Last week, we had the pleasure of partnering with Design Museum Morning to discuss the ever-evolving workplace. Our very own Emily True, Senior Product Manager at Robin, spoke about how data should be the focal point of every organization’s strategy to help create a workplace that best supports its employees.
To say Emily is an integral part of the Robin story is an understatement. A core member of the team since its founding in 2014, she's developed a strong understanding of the evolving needs of the workplace. With a strong emphasis on ethnographic research, data analysis, and user experience design, she's driven the Robin product forward over the years.
The theme of the talk was “Data-Driven Workplace Strategy: Aligning Expectations and Reality Through Actionable Data”. Audience members -- including architects, designers, and representatives from organizations in the midst of an office build or relocation -- grabbed a coffee and settled in to learn more about how to increase employee experience and improve office space utilization through a metrics-driven approach (we recommend you do the same)!
Since Emily covered so much ground in her talk, we broke it up into two parts. Check out the related post: “What Office Metrics to Measure in Workplace Strategy: A Design Museum Morning Hosted by Robin”
Want to be more data-driven in your workplace strategy? Talk to one of our workplace experts today.
How to approach improving the modern office
Work will only continue to grow more complex and the needs of organizations will continue to fluctuate over time. To address the needs of our own growing workforce, we’ve moved offices three times in the past five years. We know our workplace needs to support a rapidly growing team, while also providing the right mix of space and tools for R&D, sales activities, and a flexible, sometimes remote, workforce. And for each of these moves, we’ve tweaked what that means for the physical office to create better alignment between the work taking place and the workplace itself.
Being in software, we approached these office moves much like we’d approach designing a new product: Research → Design & Build → Test & Iterate. It seems so straightforward, but things rarely go as perfectly as planned (we’re still iterating on our new first-floor office!).
Workplace strategy: expectations vs. reality
There are thousands of memes poking fun at expectations and reality not lining up. Whether it’s ordering a piece of furniture online that was actually meant for a doll-house or asking for a trendy haircut that ends up looking like a botched elementary bowl cut, we can all relate to the disappointment when something doesn’t turn out as planned. The same stands for workplace strategy throughout all of the phases of improvement: Research → Design & Build → Test & Iterate.
When it comes to the research, some corporate real estate teams have resources at their disposal to ensure that they’re collecting the right data about how they work today to influence the build-out phase tomorrow. Data analysts review scores of data points from various sources, like employee badge swipes, occupancy sensors, or space management software. They may even hire outside consultants to perform detailed ethnographic surveys and interviews to back up quantitative data with qualitative studies. Some have their IT team export an Outlook report to Excel to review meeting room usage via calendar events -- in fact, Excel is the primary method to track utilization today, with over 50% of companies using it according to JLL. In theory, these actions should paint a relatively accurate picture of the way a workplace is used.
In reality, most teams don’t have the budget or time for this in-depth analysis -- and only 61% of organizations are tracking any workplace utilization data at all, according to JLL. When companies rely too heavily on data points like badge swipes or Outlook data dumped into Excel, they lose a key ingredient in analysis: context. Without understanding the why and who of space and desk usage, it limits the usefulness of any number crunching. Here’s an example that we found in our own research:
25% of meetings end up being no-shows, and on average, 15% of events are impromptu.
That means almost half the event data from Outlook is an inaccurate representation of what’s happening in the office. The end result? You could build a new office that’s way too big for the activities that are actually taking place, wasting precious real estate funds.
Design & Build
This is the stage where you take all of the info learned through the research phase and apply it to the design. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? Often times people assume that designing and building out an office should be easy. All you have to do is follow #officedesigninspo on Instagram, apply a few fresh coats of paint and invest in new furniture… right?
Without the right data around how the office works today and what’s really needed, teams end up asking for things like more 4-person conference rooms. The question here is, for what? How do facilities and IT teams know what furniture or tech to add to those spaces? Are they for formal meetings? Or more informal collaboration? Too many teams base their design needs on one-size-fits-all estimates instead of understanding what features they need based on activities commonly performed in their offices.
Test & Iterate
When it comes to introducing new office changes and testing the reaction of the team, expectations don’t always meet reality. In a best-case scenario, employees have been involved throughout the design process, through surveys, subcommittees, or company all-hands, and design plans have adjusted based on their input along the way. Typically, the testing and iteration phase tends to be fairly long with an average enterprise office move taking between 8-12 months to get buy-in from employees. With this type of proactive change management, when it’s time to adapt to a new office, everyone is excited and ready, and change happens flawlessly.
But for many companies, time is a luxury they don’t have. They’re moving quickly, and typically the person or people managing the transition wear several hats. Quick executive decisions trump some of that early buy-in and consensus-building. What this means is that some of the well-intentioned strategies start to breakdown; people camp out at the best flex seats, huddle areas remain empty, or employees fail to adopt that expensive software or tool.
The sad truth is that this is true for over half of the change initiatives that take place in organizations, according to research from Gartner.
What happens when workplace reality doesn't meet expectations?
Imagine going through an office renovation project just to later learn employees aren’t comfortable in the new layout, don’t understand how new amenities are supposed to be used, and haven’t adopted the technology you just invested in. When basing workplace design on assumptions instead of data, there are consequences when expectations and reality don’t align.
We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:
- 62% of people who work in open offices take more sick days than those with access to more private space. When employees don’t have the right mix of spaces for both collaborative and individual, focused work, productivity tanks, and people stay home.
- Employees waste 27 hours per year looking for an available meeting room and 40% of employees waste an hour a week looking for coworkers. This shows that when employees don’t have the right technology to enable them to do their work efficiently, it hurts productivity.
- 51% of people would change jobs if it meant greater flexibility. In other words, when employees don’t have the flexibility to move throughout their office, they opt to work from home or post up at the coffee shop nearby.
Let’s add some dollar signs to those numbers:
- The average cost of a small meeting room in top US markets is $9600. With 40% of corporate real estate going unused, this accounts for a ton of wasted space and money.
- Losses in productivity and engagement can cost companies even more -- approximately 34% of an employee’s annual salary. If you apply that rate to a 250 person company -- you’d see losses of over $3 million per year.
In almost all aspects of life, expectations don’t always align with reality leaving people confused, disillusioned, and uninspired. The same holds true in the workplace design if you opt to lean on gut-feel, the whims of executives, or #officedesign Pinterest boards. Our very own Emily True outlined why data-driven workplace strategy is the best route to most closely align workplace expectations with reality.