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Cutting through the noise: A conversation with Leesman about the future of workplace experience

future office space
Katie Cavanaugh
Published on

Nowadays, every company’s most coveted asset is its people. So, honing in on workplace experience and making the office an enjoyable and productive space is a top priority for most organizations. This is where Leesman comes in.

Leesman acts as a canary in the workplace “cave” by helping companies key into the full story of their office environment to better understand whether or not it’s a conducive space for human productivity. By comparing robust employee surveys against their global and elite workplace benchmarks, Leesman gives organizations a holistic view of how well their employees are supported in their day-to-day roles.

We were so excited to get the chance to chat with Eleanor Forster, Managing Director of the North Americas at Leesman, about the unassigned experience, technology in the modern office, what makes the best workplaces tick and how we can start to understand the future of workplace productivity by digging into the hard data.

Want analytics to improve workplace experience for your employees? Schedule a free trial with Robin today.

Katie: Leesman conducts workplace productivity studies by understanding how employee experience leads to overall organizational success. Why do you measure experience as opposed to something more quantifiable like how well employees are performing against specific role-based KPIs?

Eleanor: I would say that's probably the holy grail: understanding what contributes to employee productivity. It is dependent per organization what productivity and success mean to them. So, I think we're always quite clear that we don't measure productivity. What we do is create a Leesman Lmi (an employee experience score), which asks people questions around productivity such as: do you agree or disagree that the workplace enables you to work productively? While we’re not saying “tell us if you're productive,” we are asking in a very structured and tested way whether or not they can be productive.

We also want to understand what the overall KPIs of the workplace experience are for each company. What is peoples’ sense of pride? What’s their sense of enjoyment? What is the sense of community like in the workplace? What are the company’s views on environmental sustainability? And, of course, most importantly that productivity question. Do you agree or disagree that your office allows you to work productively? So, we try to understand whether an organization is set up to create a frictionless day as much as possible.

K: How do companies use the workplace data you provide to them and based off of that, how are they able to instill adoption in their employees or navigate change management?

E: Think of us as the radiographer or the X-Ray of your current space. We're not the surgeons. We don't tell people how to implement the change. But, what we do is contextualize it within our two benchmarks. Those two being our global benchmark and Leesman+ collection.

Certainly, I would advocate transparency and communication from the very beginning. It is critical to engage the employees at that early stage to understand why they're going through changes and what those are. Adoption issues arise when people don't understand why they're suddenly losing their corner office they've spent 15 years working towards, the cherry on the cake if you’d like, and then suddenly someone says no actually you're not getting a corner office and you’re hot desking or we're going into an activity-based work environment. That's human instinct; we are big creatures of habit and tend to hold onto our old ways of working. 

We don't provide change management services but a lot of questions within our survey support the information needed for change management. We see time and time again in the output results that if people haven’t had a robust change management program, they can easily flip back to working in their old ways which can often be at odds with the new environment.

K: Speaking of new ways of work, can you talk a bit more around Leesman’s findings around the concept of unassigned seating and activity-based work environments?

E: What we find continually is that the complexity of someone's role will not only determine their needs but will also dictate their ability to be mobile within the office. Let’s say you have a very complex working life, then a desk can't support you. What happens when you need to do things that can't be done at your desk or aren’t effective at your desk? You need to get up and move around the office. With more and more complex roles arising in organizations, the need for flexible work has grown as well.

To come full circle with change management is understanding how well the technology in the office supports those people who are unassigned.  Is the culture there to support them? And have they had the right kind of communication and change management to understand how to utilize those spaces? What we're seeing is if you are unassigned, then the variety is absolutely key. If you're going to untether people from their desks, you need to compensate that untethering with variety.

“Ability to personalize my workstation” on the survey has dipped down year over year which makes sense when we understand that so many people are moving towards open-plan or unassigned seating policies. But what impact does it have on the experience? Does it make people feel a lower sense of belonging? We need to understand how to make the workplace personalized without it being immediately associated with your kids’ school trophies and pictures on every desk. We see a lot of our clients creating neighborhoods in their spaces. So instead of a specific desk, you're personalizing a neighborhood or community within the workplace. 

K: A few Robin colleagues and I attended an event you hosted with T3 Advisors in Boston’s Seaport about the different trends making the best workplaces the best. A piece that stood out to me was how people wanted spaces to relax in their offices. Could you dive into the findings from that a bit more?

E: Yes, “relaxing and taking a break” is the exact line of inquiry on our survey. We’ve found there is a huge delta between the average of relaxing/taking a break in our two benchmarks: the global measure and then our “best workplaces” measure or the Leesman+ collection of offices. On average, 60.8% of employees are satisfied with how their workplace supports their need to relax and take a break. When we look at the Leesman+ average, the rate of satisfaction is 81.5%, a huge increase. The highest Leesman+ in 2018 had a satisfaction score for the ability to relax and take a break at 96% -- I'd love to go to that office.

K: Let’s talk about tech in the office. Were there any trends in terms of alleviating pain points among the best places to work in 2018?

E: So, what we're seeing is that the vast majority of all high-performance spaces are open and obviously technology needs to support that. Whether it's an activity-based working environment, open plan or any of the other terms you want to use for people being unallocated, then the technology certainly needs to support that.

K: Thinking of the future of the workplace, are there any trends you think will take off in the next few years or so?

Great question. Big question, feel like I’m back at university and this is my final essay for a class.

We don't give personal advice, we want to give actual facts of what we're seeing in the data we collect. We’re going to continue to myth-bust, we're going to continue to cut through all of that LinkedIn chatter about what is a trend? or who's doing what? As we do more longitudinal studies with clients, we can create a framework to understand what the foundation stones to high performance are. I think whether a workplace is effective and creates a great experience is more important than trying to search for what trends may take off. We won't know until we've researched it.

I like my job because I don't have to talk about what my opinions are of what may happen or now about what nearly 600,000 peoples’ opinions are about what is right now.

K: One last, fun question. I'm sure you've been to a ton of offices. Do you have a favorite?

E: I could get in so much trouble here. When I hear that question, there is one that comes to mind and it's partly just because the views are so amazing. I worked closely with the Boston Consulting Group on their move into Hudson Yards and I loved the way they approached the transition. They're a very survey-savvy company so they really delve down into the needs of all of their people.

It was a very big transition from their previous offices and when you walked into that place it was just knock out -- the views were phenomenal. Obviously, there are tons of great views in New York, but the way that it had been structured was impressive. For example, the collision courses in the space were superb. You can bump into people that you’d never met before, or sit in fabulous casual settings, hold formal meetings, etc. I'm not saying that you know that office is without the same pain points that other people experience along the way. It’s still in transition. But it really is an outstanding office space.

BCGs NYC Office with excellent workplace experience design

The Boston Consulting Group’s Hudson Yards office with stunning views and ‘collision courses’ meant to inspire collaboration for great workplace experience. Via OfficeSnapshots

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