Corporations must break down the silo mentality of their teams to unlock the potential of agile working.
That’s the verdict of international flexible workplace specialist Abintra, which pioneered workplace utilisation technology more than a decade ago with its WiseNet system, and which has advised more than 100 corporations worldwide to monitor office usage and redesign workspaces.
The consultancy warns that unless firms take a business-wide approach, they will fail to implement flexible working properly and will miss out on the advent of smart buildings.
David Maddison, Abintra’s Head of Sales EMEA, said: “Firms need to take a holistic approach to reorganising the way they work. It shouldn’t be just the preserve of the real estate or FM team. It needs to be communicated across the whole business. HR should be fully involved to help to create an improved environment. Other departments, such as IT, have important roles to play. Management should be driving change towards corporate objectives, such as improved efficiency and better recruitment and retention. To make it happen, they need to do more than delegate it to a single team, they need to bring teams together on an enterprise-wide mission.”
Mr Maddison said advances in smart buildings added new emphasis to the need for a well-rounded approach to workplace design. “We now have the technology not only to enable flexible working but also to monitor and control the environment down to the individual desk level. As smart buildings gain traction, it’s crucial that teams work together to reap the rewards, looking beyond energy savings and towards creating a better, more productive work environment, one that contributes to employees’ health and wellbeing.”
Referring to the Vischer* three-level comfort model of wellbeing at work, he said: “By monitoring the office environment and how and when it is being used, we can create adaptable workplaces that address all users’ needs, from physical comfort and wellbeing to how the environment supports them to do their job effectively.”
Abintra reports an increasing number of enquiries from customers wanting to overhaul their working environments as employee wellbeing rises up the corporate agenda.
“Recruitment and retention are massive priorities for major corporations, and this is leading to more and more of them reviewing their working environments,” said Mr Maddison.
Abintra points out that involving the workforce in the process is a crucial step to making it work. It is important to convey respect to the worker, one of the linchpins of theory put forward by people-centred-design researcher Professor Jeremy Myerson.
It is important because so-called knowledge workers, the kind that typically populate the offices of major corporations, have a strong sense of control. There is a risk of threatening that sense by failing to involve them or, on the contrary, offering too much choice, which can be alarming for some people.
Mr Maddison said: “Also under the banner of conveying respect to the worker is silent messaging, the cues that an office environment gives to the people who work in it. That speaks much louder about an employer than any mission statement. Ideally, it should provide a sense of community.”
The second linchpin is that office environments should support the work that needs to be done and provide an environment that allows workers to refresh themselves mentally.
There is no doubt that corporations have space to play with. A recently-published Abintra report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending more than £10 billion on under-used Grade A office space.
Mr Maddison concluded: “This all relates to organisations valuing their number one asset, their people, and leveraging their second biggest overhead, their workplace, to develop environments that address these key factors.”
*Three levels of workplace comfort
- Physical comfort or basic habitability. Most modern workplaces already meet this level.
- Functional comfort supports employees to better perform their work, including lighting, temperature, layout, ambience and ergonomics. Few workplaces get beyond this level.
- Psychological comfort is concerned with more than just the employee’s performance. It relates to factors such as territory, privacy, trust, control, attachment and belonging. This is the key to improving mental wellbeing through workplace design.