‘It’s not a construction project, it’s a people project’.
This is important for business leaders to consider, as they seek to maximise engagement, and create an attractive and functional place to work. Activity Based Working (ABW) is designed to help people – they are the ones who will adapt (or not) to this workstyle – so, while physical space is the tangible result, the real work to understand the story behind the move starts much earlier.
Management teams face increasing competition, constant change and the need to remain competitive and effective is paramount. In addition, the way we work has evolved quickly since the advent of ubiquitous technology. Many organisations therefore recognise they are working in an environment from a different era, and to realise their performance objectives, they need to ‘think differently’ about the facilities and tools they provide.
Establishing a vison for the future is the starting point for curating any design and relocation – and kicks off a process of listening and learning. Spending time understanding how people work, the tasks they undertake and what they think about the current workplace is key. Interviews enable them to feel heard and buy in to the process of change before anything happens.
One recent conversation we had revealed people were bringing hot water bottles to work, because the air conditioning was so cold; nine times out of ten, parking is a real issue; and don’t mention when the coffee machine breaks down – even when a kettle is plugged in as a replacement.
It can be the little things that impact people’s experience of their workplace, but added together, they become significant and impact how people feel, how they concentrate and what they say about it when they aren’t there. In many ways, this is about making the workplace intuitive and invisible - to enable everyone to do their best work.
But interviews alone are not enough. They give us a flavour of what people think and feel, but there is a richer seam of data that helps to fully understand human experience. Surveys help measure the impact of the space on factors like personal productivity and pride, in addition to how well people feel supported to do their work. Physical and service features are also considered. The aim is to understand how well the workplace supports people to do their jobs and presents an evidence base for senior teams to make decisions.
For a client we are in the early stages of working with, 92 per cent of people agreed workplace design was an important factor, but just 38 per cent believed the current space contributed to a sense of community, with only 34 per cent saying it was a place they were proud to bring visitors to. There is a powerful disconnect between what people currently feel, and how important the workplace is to them – and this is valuable insight when creating the future vision.
This data can be enhanced by observational studies, which test what people are saying, according to what they are doing. This is a powerful way to show how space is being used, at different times of the day, and how occupancy rates can be used to inform future use of space. Once sufficient information is gathered and a clear brief established, a decision be taken about the extent to which ABW will suit the organisation. The design concept that follows can then be developed to provide exactly the right work settings.
This series of steps, and continually involving people in the process, will ensure they remain at the centre of the story and have a very real stake in their future workplace. This buy-in creates early engagement and helps prepare them for how things might change, and what this will mean; because we need to help people understand how to take on this cultural shift.
While some will move in on day one and get straight to it, booking space, moving around – and testing out the new work settings – others will be less keen. The familiarity of that desk, the old order of things, will be hard to move away from. Change takes time and research shows that ABW fails when people aren’t understood at the outset or nurtured through the process.
Through education and internal communication, people can be shown how to use this space, in a way that helps them to feel comfortable with the process that they started. In this way, people can learn to use the space in the way that was intended, and the right behaviours can be adopted at the outset. In many ways this is just ‘day one’ of a people project that has been incubated for many months.
It's time to think about your workplace differently - download our essential guide to learn more on how Activity Based Working can help create an effective workplace with people at the centre