How important is the physical space in improving the productivity of your people? REBUTTAL REMARKS

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Jeff Flanagan - Managing Director - Commercial, InterserveThank you to all those who are participating in our first ever workplace debate.

Both presenters have heard your views and have now made their rebuttals. There is still time to have your say in the debate. Join the debate vote, comment or tweet us using #workplacedebateFull introduction can be found here.

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Physical space

Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA)

Andrew Mawson

Owner, Advanced Workplace Associates

I’ve enjoyed reading all your comments so thank you all for contributing so far.

My definition of the workplace is the ‘A social, physical and information environment in which work tasks are performed’.  In my perfect world we  would all be in the business of creating  fault free ‘environments’ designed to support great work,  social cohesion to re-enforce good working practices, and subtly reflect the personality and culture of an organisation. It costs no more to design and deliver a great workplace experience than a bad one, so why don’t we all do it?

The workplace is a daily and persistent manifestation of the organisations relationship with its employees. Perceptions of it are created every second of every day by employees and help make their minds up about the organisation. They perceive the ‘workplace’ as one experience, not the endeavours of a range of ‘disparate’ functions (each optimising against their own drivers, budgets and imperatives).  Intriguingly there is not one person in any organisation, that I have come across, that is solely responsible for their holistic workplace creation and management. Not one person looking after the conditions that will make people give 120% or 80%. Not one person responsible for creating the conditions under which an organisations most powerful resource, its people, are able to shine and deliver their values.

Poor workplaces, where things don’t work, don’t get fixed and where blandness and conformity are the watchwords, send strong messages to individuals about the degree to which their organisation cares about them and their performance.  ‘Why should I give my all if they can’t even give me the tools for the job?’ they will say. Often a workplace will provide employees with the truth about how their organisation feels about them, well beyond leadership rhetoric. Bad leadership is often synonymous with a bad workplace experience.

So I’m sticking to my guns. In a world where increasingly knowledge based organisations rely on the ingenuity and energy of their people, the workplace can be a massive weapon in both giving them a fault free and effective day AND inspiring them to deliver their best work and be ‘knowledge’ generous with colleagues. These are the fundamental ingredients of knowledge worker productivity.

Leaders come and go; workplaces remain a constant reminder of what the organisation cares about.

Other factors

Julia Lindsay, CEO of iOpener Institute

Julia Lindsay

CEO of iOpener Institute

Let’s return to my assertion that physical space is the icing on the cake in the workplace. The fact is that I want to have my cake and eat the icing too.  Icing adds prettiness and value to a cake, and helps differentiate it from others.  However, without the cake the icing is simply empty calories.  And who wants to work somewhere with no substance?

We all know organizations where the office design and set-up is amazing but the culture is toxic.  Just today I was talking with a friend who was talking about her experience of working at the carefully designed, impressive head office of a prestigious global scientific organization. And then comparing that to her time spent working in a quite grotty office.  She loved the second job and couldn’t wait to leave the first. Why? Because the cultural environment wasn’t a good one.  So she voted with her feet and took her talent elsewhere. My friend’s experience echoes Jude’s comment who posted that she ‘prefers to work in an outdated building and have great colleagues/managers’.

Daniel posted that ‘culture is very important in the workplace and it’s hard to achieve the desired culture without a physical space that supports it’. I agree that alignment is beneficial; it helps build trust and belief in what the organization is aiming for and undoubtedly, if achieved, will help get things done.  However, it comes down to this: if people aren’t getting the things from their organization that deliver Happiness at Work they won’t want to have ‘innovative discussions’: well-designed office or not.  Things that deliver Happiness at Work include being able to raise issues, believing you are doing something worthwhile and perceiving the culture to be fair.  To illustrate, those who find their culture most unfair report that they are disengaged for 32% of their working day.  People who find their culture fairest are disengaged for 6% of the day.  That’s a quite staggering difference.

I totally agree with Andrew that knowledge workers may be ‘wasting their brain power and time overcoming things that shouldn’t be in their way in the first place’.  So where that’s the case, let’s improve levels of trust, increase levels of recognition and appreciation, listen carefully and behave respectfully.  And we can reflect this amazing culture in our careful office design.  Then we can gather round for tea and cake to celebrate!

Physical workspace is important


Other factors are important


Physical workspace is important


Other factors are important


Physical workspace is important


Other factors are important


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Further reading...

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  • Graham Jervis

    Both arguments are valid. To get the most from people in my experience of working 40 years in organisations both large and small the most important factor in getting real commitment to the job is a result of relationships built through common interest and excitement in the achievement of individual and team goals. An organisation that treats people as units of production and ignores the importance of working relationships and individual motivation is unlikely to retain loyalty when changes put pressure on the business. Andrew is absolutely right that the physical environment is often seen as a physical demonstration of the organisations recognition of the respect and understanding it has for its workers. However, It simply cannot be “either or”. Investment in the practises of man management and workplace effectiveness must be seen as two sides of the same coin when productivity of knowledge workers is the main business goal.

  • Tannith Cattermole

    A friend of mine works for one of the biggest investment banking firms in the world, and has no kitchen/rest area to eat lunch in or take a break. I find that pitiful – it suggests they simply want to chain their staff to a desk, and indeed they are expected to work through lunch, and put in long hours. It’s not suggestive of a supportive work place that cares about their people.
    I used to work in interior design. It was a common source of bafflement to me that people don’t consider it important that the place they spend 30% of their time should be a pleasant place to be. And when I say that, I mean their homes as much as their workplace. Most of us spend roughly (very roughly! I couldn’t find the stats) 30% of our time sleeping, 30% working and 30% in personal time. And all of those are inside buildings. I think ALL of them should be as pleasant as possible for our own well-being.

    • Anna Parker

      A breakout/dining room area is one of the best ways to meet colleagues and get to know others – which has a massive impact on employee well being in my view.

      • Andrew Mawson

        Anna, you and Tannith have both illustrated my point beautifully. It’s becoming clear to me that there are organisations that say ‘We’re here, you can join us if you like but it’s all about us’ and there are organisations that say ‘We’d like you to come and hook your energy and endeavour to us and we’ll create the conditions that will help you be the best you can be’ … Top knowledge workers are going to be attracted to the latter I think and in general smaller organisations do this better.

        Anna your point about creating places where people can relax and talk is key along with the understanding that this is OK. From our research, we know that the top factor that supports knowledge worker productivity at a team and community level is ‘Social cohesion’. It’s important because people who like each other share their knowledge better, are capable of intellectual challenge without insult and also get to know what each other knows, thus increasing their knowledge ‘span’.

        In designing workplace experiences that support superior productivity, these factors, along with a number of others are key.

        Thanks for taking part…

      • Tannith Cattermole

        Agreed. In one of my best places of work, arriving at the new job, and making coffee in the kitchen/break out area lots of people introduced themselves to the new face which astonished me. After that, it was always a place to have a chat while reading the newspaper, watching the stock market, or enjoying lunch, but more importantly, it allowed everyone to network and build friendly relationships. When I was in a bind, I knew I had a network of people I could go to for help, and vice versa. That was invaluable.

  • Mike Westley

    Yes – I think particularly in today’s fast paced business – whilst every business has access to the same software tools to help us work, individual companies (small and large) use of its environment, and working spaces, does differentiate themselves from each other, and with the right spaces and team working locations, helps to formulate and encourage team working, and cross-team collaboration as well as promote empowerment, lateral thinking … all the things that say ‘we believe in you, we want you to develop and share your skills with us’

    • Andrew Mawson

      Totally agree Mike it’s about aligning everything to create the conditions can be their best individually and collectively….and sending positive messages about people’s importance to the business….


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