December 21, 2016

Employee Engagement Through Workplace Strategy

Designing Experiences

by Adam Griff, Director.

According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workforce,” only 31.5% of employees are engaged, and over two-thirds are not engaged or actively disengaged. But why should you care?

Because companies with engaged employees are more successful. Compared to the median, the top quartile of companies in the same Gallup survey achieve 37% less absenteeism, 25% to 65% less turnover, and 21% higher productivity. Engaging staff is related to more effective businesses as well, with 10% higher customer satisfaction and 22% higher profitability for companies in the top quartile.

Workplace strategy needs to be part of your engagement strategy

Engagement is not only driven by an employee’s involvement and enthusiasm about their work, but also about their workplace.

Many of the key components of engagement, as shown in Gallup’s employee engagement hierarchy (below), can be directly affected by the design of the workplace—from ensuring employees have the materials and equipment they need to do their work to connecting them to the company’s mission and purpose; and from providing opportunities for development to learn and grow to facilitating new connections and collaboration across teams and individuals.

The process of planning your office and other workspaces can be another opportunity for employee engagement. Involving managers and staff in a participatory design process can show that their “opinions count” and the company “cares about me” by providing forums for input and feedback, as well as “connecting them to the mission/purpose” by enlisting them in creation of the workplace vision.

“But we aren’t Google”

Even when companies recognize the need for a better workplace, they often believe it is simply too expensive to make improvements. They wrongly believe they need to be a WeWork or Google, making significant investment in amenities and work spaces to create a productive and engaging workplace. But in our experience at brightspot strategy, focusing on workplace strategy and organizational development with companies of all budgets—from thirty person start-ups to Google and CVS Health—this is the wrong approach. Improving employee satisfaction is accomplished through strategic interventions, that can even be small tweaks, not necessarily expensive and wholesale transformations. It’s about thinking big but acting in targeted and impactful ways.

Think bigger than the space

Designing a workplace is truly a conversation about a company’s values and culture: the rituals, behaviors, artifacts, and beliefs that create its identity. Workplace strategy begins by becoming aligned around a clear vision for the desired changes in the company’s culture and ways of working.

In creating this vision, it’s important to not only gather feedback from employees but also involve them in a hands-on, participatory process. People are much less likely to adapt if they think that change is being imposed on them. If they create the strategy themselves, they have a sense of ownership and excitement about implementing the new approach. Every workplace design is also a change management project.

A hands-on visioning workshop engages employees.

People do not often accurately understand how they are working with each other and in a space. How are they spending their time between meetings? Are they doing heads-down work, making phone calls, or socializing? What spaces are the most and least successful for each of those activities and why? Observing and understanding employee behavior can be invaluable in creating a successful workplace strategy.

Act small in the space

The workplace strategy should include a roadmap for implementing the vision over time. Companies are frequently risk averse, especially given the disruptions a new space can potentially create. Even with extensive employee input and user research, proposed space changes are rarely right the first time. It’s better to pilot and prototype interventions to make sure they actually work as originally envisioned.

Prototyping a new desk arrangement allows people to “try before they buy.”

Piloting has the added benefit of being inexpensive. It can be accomplished through reorganizing a part of the space on a short-term basis with inexpensive furniture. For example, in a project with a digital strategy firm, we discovered that side-by-side work was critical to success, which was difficult to accomplish in their existing offices. A new arrangement to enable this kind of collaboration was tested by rearranging four workspaces and cycling different groups of employees through it on a temporary basis. When the proposed workspace design was evaluated through observations and a survey, findings showed that it increased team effectiveness and employee satisfaction with no reduction in individual effectiveness. With these results and the opportunity for employees to directly experience and trial this change, the new workspace design was implemented with less resistance and greater confidence about its impact.

Next time your organization needs to reconsider its workspace due to growth, a change in workstyles, a move or renovation, engage the people who will work in it to understand how they work, and what is needed to support them. Your employees will be more engaged, and it will benefit your customers and your bottom line.

Related articles