Leesman’s CEO, Tim Oldman, explains what the best workplaces in the world are doing differently to everyone else.
For millions of Americans, work is no longer contingent on a workplace. Research by Gallup suggests that more than a third of the working population now spend part of their week working remotely, while the most recent US Census revealed some 8mn people using their home as a base.
The simple answer to why this is happening is better technology. Smartphones, laptops and a reliable Wi-Fi connection have unmoored workers from their office desk. But the reasons that people are turning to technology are even more compelling. The automobile remains the primary means of travel for three in four American commuters while their commute times remain outrageously long. The average US worker spends more than an hour getting to and from work, with only Belgians and Australians putting up with longer commutes in the Western world. This is the result of two things: first, the sheer size of US geography; and second, the increase of traffic on US roads, particularly in more densely populated urban areas.
So, if workers are turning to their digital tools to save them from these nightmare commutes, this also raises some fundamental questions about the role of the workplace in 21st century organizations, what it is people need from their working environments, and – crucially – whether the current crop is meeting those requirements.
Leesman works globally helping organisations understand how their workplaces support organizational performance, and in so doing has amassed more than 500,000 responses from 3,600 buildings in 291 countries. Its online survey examines what employees are doing and how well each of the activities that they undertake as part of their role is supported by the physical, virtual and social infrastructures in their workplace. The results are then added to a worldwide benchmark that calculates the design impact that these workplaces have on an employee’s overall experience, from their perception of personal productivity and level of enjoyment to their pride in the workspace.
Business leaders may want to look away now (though they mustn’t). The evidence is unequivocal: an alarmingly high number of workplaces across the globe are failing their occupiers in these fundamental areas. Currently, only 61% of employees can agree that their workplace enables them to work productively, just 59% report that their workplace creates an enjoyable environment to work in, and an even lower number – 51% – say that they would feel proud to welcome visitors.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The latest deep dive into the data reveals an elite band of organizations that are bucking this trend. Since 2012, Leesman has awarded the highest performing workplace on its index – ones that comply with strict qualification criteria – Leesman certification. While 2018 saw just 28 of the 560 workplaces measured earn this increasingly coveted status, identifying what separates them from the rest of the pack helps to unveil the cornerstones of great employee experience.
Crunching the 2018 survey data from these 28 buildings, together with information on key variables external of the research including occupancy density, desk-sharing ratios, and environmental certification, has identified the key differentiators between these two groups. And the findings expose some blunt discrepancies. When it comes to personal productivity, for example, 77% of respondents in the Leesman buildings answer affirmatively – a whole 15 percentage points higher than the global index average. On the topic of pride, meanwhile, scores soar by 29 percentage points, from 51% to 80%.
Delving into the factors that determine these scores reveals a great deal about how organizations can achieve exceptional employee experience. It is easy to make the argument, for example, that Leesman organizations have a much better sense of their employees’ increasingly mobile and flexible needs. A substantial majority of the high-performing workplaces offer either a fully flexible arrangement or a mix of flexible and designated workstations – and their occupiers are happy: a massive 86.5% of respondents from the Leesman buildings report satisfaction with the variety of workspace on offer.
Wider variety may also help to explain why the 2018 Leesman workplaces are predominantly open concepts. In stark contrast to the war on open plan now waged by the mainstream press, this suggests that open offices can be both popular and effective. The most common charges, now pumped out with unnerving regularity by glossy magazines and top tier business titles, are that open designs distract, diminish privacy, and create toxic levels of stress at work. Yet these latest findings show that organizations which get open plan designs right do not sacrifice visual or acoustic privacy. In fact, the number of respondents who were satisfied with the quiet rooms provided by Leesman spaces last year climbed to 61%, which represents an increase of 20 percentage points since 2015.
Deferring to conventional wisdom is riddled with danger. The common perception may be that remote working affords people the freedom to be both effective and creative away from the chaos of open plan offices, but this simply isn’t backed by the data. Leesman spaces contain fewer remote workers than the global average, while remote workers across Leesman’s wider database report lower levels of personal productivity than their office-based colleagues. Moreover, digital tools and better high-speed internet are still no match for face-to-face interaction in the workplace when it comes to something as critical as knowledge transfer. Office workers report 6% higher satisfaction with their ability to share ideas with colleagues than remote workers.
While it is difficult to determine whether an employee’s sense of pride in the workplace would make them more or less likely to work there given the choice, the data shows that employees in high-performing buildings are far keener to welcome visitors. It also highlights points of pride in some unorthodox areas. More than a third of the Leesman cohort boast environmental credentials including six LEED certificates, four BREEAM, and one Green Star – with the proportion of employees who are proud to welcome visitors in these certified spaces now sitting 15 percentage points higher than the global average. While there are many variables that might influence an employee’s level of pride in their employer or workplace, this speaks to a growing belief in business that employees desire to work for organizations that have serious ethical values.
That employees are choosing to work remotely or from home with increasing regularity speaks volumes about the standard of today’s workplaces. In response, organizations have a duty to reappraise their employees’ needs and ensure that they are providing the infrastructures, services and experiences to match.
Balance and choice are the watchwords for 2019. As people become more mobile, they demand greater flexibility. This is something the best workplaces in the world capture better than anyone else. And the organizations responsible for these spaces are now challenging the often-recycled idea that ‘work is a thing you do not place you go to’ by creating a series of work destinations that support employees’ evolving expectations with unparalleled accuracy.