A recurring theme in much of the writing about workspace strategy is the challenge of finding solid, real-world metrics by which to judge whether the strategy you’ve chosen has yielded the results you wanted. To get a sense of how enterprises might think about this challenge, I spoke some time ago with Swapna Sathyan, director of workplace strategy and change consulting at CannonDesign, an architecture and design firm based in Grand Island, N.Y.
Swapna’s title is apt, because strategy and change definitely seem to go together when it comes to the evolving workspace — we’re not talking about just changing out one style of desk chair for another. As Swapna shared with me, the change will likely be much more profound: “Space is becoming less and less about a place, and more about how you work,” she said. Space could be the office — but it could also be the employee’s home, a coffee shop, etc.
That said, CannonDesign’s role obviously deals primarily with how you transform the office space. And that question — how you view the physical space in the context of how people work — leads to the question of what makes a workspace strategy successful.
CannonDesign has worked on projects for clients ranging from cutting-edge startups like Uber to universities, hospitals, and corporations rethinking their headquarters facilities. Not surprisingly, developing the metrics for success begins with talking to the enterprise’s strategic team about its goals. And each enterprise — indeed different organizations within a single enterprise — may be at a different point and thus have a different definition and measurement of success.
One metric that does span almost all enterprises is employee engagement, Swapna said. Generally, recruiting and retention metrics, together with employee survey results, can yield a set of metrics that offer a meaningful view of success, or lack thereof. There’s even significant evidence, supported by reports such as Gallup’s "State of the American Workplace
," that your workplace strategy can improve (or hinder) your corporate employer branding — how potential employees view your company. Which, in the age of Glassdoor, can have a significant impact on your ability to attract and retain employees.
Many of the other metrics seem to break down by vertical industry. For an entrepreneurial institute and incubator like the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute
at the University of Utah, a CannonDesign client, the metrics are all about the number of startups that choose to locate there, and the workspace strategy is a vital contributor in attracting these entrepreneurs. In hospitals, the metrics may be “a percentage increase in physician engagement or employee satisfaction across all generations in the workplace, or metrics surrounding research and education,” Swapna wrote in a CannonDesign blog.
“Used strategically, data can help health systems understand exactly how employees work today, their organizational networks and adjacencies, space utilization rates, demographic preferences and how satisfied different users are with their experience,” she wrote. “With baselines established and goals set, organizations can invest more confidently and better evaluate success throughout the transition.”
So where does the IT piece fit in the puzzle of workspace success? The current model would probably be to deploy whatever new platform or system IT decided was best — hopefully after first surveying or otherwise reaching out to understand what employees need, or think they need. Pilot the new platform, roll it out, then if you’re diligent, follow up with more surveys or maybe even utilization reports showing whether the folks you bought the new system for are actually using it.
That’s a good approach, but the next-gen approach goes deeper into the data. It’s is a vision we’ve heard
from Joe Park, chief digital architect and vice president, associate digital experience, at Walmart. It touches, from an IT perspective, on the same “how you work” question that Swapna and CannonDesign use to challenge traditional ideas about space.
Joe describes how Walmart is using data that its IT systems learn about employees to create a better experience for them. Whether it’s HR data to know when a new employee starts, or Wi-Fi access point traffic density reports that can track patterns and traffic flow in a building, the data that employees are already generating can be put to use improving their experience, Joe says.
It’s not new for enterprises to have this data at their disposals. But Walmart now integrates it with communications systems and using it to drive collaboration in new ways — with the caveat, of course, that it’s done with appropriate governance and attention to concerns around privacy and general creepiness-avoidance.
The Walmart approach that Joe describes really marries, at a deep level, technology with many of the principles that designers like CannonDesign look to when they create a transformed workspace.
How are you approaching the challenge of understanding what your employees need from a workspace? And, how do you know if you’ve achieved that goal? Share in the comments section below.