Elevating the workforce experience: The physical lens

Posted by Jannine Zucker, Maribeth Sivak, Jen Guo, and Seth Stancroff on March 16, 2020.

It is well-documented that employees who are engaged at work tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and demonstrate higher productivity than their less-engaged peers.¹ Furthermore, companies with more engaged workforces tend to outperform those with less engaged employees on a number of key outcomes, including higher quality of work, fewer safety incidents, and lower employee turnover and absenteeism.² The topic of workforce experience has been approached from a number of different viewpoints (see our previous articles using the personal and digital lenses). However, another critical, but oftentimes overlooked aspect of the workforce experience is the physical space in which work is done.

Stay connected.Follow us @Deloitte HCThe physical workplace plays an essential role in driving a consumer-grade workforce experience. ³ “If you want to build a culture of high performance,” says Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of Gensler, a global architecture and design firm, “start by taking a look at your office environment.”⁴ Organizations where employees are satisfied benefit from higher employee creativity and productivity,⁵ increased commitment and dedication to work,⁶ as well as lower absenteeism and turnover rates.⁷ Research has shown that a positive workplace environment can reduce chronic stress and ensuing physiological consequences, such as higher levels of cortisol and increased risk of heart disease.⁸ In addition, changing the physical layout of a workplace can increase access to leadership and promote collaboration.⁹ Importantly, the workplace can serve as a medium through which an organization can uniquely foster (and change) its culture.¹⁰,¹¹, ¹² The importance of the physical workplace in elevating the workforce experience cannot be understated.

How, then, can an organization maximize the workplace experience for employees? Deloitte, in this context, defines a successful workplace as one in which employees feel energized and encouraged to work collaboratively. To that point, successful workplace environments should allow for a large degree of flexibility so that individual workers with their own unique needs can be productive all in the same environment. As such, we have identified three key, deeply interrelated concepts within the workforce experience from a physical lens: (1) workplace autonomy, (2) work arrangements enabled by technological infrastructure, and (3)embracing change.

Workplace autonomyThe most engaged employees are those who have control over their work experience, including the space in which their work is done. ¹³ Research has shown that autonomy and flexibility in the physical workplace improves employee productivity, increases job satisfaction, and lowers workplace stress. ¹⁴ ¹⁵ ¹⁶ In addition, those workers, whose companies allow them to determine for themselves their work arrangements, report being more satisfied, are judged to be better performers, and are more likely to view their company as innovative when compared to its competitors. ¹⁷ Even seemingly minimal shifts towards a flexible work environment can yield big results. In some cases, companies have witnessed increased employee engagement and job satisfaction after simply providing employees with the option of selecting their preferred meeting space or desk configuration. ¹⁸

Investments in flexible workspaces also go deeper than concepts such as open-office environments. By providing a variety of flexible environments for different activities, companies can meet their employees where they are—trusting employees to utilize the ideal workspace for their activity needs—whether it’s for heads-down time or moments to socialize and openly collaborate with others. As a result, employees may feel less stressed, more creative, and more confident in and proud of the organization which they work for.

While we may naturally assume that the amount of time employees utilize the work space drives engagement and performance, in actuality, it is “access [to flexible workspace that is] important,” Gensler emphasizes, “not how long [the employees] work there.” ¹⁹ Consider that in workplaces that offer coworking spaces, only 14 percent of employees make use of them. ²⁰ However, the mere access to these spaces is associated with a 12 to 16 percent increase in performance. ²¹ One large entertainment company has taken notice of this and has successfully included in its new headquarters “me” and “we” spaces, in which employees can choose to work collaboratively or can be alone to focus as needed. ²² By providing employees with their choice of a variety of working arrangements, companies can elevate their workforce experience one space at a time.

Of course, there could be contexts in which greater choice in the physical workspace could create difficulties in production or even be dangerous. Examples include industrial manufacturing settings or in health care, where specific processes require precise setups or layouts. However, these examples should serve as a testament to the notion that designing the workforce environment is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. In the end, those in the organization can benefit if the physical environment is created with employees’ needs in mind, rather than when employees are required to restructure their work to fit the workplace.

Work arrangements enabled by technologyAs the digital landscape expands, organizations are faced with the rapid growth in remote, contract, and other alternative workforces. As a result, leaders are faced with the challenge of engaging employees whom may not share a physical office space (or in extreme cases, are not even based in the same country). In these situations, how can organizations balance workforce autonomy while still maintaining a sense of community and connection with their peers? The answer to this varies company-to-company and depends in large part upon the technological capabilities of the organization.

For some organizations, the option for employees to be mobile or remote can yield more efficiency and higher employee satisfaction. ²³ This is because remote workdays account for the possibility that employees’ needs may change day-to-day and for situations where being deskbound would be a hindrance to their productivity. ²⁴ ²⁵ Other organizations may have a far more disparately located workforce and must heavily rely upon technology for communication. Luckily, there are countless solutions and cloud-based platforms that can allow for many to stay up-to-date regardless of location or time zone. However, it’s vital for managers of those remote employees to still be trained on team-building and be empowered to create a community that fosters trust and collaboration. At either end of the alternative workforce spectrum, it is important for organizations to acquire and maintain those technologies that support their employees and enable high-quality work.

Embracing changeThe third and final tenet of our framework for elevating the workforce experience through a physical lens is simply the ability for an organization to embrace change. In their book, The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman write, “The means to enhance creativity will always be changing. That’s to be expected, because ways of innovating require constant innovation themselves.” ²⁶ ²⁷

Providing a workforce with a variety of work arrangements can make the workplace feel less monotonous and more dynamic. Indeed, Brandt and Eagleman place value on change for its own sake—even if there is not a specific need, “There’s a surprising shrewdness to the constant transformations: They break up cognitive ossification.” ²⁸ And it is partly for this reason that the goal of an organization should be to “proliferate options” from which its employees can choose. ²⁹

Indeed, change to the physical workspace can come with challenges. After all, our subconscious attachment to the environments that we are accustomed to (no matter how inefficient) does not easily fade overnight. For this reason, organizational change management should be embedded within the transformation strategy so that all affected audiences can be brought along the change journey and with as little disruption to other areas of the business as possible. Change management activities empower leaders to define who their most affected stakeholders are, what specifically will be the impacts from the change, how and when those affected stakeholders are best communicated or engaged with, and what training may be required by stakeholder segment. Within the context of the physical workforce experience, effective change management by influential leaders in the organization can help model and coach employees to improved ways of working.

In summary, an organization’s physical workplace influences the day-to-day workforce experience in a significant way. It is important that companies consider how to optimize their physical work arrangements to help improve employee engagement and productivity. Organizations should identify ways to provide their workforces with access to flexible work arrangements both inside the office and out. Moreover, organizations should embrace new technologies to enable workers to perform at their peak while exercising autonomy. Impacts of these physical shifts can substantially affect an organization’s cultural environment as well. To prepare for these shifts, organizations can design a workplace with the workforce experience in mind and align leadership and stakeholders to embrace change and innovation.

Jannine Zucker is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice where she leads Deloitte’s Workforce Experience offering, which helps clients shift the design of programs, processes, and policies to the design of experiences that delight of programs, processess, and policies to the design of experiences that delight and engage the workforce.Maribeth Sivakis a specialist leader in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice, where she helps clients implementing design thinking to reimagine and redefine the workforce experience. What makes her unique is her ability to thread workforce experience through solutions, from strategy to design through implementation, to deliver a transformative workforce experience and business results.Jen Guois a senior consultant in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice, where she helps clients envision, redesign, and organizationally manage their ideal employee experience. Jen uses her PhD in psychology to provide insights on employee needs, better understand pain-points, and deliver a successful change program for cross-industry clients.Seth Stancroff is an analyst in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice. He is interested in helping clients design and implement programs to elevate their workforce experience.   1 John Baldoni, “Employee Engagement Does More than Boost Productivity,” Harvard Business Review, July 4, 2013, https://hbr.org/2013/07/employee-engagement-does-more.2 Susan Sorenson, “ow Employee Engagement Drives Growth,” Gallup, June 20, 2013, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236927/employee-engagement-drives-growth.aspx.3 Jacob Morgan, “How The Physical Workspace Impacts the Employee Experience,” Forbes, December 3, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/12/03/how-the-physical-workspace-impacts-the-employee-experience/#4eb299779ead.4 Diane Hoskins, “Emplyees Perform Better When They Can Control Their Space,” Harvard Business Review, January 16, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/01/employees-perform-better-when-they-can-control-their-space.5 OstermanCron, “Workplace design impacts employee well-being and productivity,” Cincinnati Business Courier, January 21, 2019, https://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2019/01/21/workplace-design-impacts-employee-well-being-and.html.6 Nnenna G. Madu, Soye P. Asawo, and Justin M. O. Gabriel, “Physical workplace environment and employee engagement: A theoretical exploration by Madu, N. G., Asawo, S. P., and Gabriel, J.M.O.,” ResearchGate, November 2017, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321361940_Physical_workplace_environ ment_and_employee_engagement_A_theoretical_exploration_by_Madu_N_G_Asawo_S_P_and_Gabriel_JMO.7 Heryati R, “Creating a Healthy Workplace Environment for Your Employees,” 6Q blog, https://inside.6q.io/creating-a-healthy-workplace-environment.8 J. F. Thayer et al., “Effects of the Physical Work Environment on Physiological Measures of Stress,” European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 17, No. 4 (2010): 431–439, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917179.9 Serena Borghero, “The role of workplace design in employee engagement,” Workplace Insight, March 12, 2019, https://workplaceinsight.net/employee-engagement-role-workplace-design.10 Serraview, “Why the Physical Workspace Is the Backbone of Corporate Work Enrionment and Culture,” https://serraview.com/physical-workspace-backbone-corporate-culture.11 Kahler Slater, “Design Matters – The Role of the Physical Workplace in Being a Best Company,” https://www.kahlerslater.com/insights/design-matters-the-role-of-the-physical-workplace-in-being-a-best-company.12 https://theclearing.com/ideas-and-insights/link-physical-workplace-organizational-culture-important13 https://workplaceinsight.net/employee-engagement-role-workplace-design14 OstermanCron, “Workplace design impacts employee well-being and productivity.”15 Limeade Marketing, “Does Your Physical Work Environment Support Well-Being Improvement?”, March 16, 2017, https://www.limeade.com/en/2017/03/physical-work-environment-support-well-improvement.16 Hoskins, “Employees Perform Better When They Can Control Their Space.”17 Ibid.18 Ibid.19 Gensler, “14% of Corporate Workers Use Coworking Spaces Regularly,” U.S. Workplace Survey 2019, https://www.gensler.com/14-percent-of-corporate-workers-use-coworking-spaces.20 Ibid.21 Ibid.22 Gensler, “What Makes a Great Workplace Experience?”, U.S. Workplace Survey 2019, https://www.gensler.com/what-makes-a-great-workplace-experience.23 Gensler, “What Workplace Amenities Perform Best?”, U.S. Workplace Survey 2019, https://www.gensler.com/which-workplace-amenities-perform-best.24 Paul Miller, Ryan Anderson, and Karen Gill, “Fusing the digital and physical workplaces,” May 21, 2017, in Digital Workplace Impact, podcast produced by Digital Workplace Group, https://digitalworkplacegroup.com/dwg_podcast/fusing-digital-physical-workplace.25 Borghero, “The role of workplace design in employee engagement.”26 Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman, “Why Open Offices are the Answer…But Only for Now,” Behavioral Scientist, https://behavioralscientist.org/open-offices-answer-now.27 Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman, The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World (Catapult, October 2017).28 Brandt and Eagleman, “Why Open Offices are the Answer…But Only for Now.”29 Ibid.

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Date/time: 18th March 2020, 03:02

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