The Stoddart Review uncovered an explicit link between how well a workplace supports the activities that employees undertake in their role and the extent to which they say that their workplaces help them to work productively. Yet it found few organisations place sufficient strategic importance on the physical working environment as a key driver of organisational performance. Armed with the review’s findings what can FMs do to convince organisations that workplace should no longer be “a hidden performance lever?”
Six months on, reflecting back on the purpose of The Stoddart Review, the team set out to equip those involved in the workplace debate for a different conversation. There are two central findings which inform the direction of the Review. Unanimously, its contributors advise that efficiency of space is not the same as efficiency of people. Their views are endorsed by the end user – 250,000 of them in fact – reporting that only 53 per cent can confirm that their workplace enables them to work productively.
These findings aren’t an industry revelation. For too long, FM has felt the pressures of value engineering and space compression. The negative views of one in two of the workforce suggests that business leaders haven’t been listening. In order to change that, a different quality of conversation needs to be had. We therefore began by helping FM professionals reframe their contribution within the dialogue of the board. That meant not shying away from showing the role of workplace in achieving business strategies around scaleability, talent attraction and retention, technology, organisational effectiveness, engagement, or indeed productivity – the central performance metric chosen by the Review.
Time and again, the Review urges all involved to shift their thinking from cost to value. Business leaders are encouraged to reflect on the value they place on their workplace professionals and the effectiveness of their reporting lines. Holistic business cases which assess value across multiple business functions are suggested to support investment decisions. Leaders are drawn to question whether their workplace strategy is equipped to deliver a scaleable workplace in step with the needs of the organisation. In other words, is it a cost or a lever?
For workplace professionals, the conversation takes a different direction. The Review challenges businesses from viewing workplace strategy as a periodic intervention, suggesting instead that it is a dynamic resource which benefits from regular appraisal and regular adjustment. The basic components of which include a better understanding of workplace activity, measurement of effectiveness and regular assessment of whether the workplace meets the needs of those within. Businesses interviewed within the Review demonstrated different ways of listening to their end users from formal appraisal techniques to real time feedback through social media platforms. Both methods produce invaluable performance data which enables the board to set targets, assess return on investment and make faster, stronger decisions.
So, the Review begins and ends with conversation and listening differently. Begin by understanding how business performance is measured in your organisation. Do they talk in terms of productivity or employee engagement for example? Adjust the targets placed on the space to fit with this. Steer business leaders away from a workplace strategy focused on utilisation and density rather than effectiveness. Ensure workplace is a regular item on the board agenda. Share management information from appraisals to give the top table the tools to optimise workplace performance. And in this new conversation between equals, collectively champion whether the workplaces you occupy, manage or deliver, proactively support the roles they accommodate.
In the years (I won’t mention how many) I have been working within the facilities management industry, I often hear a recurring complaint from facilities managers, “FM is simply undervalued in my organisation. It’s just seen as cost and not value adding.” The extremes of this issue were sharply brought home to me in the last couple of weeks.
Firstly, I attended a conference geared towards public sector organisations, where building rationalisation and therefore cost reduction were the overriding themes. One keynote speaker also highlighted facilities management as a potential area of cost saving and suggested the focus should be on “Not what we need to spend on our building maintenance, but what we can get away with not spending.” It was depressingly short-sighted and was in stark contrast to a conversation I had a fortnight later with the Director of Facilities of a highly successful UK shopping centre who was telling me how supportive the centre owners are when he discusses with them the need for funding for asset lifecycle studies and capital replacement projects. They are also investing in technology to drive their productivity, cost efficiency and ultimately improve their customer experience.
The Stoddart Review does contain some key findings, which should not be lost under the attention grabbing headline of a one per cent productivity increase adding £20 billion to the UK’s national output. I do sense more and more organisations are waking up to the clear correlation between investment in the workplace and the impact on staff productivity, morale, creativity, collaboration, attendance and ultimately retention. I know of two organisations within the North West of England, for example, who within the last 12 months have relocated their operations to brand new and hugely impressive offices in Manchester city centre. They have invested heavily in the design of the offices, as both companies fundamentally believe it will help them attract and retain the best talent available to them.
There is no easy cost-benefit analysis for FMs to convince those around them that improving the workplace environment can directly impact the performance of their employees. However, when challenged to “show me the evidence”, there is increasing opportunity to back the arguments up with statistics as well as empirical studies. As well as the case studies within the Stoddart Review, I would encourage them to speak to the Facilities Management Team at the BBC, and the impact of moving their operations to MediaCityUK, Salford since 2011. Also worthy of mention are the FM team at Direct Line, who have invested heavily in their Leeds office to make the workplace a more enjoyable and productivity place to be. In this case, it was not about new smarter buildings and technology, but what can be done to improve the existing workplace.
What shines through in both these examples is a sense of both pride and passion in the workplace, which to me is another key message coming out of the Stoddart Review. There is a need for not only the FMs to be having these conversations but also to have employee engagement and more specifically “workplace champions” who can help maintain the momentum for change in the workplace experience.