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Leesman on boosting the effectiveness of the American workplace

Eleanor Forster
|Aug 5|magazine13 min read

In late December 2015, Leesman CEO Tim Oldman was asked to present at a roundtable event for over 100 American and global real estate executives. A mere month later, following a wave of interest, Leesman landed in the US with a permanent home in New York City. Since then, we have actively engaged with an array of North American businesses, spanning a wide variety of sectors and sizes, due to a new and improved focus on the importance of the workplace and its link to organizational performance.

As a global, independent think-tank, Leesman measures how effectively a workspace supports the activities undertaken within the built environment in question, and our survey has been designed to accurately record employee satisfaction levels with over ninety workplace features and services. We have spoken to more than 155,000 employees across the globe and the latest data has revealed that office environments can and do hinder productivity. The failings of a space also impact employee engagement, health and wellbeing and, ultimately, talent retention and staff turnover - not to mention profit margins.

Europe, particularly Scandinavia, is viewed as one of the thought leaders when it comes to workplace effectiveness. However, the USA is one of the world’s top global innovators, only pipped to the post by Japan (Thomson Reuters Derwent Word Patents Index), and this natural wave-making ability appears to be evident in the approach to creating workplaces that work. The Leesman Index data, amassed from our work with American businesses, reveals that the USA has scored eight percent higher in employee satisfaction than Europe when it comes to creating productive work environments.

That being said, our research has revealed that employees on both sides of the pond are increasingly looking for a variety of workspaces, including social, informal areas to collaborate and communicate with colleagues - yet their employers are failing to provide them. So although the US has begun to take the reins on the subject, it’s clear that more work needs to be done.

What we see in the highest performing organizations that we’ve worked with is the investment in choice. These businesses are creating the right environments for their people - and they have only achieved this by understanding the needs of their workforce. It’s not just about plonking people at a desk and hoping for the best; the key is offering a range of spaces that suit the various activity portfolios within an organization.

From our conversations so far, American business leaders are bracing themselves for a deeper delve into the components of a workplace that can help their organizations flourish. Businesses dotted along the East Coast are crying out the loudest, and we chose New York as our base so we can easily access and respond to the influx of requests coming in. We’re currently in talks with entrepreneurial leaders in New York, Toronto, Boston, DC and Philadelphia, as well as other cities along the D.C. corridor. These are the most densely populated cities in terms of building stock and employees. The physicality of Manhattan, for example, has created a largely vertical city and although the stereotypical view of New York is a varied collection of gleaming towers, the reality is that the majority of buildings are around 70 years old, with old and extremely challenging infrastructures.

The main challenge faced by businesses in these areas is the cost of space. Given the soaring price of CRE, businesses need to be increasingly savvy about creating work environments that support employees in their day-to-day roles, regardless of the limitations posed, if they’re to succeed. And when square footage is squeezed to breaking point, it’s imperative to maximize the offering of the space. Having powerful data at your fingertips to make informed decisions is crucial - hence the newfound drive to explore the link between workspace, real estate and productivity.

This is the reason why we are having a lot of conversations around the adoption of Activity Based Working (ABW) models. There’s a new wave of curiosity here in North America and Canada about the potential of such work environments. In order to respond to this interest and offer invaluable insight, Leesman has recently undertaken an extensive research project in partnership with IFMA Sweden on ABW and Employee Mobility - particularly how it actually works in practice. The results of the research, harvested over 70,000 employee responses, were presented at a Data Deep Dive event on the 23rd of June at our NY offices. This offers business leaders a new way of thinking about unharnessing the potential of their workspace.

One thing is clear – we are in an era of unprecedented complexity and transformation. Thanks to rapid advances in technology and the emergence of new ways of working, the traditional workplace as we know is undergoing a period of constant evolution. Along with this shift in the nature of work, organizations are increasingly looking for business strategies that fuel growth and competitive advantage. Some of our clients are looking to expand or consolidate their US-Global portfolios so investment in a data driven strategy is essential for focused change, as is creating environments that fully support employees in their daily activities. Space is essentially a tool that will allow organizations to gain returns on their RE investment.

Now we have a base here in New York, we are looking forward to our continued work with American organizations in the drive to optimize the efficiency of work environments, and to contribute towards the ever-evolving dialogue and debate concerning the world of work. 
 

by Eleanor Forster, MD of Leesman North America
 

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Read the July 2016 issue of Business Review USA & Canada magazine