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Measuring Workplace Change: In Conversation with Kate Lister

From cellular workspaces to open plan workspaces, from physical collaborations to virtual collaborations, and from on-site working to hybrid working; the workplace industry has undergone a series of changes and modifications.

There have been multiple factors influencing the changing fabric of our workplaces. Economic slowdowns, evolutions in technology, innovations in business modules, and even the global pandemic, each of these situations have brought in new ways of conducting business. This has majorly impacted the way workspaces are designed, thereby resulting in new-age design trends.

Implementing these newfound trends requires the right combination of design and strategy to ensure the change is executed in an appropriate manner. But what happens once the change is executed? How do we understand the performance of our space post-change? How do we gauge the accuracy of our design and strategies?

As workplace designers, it is our foremost responsibility to help you to make the right decisions for your workplace. Thus, we had an interesting conversation with Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics on measuring workplace change.

innovation collaboration area

Here’s an exclusive interview conducted by our Architectural Journalist, Sudarshan Uppunda, on behalf of Zyeta, to help you with more detailed information on measuring the results of change in workplace design and strategies.

Sudarshan: Why is it important for organizations to quantitatively measure workplace change?

Kate: What do you suppose would happen if say, Claude, CFO at a company, invested millions of dollars in the stock market and never checked on how it performed? He’d be an ex-CFO, right?

Sadly, many organizations invest in workplace change with little more rigor than Claude. They might track space utilization, occupancy, or costs, but they rarely measure the impact those changes have on the people they are designed for.

It is crucial to consider what the change will do to people. The open-office fiasco is a good example. Following the 2008-09 recession, CRE was told to cut real estate costs. Many did so by adopting an open office design. It’s economical to build and can accommodate far more people than cellular spaces. It did have its pros, but when implemented as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, it proved to be a false economy. While it worked well for certain types of business modules, for some, these big open spaces were noisy, distracting, and stressful.

The false economy stems from the simple reality that people are ten times more expensive than the spaces they occupy. If they can’t concentrate because it’s too noisy, the hit to productivity is huge. Let’s look at an example. Someone making $75,000 per year, after benefits, costs the employer about $100,000 per year or about $.83 per minute. If they lose just 30 minutes a day due to distractions, the annual cost of their lost productivity adds up to over $6,000 per year. That’s over $6 million per year for every 1,000 employees.

If organizations fail to measure the full impact of workplace change, how will they know whether the investment was a good one? Having the numbers can also help defend the change to new leaders, justify roll-out in different areas, reveal unintended consequences, and identify areas for improvement.

Sudarshan: Is there a qualitative aspect to measuring workplace change as well?

Kate: Numbers don’t tell the whole story and sometimes actually tell the wrong one. That’s where qualitative analysis comes in. Imagine your data shows that the use of ‘Conference Room B’ is lower than all the others, without qualitative data, you would have no way of diagnosing the problem. It could be poorly designed, or it could just be that the chairs are uncomfortable, it’s too far from the washrooms, or the power outlets are poorly placed. Qualitative analysis helps understand the impact of design on people.

Meeting rooms

Sudarshan: What are the metrics for measuring workplace change – quantitative & qualitative?

Kate: The metrics you use to measure workplace change should reflect the reason the change was initiated in the first place. If it was supposed to improve attraction and retention, increase productivity, or enhance engagement, did it?

Qualitative analysis typically takes the form of surveys, employee ratings, interviews, focus groups, sentiment analysis, and observational studies.

Here are some examples of measures based on goals:

Attracting/retaining talent

  1. Offer to acceptance rate
  2. On-boarding ratings
  3. The Ratio of diverse to non-diverse hires

Engagement/culture measures

  1. Annual engagement survey
  2. Unscheduled absence rate
  3. Presenteeism measures

Real estate measures

  1. Space utilization (by type of space)
  2. S.F. per person
  3. Employee experience rating, pride in space

Workplace Culture

Sudarshan: What changes must be made in the design and strategy processes to enhance the impact of workplace change and measure it better?

Kate: Designers and workplace strategists must understand the user’s perspective and implement design and change strategies accordingly. We can’t create effective spaces, and workplaces if we don’t understand what our people need to support the work they do. Moreover, we can’t expect them to embrace the outcome if they weren’t part of the design process.

Workplace strategists and designers can also improve the outcomes of their work by helping leadership understand the need to:

  1. Balance the needs of the people- users, investors, the environment, and society.
  2. Engage all stakeholders in the change.
  3. Act on science, rather than gut feel or the latest trend.
  4. Accommodate a wide range of personalities, cultures, and other differences while formulating designs

In Conclusion

Measuring workplace change to check its impact on the users as well as designing and considering its impact on people is important to build workplace environments that are profitable and habitable at the same time.

Related Reads:
Using Multifunctional Design for Maximizing Workspace Utility

How to Foster Employee Well-being Through Regenerative Workplaces?

As both an Architect and Architectural Journalist, he thrives on building unique content, with words and thoughts--as his brick and mortar. A natural-born explorer, he puts no limits on things he's passionate about diving into, be it cuisines, cultures or books. An avid fiction reader and a chronic over-thinker, he still finds enough time to be happy-go-lucky and easy to approach.

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