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People’s choice

A key message from Workplace Trends’ March 31st conference on the latest research into work and the workplace, is that people crave more choice and control of their surroundings and it’s up to Workplace Managers to deliver

People not place is the mantra that gained credence as a result of the pandemic, so as organisations attempt to woo staff back into the office, the Workplace Trends spring event presented a range of evidence-based research on how the post-pandemic workplace should look, feel and even smell.

The event, which was introduced and co-curated by Nigel Oseland of Workplace Unlimited began with a session from HR guru Perry Timms who argued that employers can create better connections with their people by taking more of a strategic workplace planning approach. First define the real value of a place, which he notes, is not just about comfort. We need to determine just why people value coming into the workplace and what can be done to enrich their experience. It’s vital we “get HR and FM in the room plotting this together,” he said.

As Ian Baker, Head of Workplace at EMCOR remarked, there has been a lot of speculation on the future of the office but little clarity. Together with Sian Taylor, Head of Property from United Utilities he related the results of a study at their campus in Warrington where an empty building was transformed into a hybrid workplace. Taylor had a limited budget, but by borrowing furniture and massively reducing the number of desks the new space delivers three main modes of work: ‘heads up’ for conversational working, ‘heads down’ for quiet space and finally ‘heads together’ for team collaboration. The results of the experiment, which began in May 2021 has meant a reduction in remote working and an increase in staff mobility. As Taylor concluded, “we are able to create great spaces without huge costs.”


Taking a global perspective, Cara Sugrue and Anisha Patel of Steelcase presented a review of a series of Steelcase studies conducted with over 57,000 employees and business leaders to understand the impact the pandemic has had on how and where people and organisations will work in the future. Along with the revelation that the UK and Canada are most in favour of home working were reasons why globally, home working remains so popular; namely that it affords a greater sense of control of your surroundings. The conclusion is, there should be a lot more thinking around creating choice and control within the office environment.

In his presentation on a new framework for assessing workplace experience holistically, with respect to people, spaces, technology and business impacts, Ian Ellison of 3edges Workplace made the important point that data on workplace satisfaction can be gathered in many ways, from QR codes in a new building to a yammer feed amongst staff. When you’re talking a workplace experience you need to hear from the users he urged.


The most innovative research of the day had to go to Rob Wright, Co-Founder, Spaceology whose study into conversational meetings yielded some fascinating results. Utilising overhead sensors to infer gaze direction and the point of focus of participants involved in a meeting, richly demonstrates how personality traits effect communication.

Our different personalities influence our reaction to environments, even if we’re neurotypical said Kay Sargent of HOK and Leslie Thompson of Tarkett. Given that one in seven people are considered neurodiverse and fewer than 50 per cent are aware of it, we need to accommodate diversity and behaviours in the workplace. Based on their latest research on the specific needs of this group of people – the key takeaways for the built environment was again, affording people an element of control. We need to realise that each individual has different needs and all areas of design, from layout to noise levels and even the introduction of smell sensory stimulation into the workplace can enhance the workplace experience.

In a real life before and after experiment, Anna Scally and Phil Mobley, Directors at Avison Young recounted the results of two pilot spaces; one floor transformed into a flexible space and another where the layout remained as it was pre-pandemic. Using a combination of data sources, including a Leesman survey carried out in November 2021 the results showed that the highest effectiveness score rating came from the users in the transformed space. Again, the key message was that employees prefer more variety and will take advantage of choice. Agile working was already increasing prior to 2020, and its appeal has only grown, so the results of an agile working pilot project at Kingston University was a useful reminder that flexibility and choice is an essential element for knowledge workers.

Neil Usher, one of a group of workplace authors who took part in a post-lunch discussion and Q&A session, summed up the day. How can we ensure our workplaces compete with working from home? he asked. Giving people choices, without necessarily breaking the budget is a useful place to begin.


About Sarah OBeirne

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