By Philip Tidd, Gensleron Research, 12/31/14.
…For most of their existence office buildings had one prime business objective: to run as economically and efficiently as possible. That objective is changing. We are slowly, but steadily witnessing a shift of focus away from efficiency and more towards effectiveness as the key business benefit of office buildings. And the new raison d’être of office building providers will be to ensure that the workplace promotes both efficiencies and productive working environments capable of delivering appropriate spaces for the 21st Century’s demands. This requires a rethink of not only the physical space but the management philosophies which govern employee behaviour.
Recent articles charting the evils of open plan office spaces make a solid case for why we should reconsider the last two decades’ push towards opening up the workplace. Such pieces make for compelling reading but tend to rely on binary argumentation and fail to appreciate the lineage of good modern office design. The decline of cubicles and status symbolizing cellular offices has generally been a good thing—these spaces stifled creativity, collaboration and innovation in many leading organisations. When polled, many people felt constrained and disconnected from colleagues in environments replete with private offices and mazes of cubicles. Yet many of the open plan offices which resulted from a shift away from the cubicle-office model have not kept pace with the rapid and profound shifts taking place in the world of work.
The most obvious example of where current office design falls short is a failure to recognize that work has left the building. Thanks to mobile technologies and 24/7 connectivity, we can work anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And real estate operators and businesses need to better understand the implications of technologically enabled mobile/dynamic working. The rapid deployment of new technology tools in the workplace has created new dynamics and challenges for the workforce—particularly for leaders who are learning to cope with the rising demands of a more autonomous, independent workforce exercising their choice of when, how and where to work. It has always been counterintuitive for managers and executives to exercise “leadership by letting go.” Now, the preponderance of new tech are forcing management to give employees more freedom.
The good news is that enabling choice with the right alignment of tools, policies, and variety of spaces is an opportunity for companies to create climates in which autonomous, engaged employees can make meaningful decisions and maximize their individual job performance. Our own research illustrates that the availability of workspaces to choose from is an important determinant of user satisfaction and engagement. Employees who are satisfied with the physical and performance factors of their workplace also report higher energy levels when at work and take fewer sick days than peers in underperforming environments.