We are obsessed by newness. The latest phone, tablet, laptop or flat screen smart TV. The most recent Alexa or Siri update. The hot new app. We are constantly pursuing the newest incarnation. And that newness doesn’t stop when we get to work. There are new software packages, interfaces and systems to master, and that’s while we deal with ever-changing corporate strategies, measurements and goals.
Even the physical workplace isn’t immune. New ways of working. New buildings. New fit-outs. New smart technology. New intelligent chairs. New sit-stand desks. The environment in which we work is a physical manifestation of this quest for newness.
Yet, on its own, newness is not always a guarantee of success. As the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, newness can in fact be an “improved means to an unimproved end.” That’s certainly the conclusion of our report – The Next 250k. Research on a quarter of a million employees in over 2,000 workplaces showed that just 18 per cent of new workplaces surveyed deliver noticeable operational benefit. We can only wonder what the experience is like at the remaining 82 per cent of new workplaces where employees have gone through the potential disruption of a relocation or refurbishment, and all the anticipation that involves, only to find it didn’t make any noticeable difference to their workplace experience. And that’s without considering the organisation’s financial investment (and anticipated ROI).
If we divide our database into three easy segments: those about to begin a workplace refurbishment or relocation, those having just completed refurbishment or relocation and the rest who sit somewhere between those two workplace lifecycle points, worrying patterns emerge.
Across all ‘pre-occupancy’ spaces awaiting works, on average 55.6% of employees agree that their workplace enables them to work productively. However, a worrying 47 out of 145 ‘post-occupancy’ spaces deliver below average productivity agreement, and just 50 achieve a Leesman Lmi of 70 or above – the global benchmark for a high performing workplace.
That’s a sad reflection on the teams of architects, designers, project managers, contractors and wider workplace communities which aim to create value through these workplace change projects. It seems that most are simply a waste of time and money.
This should act as a stark warning to organisations planning to embark on workplace change projects, that design and refurbishment do not automatically deliver operational benefit and return on investment. New is not necessarily better.
For example, noise levels remain one of the most common challenges even in new spaces, with an average satisfaction score of 34%. And while new workplaces do usually deliver on improved accessibility of colleagues, there are bigger extremes when it comes to variety of different types of workspace (with satisfaction scores ranging from less that 10% to above 95%).
Just like any smart building technology, client organisations must not think that a new space is a silver bullet to workplace efficiency and productivity. Instead they must fully immerse themselves in developing a detailed understanding of what employees are doing, how they are working today and how that will be different in the new space. As Thoreau says, “things do not change, we change.”