences.
I have focused on introversion-extroversion but there are many other traits that affect our perferred means of communication. For me introversion-extroversion is the key one and hopefully you will now appreciate that the way you like to communicate may not be the most natural or preferred method for your work colleagues, managers, clients or audience.
This blog formed the basis of my CC2 presentation at Toastmasters.
Workplace Consulting is a relatively new and specialist profession. Based on the description provided by the Workplace Consulting Organisation (WCO), it appears to be:
“using a range of techniques, including engagement with the business and end user, to gather data that will determine an organisation’s requirements for their current or future working environments”.
There is no formal training in Workplace Consulting, no Masters courses nor accreditation. Even determining the basic criteria for who qualifies to call themselves a Workplace Consultant proved difficult for the Workplace Consulting Organisation, see their website for more details. I am therefore fascinated by how people came to work in Workplace Consulting. I know fellow consultants who have entered the profession via architecture, design, HR, FM and IT. Below is the story of my journey into the Wonderful World of Workplace Consulting.
It all started way back at school. I was all set to do A Levels in physics, chemistry, maths and applied maths - I was a serial scientist. But then I went to a careers fair where I learned about the field of Physiological Measurement. They offered two years training and a college qualification but more importantly they paid people to do the course. I applied immediately and was accepted onto the programme.
I spent the next two years working in and around Birmingham hospitals in various “ology” departments - audiology, cardiology, radiology and electro-encephalography etc I successfully completed the course and this gave me the opportunity to move to London and work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the Neurology department. Most of the work involved monitoring brain activity in patients undergoing deep invasive surgery such as amputations and open heart surgery. One of my fondest memories is seeing a human heart exposed and beating – it is quite a magical site. But I also started working with a whacky Californian psychologist. I monitored the brain activity and heart rate of people undergoing psychotherapy. My interest in psychology grew and motivated me to study psychology at Keele University back in the midlands. My main interest at university was in what was then called "man-machine interaction".
Well I got my degree then moved back down south to the Building Research Establishment in Watford. There I worked for the Human Factors section researching the impact of environmental conditions (temperature, noise, space etc), on satisfaction, comfort and performance. Research involving observing people in their home and office is quite voyeuristic. I spent 11 years at the BRE and managed to find time to gain my Masters and Doctorate degree. Happy times but I felt I couldn't spend my whole life researching and theorising - I needed to go out into the real world and apply what I had learned.
Fortunately I was offered a consulting post at Johnson Controls. Initially the role was to critically evaluate buildings and their impact on occupant satisfaction and performance. But this soon turned into working with designers and applying my knowledge to create new cost-effective and productive workplaces in places such as the Shetland Isles, Algeria and Singapore. Without realising it, I had become a Workplace Consultant.
I then worked with an architectural practice (SHCA) advising many international companies throughout Europe and Africa. I spent much of my time working in Nigeria planning offices, a hotel, housing and an airport – that was until I was evacuated by helicopter due to a violent demonstration. I then worked with a niche workplace consulting practice (AMA). We mostly worked with public sector bodies such as the British Council who I advised in Dubai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Eventually I joined the world’s largest workplace consulting practice – DEGW. Over a 15 year period I honed my skills and knowledge, evantually becoming internationally recognised in the field of Workplace Consulting.
I was so proud of my new profession that I co-founded the Workplace Consulting Organisation - a professional body for us specialist consultants. I have also now set up my own consulting practice Workplace Unlimited.
So I spent just over half my career in training and research and the remainder in workplace consulting. It’s been a long journey, and I’m still learning, but a worthwhile one. Contact me to learn more about a career in the Wonderful World of Workplace Consulting or contact the WCO directly. Also please comment on how you got into Workplace Consulting and why.
This blog is based on my CC1 presentation to Toastmasters.
The humble teapot is a worthy example of what I call "vernacular design". You would have heard of vernacular architecture, which is building design that has evolved over time based on local culture, climate and resources, but vernacular design is a broader concept that includes the design of clothing, furniture, equipment and teapots etc.
Teapots date back to 16th century China – they were initially made of iron but over time they became fashioned from clay and then from porcelain. The shape of the teapot has changed very little over time, the key components being a solid base, good pouring spout, high-insulating material, and a well-fitting lid to allow the tea and water to be easily added. The “brown betty”, the iconic English teapot, optimises great vernacular and timeless design for me.
Chinese iron, brown betty and stainless steel teapots
So why is it that when I venture out for afternoon tea I am often presented with a misshapen stainless steel teapot that has a poorly-fitting lid and is made from material that can’t retain heat (so my tea is cold by the second cup) plus is furnished with a spout that dribbles tea all over the saucer and table? The answer is simple, such a teapot is mass produced, it is cheap and easy to construct, and it kind of works and looks good when it is brand new. And that exactly reflects the situation with most of today’s air-conditioned speculative buildings. Post Occupancy Evaluations (POE) show that temperature control and air quality are two of the main causes of dissatisfaction in modern offices. I think it basically comes down to replacing good vernacular design with low risk, low cost options that ignore local requirements, which have evolved from a millennia of cultural development and climatic conditions.
I have taken issue with the standard of air-conditioned office for some time, ever since my Doctorate proved that we Brits prefer naturally ventilated spaces with good temperature control. The temperatures in UK offices in summer are dictated by international standards which still recommend set-point temperatures of 22 to 24 degree Celsius for those wearing suits and carrying out sedentary activity. So maybe the cultural norm of wearing suits (and ties) on days when the outside temperature indicates that lighter attire may be more comfortable is partly responsible for the increased perceived need for air-conditioned offices.
So let’s consider the suit for a moment. Apparently, the notion of tailoring developed in Europe gradually between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. By King Louis XIV's reign, the 17th century, men had stopped wearing the doublet, hose, and cloak and started to wear coats, vests, and breeches i.e. the three components of modern male attire. By the start of the 19th century the upper classes were dressing in a more restrained manner similar to the masses. The suit was born out of tailoring to accentuate the male physique and be less flamboyant than earlier European clothing trends. Thus the suit is a fashion item rather than developed out of need, which is quite different to traditional clothing – and don’t get me on to that superfluous piece of cloth called the tie.
There are many examples of where vernacular architecture and clothing design symbiotically support the local culture and climate. At one climatic extreme, we have the Inuit people who replace their waterproof sealskin boots, dense polar bear parkas and igloos in winter with soft elk robes, buffalo moccasins and their tupiq tent in summer. In contrast, Arabic clothing includes long flowing robes (the thobe or dishdasha) which create a pumping action with movement to cool the body. Arabic buildings have wind catchers – tall towers that divert cool air to the building whilst pushing out warm air using the stack effect. Thick walls, shadowed courtyards and landscaping all help keep the occupants cool by natural and passive means.
Japan provides some of my favourite examples of clothing and building design working well together. On my last trip there I stayed in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, were the minimalist room simply had tatami mat flooring, a foldaway futon and a kotatsu, which is a low wooden table with an underneath heat source. There is no central heating system in traditional Japanese accommodation, so in bygone years the occupant would sit in their robe (either a light yukata or a heavier kimono) and pin the corners of the robe to the table so that they received a direct gust of warm air – highly localised rather than central heating.
A few years ago the Japanese Government introduced the concept of Cool Biz into the workplace. In Japan’s hot summer months, offices are highly air-conditioned to cool the very formally dressed office workers. The idea of Cool Biz was to encourage office works to dress down, and for it to become culturally acceptable, so that set-point (thermostat) temperatures in building could be raised in summer thus saving energy and reducing carbon emissions. The campaign was a success and has continued with significant carbon savings year on year. So let’s ditch the suit in the UK and encourage developers to build more naturally ventilated offices.
The Quadrant – Network Rail’s new HQ
I have just completed a POE of the Quadrant, Network Rail’s new headquarters in Milton Keynes. One of the key success factors of the Quadrant is that it is naturally ventilated (albeit by automated window opening). The staff like the freshness of the air quality, the links to the outside world and even that the papers on their desk gently rustle in a summer breeze. The natural ventilation, ample food/drink stations and good daylight in the Quadrant all cater for our evolutionary psychological needs – one of my pet subjects referred to in my previous blogs and papers. But more significantly, the Quadrant occupants appear more tolerant of the occasional hot day in return for the other benefits on offer. Naturally ventilated spaces are traditionally the domain of the small shallow-plan bespoke office, so in their substantial 400,000 sq ft office has Network Rail shown us a viable alternative to the generic air-conditioned box so often offered by real estate developers?
For some time I have been, on what feels like a lonely crusade, evangelising about the need to design workplaces that focus on recognising psychological  factors and enhancing individual performance , rather than simply concerned with saving space. I was beginning to think that I would never find an occupier who truly understood how their offices could be used to facilitate and improve their business rather than treat it as a cost burden that should be avoided. However, my recent visit to Lend Lease's Regents Place offices (as part of the Workplace Trends tours) has restored my faith in common (business) sense.
Just entering the shared atrium in their multi-tenanted building gives a tantalising insight into what lies in store in Lend Lease's office. Facing me was a large art installation constructed from red and gold coloured mirrors which subtly reflect the surrounding office spaces. Despite the red mirrors, the greenness (in both colour and planting) of Lend Lease's offices is evident.
Although, the sceptic may consider the planting (some 3,800 plants) a gimmick, Lend Lease maintain that the plants are there for good reasons - predominantly that of improving productivity. Lend Lease unearthed research showing that plants improve air quality which in turn has been shown, in other studies, to improve performance. But contradictory research has suggested that for plants to have a positive effect on air quality in offices, it would require a rain-forest-load of plants - whilst there is an abundance of plants they are nonetheless not a rain forest. However, it cannot be denied that, despite being an Australian company, Lend Lease have in England created a green and pleasant land, which will appeal to our innate affinity to greenery, termed biophelia, and have a positive effect on occupant satisfaction , motivation, and performance (all bar the odd hay fever sufferer). Furthermore, Lend Lease has found that the healthiness of the plants is an indicator of the air quality – so perhaps plants are the canaries of the office world.
If Lend Lease do clearly demonstrate that their enhanced air quality does increase productivity they will not be able to claim it is due to the planting alone. That is because they have also doubled the fresh air supply rate, compared to British standards. Although this will increase energy (and carbon) costs, as they are not recycling treated air, Lend Lease firmly believe the productivity benefits make it all worthwhile. I actually admire their commitment for investing in their workplace based on productivity research findings and for putting people (and, let’s not forget, business) above cost reduction. Perhaps the combined plants and increased fresh air is a case of "belt and braces" - I will leave the reader to decide if that is wasteful or just a good low risk strategy.
Lend Lease, like everyone else, have opted for a bench desk system but the workplace nevertheless still feels spacious. I think this mainly due to a mixture of generous primary and secondary circulation space (to facilitate mingling). In addition, the adjacent nicely designed, cosy, comfortable and ample quiet and informal meeting spaces all help break up the desking. I found the space simply a delight to walkthrough and can imagine myself comfortable and happy in this place.
Furthermore, there are well provided breakout and coffee areas on each floor. Like Macquarie Bank, these areas are stocked with good quality beverages and free toast and free porridge. Clearly Australians are grazers; but regardless of antipodean eating habits these areas literally cater for evolutionary psychological needs and thus create an attractive reason for meeting and socialising with colleagues - which in turn builds trust and in turn facilitates collaboration. The low-GI porridge is aimed at increasing energy levels.
The meeting rooms all seemed well space planned with good AV to facilitate productive meetings  and reduce the need for printing. Special attention has been paid to the daylight and electric lighting throughout the building – again acknowledging evolutionary psychological needs and productivity research findings.
So have I finally found a workplace where the property team understands the primary reason for offices is to facilitate the occupying business and maximise performance? Well possibly, but I have only walked through the space; my preference is to wait for the results of the post occupancy evaluation  as it is the occupants who are best placed to say how we'll the space works for them.
1. Oseland N A (2009) The impact of psychological needs on office design. Journal of Corporate Real Estate, 11 (4), 244-254.
2. Oseland N A and Burton A (2012) Quantifying the impact of environmental conditions on worker performance for inputting to a business case. Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal and Valuation, 1 (2).
3. Oseland N A et al (2011) Environments for successful interaction. Facilities, 29 (1/2), 50-62.
4. Oseland N A (2006) The BCO Guide to POE. London: British Council for Offices.
As usual I pulled the programme together for this year’s Workplace Trends conference. The theme for this year, the tenth annual conference, was wellbeing and Performance. I selected this theme simply because during the last year of attending conferences the subject of wellbeing was raised, but not really discussed, by the audiences and a few speakers. I was intrigued, is wellbeing genuinely a different issue to performance, or is Wellbeing simply a rebranding of the whole productivity agenda?
Not only are wellbeing, performance and productivity mentioned in the same breath but we can also add happiness, satisfaction and motivation into the mix. Nic Marks opened Workplace Trends presenting his happiness index. Nic presented research which revealed that positive emotions both a) broaden our thoughts helping us to pay more attention and be more creative and b) build psychological resources such as resilience/coping mechanisms and social skills. Both are useful attributes in the workplace and clearly happiness is a positive emotion but the link to performance is only implied and a direct causal link is not demonstrated by the research.
So does happiness lead to better performance or better performance lead to happiness? Well according to a Gallup survey presented by Nic, the impact of happiness at work on business performance is twice as large as from business performance to happiness at work. Tim Whitely, an old friend of mine at Arup, found during his PhD in the 1990s that job satisfaction and individual performance are related but interdependent on each other. From my perspective I can see how a successful business will lead to better rewarded, contented and high performing staff and I can also see how highly motivated and performing staff leads to better business.
But, as Paul Morrell pointed out in the afternoon, we are British and we are naturally suspicious of happiness, especially at work. I think our fear is of being that happy person in the office, the one who is unaware of office politics, the one who is the last to know when the company is struggling and the one who is usually the most vulnerable to organisational restructuring. The more cynical amongst us might even associate happiness with (blissful) ignorance, being ill-informed or, dare I say, a lack of intelligence. Or perhaps happiness is too high an emotional state that can lead to distraction from work duties. For example, maybe “happiness” is too close an emotion (or word) to “love” and Nic even reworded Tina Turner’s song as “what’s love/happiness got to do with it”. But I also subscribe to the “a happy worker is a productive worker” camp. So, I propose replacing “happiness” with “satisfaction” (or even “motivation”) to make Nic’s underlying message more acceptable to the dour British business.
In the second presentation, Mark Duddridge and Jane Abrahams presented Ginster’s wellbeing programme. I love the irony of Ginster’s speaking on wellbeing but the story of improving the health of Ginster’s meat-packers and pie-makers is a one of success.
Mark mentioned that Ginster’s, like all good companies, have a preventative maintenance programme for their machinery, so why not have one for the workforce. Liking the wellbeing programme to preventative maintenance for workers, akin to treating the workers as components in a process, was clearly too Taylorist for many of the Workplace Trends audience. But the key point made was that some organisations take more care of their machinery than their true primary asset - the workers.
If employees are not working then they are not productive, regardless of how well motivated they are. CIPD quoted the average absenteeism rate at 8 day per employee per year (approx 3.5% of a working year) and much higher in some sectors. In Pawel Wargocki’s presentation he told us that a productivity gain of just 10% would offset all the organisation’s property costs. Pawel’s analysis is based on the typical percentage of the business costs that are salaries and property – but base the calculation on the revenue generated by the staff and the productivity gain for offset is more like 5%. The outcome of this analysis is that businesses should invest more in their working environments in order to improve staff performance, rather than reduce investment in the workplace possibly resulting in loss of productivity.
Some absenteeism is due to accidents and poor ergonomics (such as RSI and musculoskeletal disorders) the realms of occupational health. Nevertheless healthy and fit employees are likely to be more alert, and less prone to accidents or illness, and therefore more productive over the working year. It seems to me that wellbeing is similar to sustainability in that it is about prevention of long-term possibly irreversible problems. The problem with it, like sustainability, is that the effects (positive or negative) are not immediately obvious and investment in it requires an element of faith.
Later in the day the Workplace Trends delegates were introduced to Karōshi which is the antithesis of wellbeing. Karōshi means "death from overwork" and in Japan is recognised as occupational sudden death, most commonly due to heart attack or stroke brought on by stress at work. Although I struggle with pushing happiness in the workplace, I certainly prefer it Karōshi.
It surprised me that, in his light-hearted presentation, Paul Morrell referred to motivation and to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (it surprised me even more that it was one of my graphics that he was using without any citation). At the lower end of the hierarchy are the physiological factors which are arguably related to a safe and comfortable workplace. Morrell was arguing that we need to get these factors right before worrying about happiness, although it could be argued they are fundamental to wellbeing.
At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualisation, a point when we are most productive due to be autonomous, well rewarded and respected. I can see how happiness is an element of self-actualisation but what Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is actually about is what motivates us. Maslow’s thesis has never actually been demonstrated whereas Herzberg’s theory of motivation has. He found that so-called hygiene factors (safety, ergonomics, temperature, light etc) can prevent us from performing when they are not right, but it requires organisational factors (management, colleagues, reward, respect) to motivate us to perform better. Indeed, research colleagues of Pawel (including myself) would also argue that the biggest impact on performance is from organisational factors and the environment can only provide up to a maximum 15% impact.
The final presentation, from Doug Shaw, was an honest and candid account about humanising the workplace by bringing authenticity, vulnerability, simplicity and transparency back into it. These will help reduce fear, enhance interaction, build trust, facilitate collaboration and ultimately improve performance. The four characterises presented by Doug are actually more akin to the positive emotions I would like to see in the workplace.
So my closing thought is that the underlying theme of the conference was not wellbeing and performance but actually motivation and performance. We shouldn’t worry too much about what makes our staff happy but focus on how to motivate them (by addressing organisational factors, by creating great workspaces and by improving their wellbeing) which in turn may improve happiness but more importantly it will inspire them to perform better and reap the rewards.
I was recently asked by S&PA Professional, a bi-monthly magazine for members of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), to write 500 words on whether "the quality of the facility impacts on the motivation of staff". My response is below:
What appears to be at first glance a straightforward question suddenly becomes complicated when attempting to provide evidence for a demonstrable link between quality and motivation. This is because both variables are quite subjective and therefore can be difficult to quantify. A canter through the internet reveals that quality has many definitions but fulfilling the requirements of end-users to meet their expectations is a recurring one. In terms of facilities, quality may also refer to the standard of the environment, the accompanying (facilities management) service provided, and the robustness and longevity of products such as desks and chairs.
Many years ago I visited a new office facility on the day of “practical completion” – the day that the office is handed over to the client. I recall my architectural colleague being annoyed at how the top of the filing cabinets did not align with the top of the desk screens – there was about a 10 mm difference. What he had not noticed, which I pointed out, was the absence of chairs which meant the occupants would not be able to work at their desks (in comfort). My point is that we notice different aspects of quality depending on our experience and expertise. The lay person will most likely not readily notice the quality of finishes of doors, partitions and furniture etc in their new facilities and as a consequence it will have little impact on motivation. However, I do believe that they will appreciate the quality of finishes unconsciously using senses other than sight – for example the weight, smoothness, texture and solidity of doors, chairs and desks all affect our perception of quality. Although this unconscious appreciation of quality is evident in some industries, such as cars and hotels where quality is reflected in cost, the link to motivation in the workplace is less clear.
But evidence showing the impact of the quality of the environmental conditions on the end-users motivation and performance is much clearer. I recently published a journal paper in which my co-author and I predicted the impact of environmental conditions, such as temperature, noise, lighting, ventilation and space, on occupant performance. The predictions were based on a meta-analysis of 75 world-wide academic productivity studies. After adjusting for the study setting and activity recorded, we found that such variables typically have a 1% to 3.5% impact on occupant performance. We also found that office refurbishments including new furniture were found to have approximately a 4% to 8% impact on performance. There are also many published post occupancy evaluations (case studies) which demonstrate an increase in staff satisfaction and self-assessed performance as a result of moving to new workplace facilities.
You may have noticed that the impact of the facility on performance is relatively small. This is because the largest impact comes from organisational factors such as job satisfaction, recognition/reward and management structure. I am a fan of Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory in which he suggested that such organisational factors motivate us to perform better whereas a lack of “hygiene” factors have a negative impact on performance. I believe his hygiene factors include the environmental conditions, discussed above, such that we only notice when they are not working properly which in turn leads to dissatisfaction, demotivation and corresponding poor performance.
My conclusion is that although we may not always notice the quality of our facilities, they definitely impact on our satisfaction with that facility and affect our wellbeing, motivation and ultimately our performance.
1. Oseland N A and Burton A (2012) Quantifying the impact of environmental conditions on worker performance for inputting to a business case to justify enhanced workplace design features. Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal & Valuation, 1(2), pp151-164.
2. Oseland N A (2007) The BCO Guide to Post-Occupancy Evaluation. London: British Council for Offices.
3. Herzberg F (1968) One more time: How do you motivate employees?, Harvard Business Review, 46(1), pp53–62.
I am currently helping an occupier create a new flexible working environment by facilitating the change management process to ensure the staff buy-in to the new working arrangements. I presented my usual list of the benefits of flexible working (to both the organisation and the individual) but was told to go away and collate hard evidence. The client is an engineering practice and their staff includes analysts and planners; as a consequence their nature is to challenge and not accept consulting recommendations without detailed and rigorous data to back it up.
Fortunately I have access to case studies that I have collected over the years as a workplace consultant, and I also found quite a few published on the web. You can read through the case studies in my occasional paper on Flexible Working Benefits.
The case studies illustrate clear, objective space efficiencies and associated property savings. However they also support claims of the less-tangible (readily measured) benefits. For example, organisations such as BP, DTI, EC Harris, GSK, PwC, Rolls-Royce and the Treasury Solicitors all reported that flexible working enhanced knowledge sharing, communication, team interaction and collaboration. In some cases this resulted in better joined-up services, more cross-selling of services, and ultimately increased profitability. GSK and EC Harris believe their flexible working environments contributed towards increases in profit in the order of 12%. Decreases in travel time between the office and client sites, and reduced absenteeism (from appointments) etc associated with flexible working have resulted in further increases in productivity.
Interestingly, when I presented my evidence on the benefits to the client’s engineers their response was to ask about the dis-benefits. I took this response favourably as it means they had accepted my evidence and had moved on to their next challenge. However, they do have a point – most case studies only present the positive results and brush over the negatives. Not presenting negatives is not just limited to case studies, many new scientific researchers shy away from presenting negative results for fear that they will be criticised. As a consequence they publish only the studies supporting existing theory rather than challenging it. This leads to groupthink and makes a mockery of the view that good theories are falsifiable. For a long time I have suggested we resent case studies “warts ‘n’ all” as we (due to our critical nature) tend to learn more from mistakes than from successes, see the BCO's Guide to Post Occupancy Evaluation.
So I explained to the engineers that my task was to present the benefits and that also very few case studies presented the negatives. The best way to discover what doesn’t work in flexible working is to tour flexible working environments and ask questions (of the end-users not just the design team and sponsors). I have done this for a number of years and my experience is that most flexible working environments will have niggles but they are not “show stoppers”. The issues that prevent a flexible working project from being a success (or from even going ahead) are:
· lack of buy-in from senior management who lead by example;
· a focus on culture, performance and innovation rather than on reduced space and cost (pushed by the property or FM team);
· not fully understanding the business requirement and not aligning the flexible working strategy to it;
· setting an unrealistic workplace target rather than providing an optimum solution, for example moving from private offices to free-address agile working is a long journey;
· lack of liaison between IT, HR and FM – all policies and strategies must be aligned;
· not communicating or involving the staff, not bothering with a change management process.
So despite a focus on space and associated cost savings by the property community, there are many more worthwhile benefits to implementing flexible working. Indeed, flexible working is more successful when the driving force is not space and cost savings but emphasis is placed on these other benefits. Furthermore, the best flexible working projects tend to be ones where the business is leading the project, based on a change in culture or work-style, rather than being promoted by the property team as a means of simply saving space.