People Success in an Agile Workplace

May 2, 2016



Achieving WorkFORCE Results Through Smart WorkPLACE Initiatives

The business landscape is ever-changing. Although cliché, that statement could not be truer than in today’s work environment. We are in the middle of a workplace revolution. Globalization of markets and talent, the mobilization of employees, and rapid technology advancements are changing the game for companies.

Organizations have to respond in a meaningful way if they want to survive, let alone thrive in this new complex and competitive environment. The challenge for companies is determining what workplace moves will really make a difference? To what extent do they respond to these business trends, how do they change their organization structure and footprint (space and geographical presence), and what new technologies do they really need to support their employees and the company’s go-to-market strategy?

Organizations may respond in several ways to overcome and leverage these evolving pressures in this new business environment. Depending on where you are in the business life cycle, there are many ways to positively impact your business. I would like to suggest there is one strategy that has a very meaningful ROI. This strategy moves the needle for companies across all key business metrics including reduction in expenses, increase in employee productivity, and revenue increases. That strategy is to incorporate an agile workplace environment with very specific “work-type” neighborhoods. This topic is also explored in detail in our recently released Agile Workplace infographic and white paper.

The question is no longer “are agile workplace initiatives right for us as a company?” Doing so has become a must. The new question is “to what degree and how fast can I implement these programs for my company to thrive in this new, complex global work environment?”

I would like to convey a new way of looking at the value of agile digital workplace programs. It is not just about open environments and hoteling space programs that drive costs down. It is about overall corporate productivity and employee engagement. It is about mirroring your workplace to the way your employees work; on-the-go, untethered to a desk, with the need to collaborate across the company faster and more effectively.

Historically, most agile workplace initiatives like shared workplace programs (hoteling and telecommuting) have been introduced with the number one goal of driving down costs for the business. Don’t get me wrong, eliminating millions from your company’s P&L is an important benefit. Unfortunately, it can also cost millions of dollars in lost productivity and revenue if not properly implemented.

Employee Engagement

The challenge with initiating workplace initiatives from the perspective of cost savings is sometimes you lose sight of how it impacts employees and employee engagement. This is a key reason why these initiatives have seen mixed results for companies over the past decade of implementation. Corporate success with these programs does not come from creating a digital workplace or cutting costs. It is about how those programs can impact a company’s employee engagement.

Companies need to change their paradigm on workplace design strategies. These workplace programs should all be classified as employee engagement strategies to emphasize the impact on people. The criteria for success and funding of these programs should be first and foremost the change in employee engagement scores not just cost per square foot or cost saving metrics.

Why? Employee engagement levels impact the health and success of a company’s P&L more than any cost saving initiative. Cost savings metrics are one dimensional whereas employee engagement impacts both productivity and expense metrics. In fact, based on Gallup research, an increase in your employee engagement scores can boost your bottom line by 20%.

Engaged employees are emotionally invested and focused on creating value for their organizations, providing long-term corporate productivity increases. This impacts company expenses and revenue, customer retention, and turnover. Conversely, disengaged workers can actively work against corporate goals or even become hostile to their organization’s culture. On average, disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by nearly two to one.

Companies with disengaged employees experience 30% to 50% more turnover. When you do the math and look at both sides of the engagement equation, this can be a huge productivity loss for any company. Measuring Engagement levels is game changing, because how your company scores on employee engagement can literally make or break a company.

Talent Acquisition and Retention

A war on top-talent is brewing. Many large countries — including the US, China, Japan, Germany and Italy — will face talent shortages as their workforces age. In the United States, the labor force is expected to grow by only 0.7 percent between 2016 and 2020. The talent shortage will challenge organizations to find and keep the best people. Organizations will need to engage employees with workspaces that support their wants and needs. Creating vibrant, flexible offices with employee choices for where, when and how work gets done is critical for attracting the best and brightest candidates.

Agile workplace programs and the technology you provide your employees can be the deciding factor to attract and retain top talent in your company. A major weapon a company has in this war for top talent is the form, function and design of its workplace environment. People Success in Agile Workplace

The Modern Workplace

Used alone, implementing trendy technology or work-from-home programs won’t attract and retain top-talent. It is about creating an environment that aligns to the company’s business objectives and meets the internal motivation triggers of human beings. Creating this link between company goals and employee motivation is essential for long-term company success.

The design of your company’s office space is a billboard conveying company values to employees and talent prospects. How a company values collaboration, how it supports its clients, employees are trusted and valued, can all be conveyed by the workspace a company occupies.

The environment and the technology you provide your employees is the first visual data point an employee relates to. The first step in the engagement process is for an employee to feel their own core values are aligned with the organization’s values. People spend 75% of their waking hours at work or doing work activities, so alignment of values is a prerequisite to achieve high engagement. Your work environment is a daily reminder to employees that tells them they are in the right place.

As I mentioned earlier, it is not just about introducing trendy environments or new technology. The form, function and design of the work space must align to the different types of work being done in the organization. Programs that allow for more mobility often require space that is unassigned, These programs also require activity-based space for collaboration, impromptu meetings, formal meetings, project rooms, break areas, social areas, not just exclusively cubicles or open office areas. What works for one company may not work for another.

These new agile digital workplace programs must include “activity settings,” or purpose-built areas for specific activities accessible to all. Getting the form, function and design right makes a big difference in employee engagement and overall corporate productivity. Building layouts can improve overall productivity and performance by as much as 12.5 percent or reduce them by as much as 17 percent. That’s a 30 percent gap in employee performance attributable to workplace design in the best and worst buildings! It is imperative that you get it right and not just implement strategies “you think” will work. You have to know.

Motivating Employees

Despite the efforts of many employers to incentivize and motivate employees, the vast majority of these efforts are simply not effective. That is right, all the money you spend to incentivize employees with cash and other programs to increase their motivation have virtually no impact. Employees must be intrinsically motivated and believe in the vision of your organization. Motivation is easily extinguished, but not readily ignited. Employers can, however, create an environment that supports and nurtures existing motivation. Create an environment where roadblocks are removed, people are empowered, and trust is fostered. When these elements are present, inherent motivation will flourish to do great work and help the company succeed.

People thrive in environments and relationships that provide three things; autonomy, connection, and the opportunity to feel competent. By providing the right tools, environment and culture, employees often stay motivated and are more productive. Flexibility is key here. Employees empowered with the flexibility of not being tethered to a single workstation often become more engaged. When office structure (by design) supports workers’ internal need for autonomy, connection, and the feeling of competence, productivity soars. Surveys show that this connection creates true, long-lasting motivation and engagement, resulting in 20% improved corporate performance.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Mobility is crucial to today’s workforce. In addition to their offices, employees get work done at home, in trains, coffee shops, hotels, and at client sites. They need support with the right technology and business processes that support the type of work they are doing and where they are doing it. 

Allowing employees the flexibility to work how, when and where they want is a method growing in popularity. 30 percent of employees with flexible work arrangements claim to feel more engaged in tasks for their jobs as opposed to 19 percent engagement for those with moderate flexibility and 10 percent engagement for employees with minimal flexibility. Of employees with high access to flexibility, 60 percent say they are highly satisfied with their jobs, with 44 percent with moderate access and only 22 percent of those with low access.

Conclusion

If done right, agile digital workplace initiatives carry some of the highest ROIs companies can achieve. The key is to start these initiatives armed with the data that provides insight into how employees work today. That will arm organizations with the knowledge of floor plan styles and design needed to effectively support employees. These actions also signal to employees that these projects are geared towards their best interest and not just for cost cutting purposes. Doing so will increase buy-in and engagement.

Identify your employee engagement metrics and let your employees know what you are doing and why. Including employees in the process will bring great ideas from the field, further elevating employee engagement and building stronger ties and trust between employer and employee. Ongoing two-way communication regarding the employee experience will make your workplace a living ecosystem that will transform your business and move the needle on corporate success today and for years to come.