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Workplace is a journey – Not a destination!

The workplace really matters and is becoming the number 1 differentiator between successful and less successful organizations. In this article, we will explore Performing Workplaces and make it a continuous journey of success over time.

May 12, 2020

Traditionally we have seen and treated the Workplace as a project, rather than a process (and when I talk about the Workplace, I always have a holistic perspective including both the physical and digital workplace, as well as leadership and culture, that say the psychosocial workplace). But, since the only thing that we can be really sure of today (and more today than ever before in the light of last months events), is that everything changes and this in ever increasing pace, how can we then make sure that our workplace stays attractive, productive, efficient and sustainable; and supports, engages and empowers employees in their work, not just in the beginning, but continuously over time?

The Keys to Performing Workplaces

I can see 4 main keys that need to be in place, for us to be able to achieve a Performing Workplace. These are:

  • Strategic Alignment – seeing and treating the workplace as a strategic tool aligning it with the organizational mission, vision, goals and strategies
  • People-Centricity – realizing that workplace is essentially about engaging and empowering the people in the workplace
  • Workplace Holistics – working simultaneously with physical, digital and psycho-social (leadership, culture) workplace
  • Workplace Continuity – continuously monitoring, adapting and developing the workplace to changing needs, prerequisites and possibilities.

These keys might seem as obvious, but in reality I still find very few workplaces and organizations that have really utilized these keys and unlocked the workplace potential. In many cases we do not work that strategically with our workplaces, we work mostly operative and somewhat tactical with it, and we still view the workplace as merely a cost that we try to minimize, instead of a strategic tool that can help us maximize our organization’s value creation. We also still work with workplaces from the different workplace silos – HR, IT and Real Estate/FM. Psychosocial workplace driven mainly by HR, Digital Workplace by IT and Physical Workplace by RE/FM. Often with little interest and understanding for the other workplace areas and nothing really holding these areas together in the organization, at least on a strategic level. We work with the workplace from three separate workplace islands. And, we do not work with continuos monitoring, adaptation and development of the workplace, instead we try to just maintain things as they were thought to be (or as we decided them to be) for as a long period as possible, and therefor for every day our workplace supports our people and operations less and less and in increasing pace so. So, how do we change this, and where do we start this journey?

Establishing a Workplace Forum

We need to build bridges and increase knowledge between the Workplace areas – HR, IT and RE/FM, and we also need to find and develop allies in the Executive Management Team for the Workplace area, but also in the Operations. A great start for all this is to establish a Workplace Forum on a strategic level where we include HR, IT and RE/FM, but also if possible, some representatives from the operations and executive management team.

The starting point in this journey is to really understand the strategic direction and aspiration of the organization. What is the mission and vision? Why are we doing what we are doing, and what do we want to achieve? What are our long- and short term goals and what are our strategies to achieve these? 

Even though we might not have access to the Executive Management team and/or access to all this information, there is a lot of material we can still dig into. As an external consultant, I usually start with reading the webpage and most recent Annual Report and Sustainability Report of the organization, and then I complement this with interviews and/or workshop with the Executive Management team to get a better and deeper understanding of what we want to achieve and what the current challenges might be. I of course also ask the organization for the most recent strategic documentation (mission, vision, goals, strategies, values etc.) and other relevant material.

Inspiration and opening up

In the beginning we seek to open up as much as possible and see which possibilities we might have through inspirational study visits, presentations and reading. What is possible? Where are workplaces heading to? What have other organization’s done and why and how did it go? What can we learn from that? 

The important thing here is that we look at the whole workplace – both the physical, digital and psychosocial – and get inspiration from others in forefront, so that we can see different possibilities of where we are heading with our own workplace. I find it pretty rear that one organization is good at everything, so therefore I try to find different organizations that are good in different workplace aspects, to get inspiration from.

Current state

Simultaneously, in the beginning, we also try to find as much facts about the current workplace situation as possible. We use different kind of sources and methods – reading, interviews, utilizations studies, surveys, observation, workshops etc. What challenges regarding our business and operations do we see today related to our workplace and way of working? What do we know today? Both hard facts and beliefs regarding:

  • Attractiveness – Are we attracting and retaining enough employees, clients and partners? What do our employees think about their workplace – what is working and what is not?
  • Productivity – Are we innovative and productive enough? Are we collaborating enough?
  • Efficiency – Are we cost-, resource- and space efficient enough?
  • Sustainability Are we sustainable – people, planet, profit – enough?

We try to avoid solution thinking as much as possible, especially here in the beginning, and instead try to open up for different possibilities, and keep the strategic thinking and overview of the current and wanted state. 

The important thing here in the Workplace Forum, is of course that we learn from each other and each others workplace areas and angles, and that we then together can get consensus about what we want to achieve and why.

Future state and way forward 

What I often found in organizations, when I start working with them, is that there is no workplace strategy in place yet (not for the workplace in total, and not for the individual workplace parts HR, IT, RE/FM, either), and therefor one of the first things we need to do together in the Workplace forum is to define what we want to achieve and why. This is also maybe the most important task for the Workplace Forum, to set a direction for the whole workplace. What possibilities regarding our business and operations do we see related to our future workplace and way of working? In general, how can we increase attractiveness, productivity, efficiency and sustainability through our Workplace as a strategic tool? Where do we want to be with our workplace? In what way should the workplace support employees in their work? What kind of workplace experience do we want to create? But, we should also have a dialogue about possible blockers and what resources needed to reach the wanted state. What blockers do we see are preventing us from reaching this wanted future state? What resources do we need to be able to reach the wanted future state? 

When we have found our future workplace state, it is time to identify the gaps and prioritize what we should start changing and developing, both regarding physical, digital and psychosocial workplace. The great thing now is that we really have the same mission and vision forward for the workplace, across the different workplace areas, and can together from the Workplace Forum start making sure that we are moving in the right direction and that all workplace parts are aligned and creating the same type of experience that we want to create and achieve.

Which workplace function has the lead?

Which workplace function should then take and have the lead, when it comes the Workplace Forum and Workplace Holistics of the organization? Who cares!! As long is we together take the holistic and strategic grip of the workplace, it really does not matter which workplace function has the lead. Is it HR, is it IT, or is it RE/FM, or maybe the CFO or someone else? But, if noone has taken the lead, make sure to take it, or at least initiate it, since this is really essential for every organization, and it is only together, across the workplace areas, that we can create the best experience for our employees, and a workplace that is truly attractive, productive, efficient and sustainable. But, how do we then make sure that our workplace stays attractive, productive, efficient and sustainable, and continues to support, engage and empower our employees over time? 

Workplace is a journey, not a destination!

We need to make sure that we from now on continuously monitor our workplace, our people’s and operations’ changing needs, changes happening around us and especially the technological changes, and then adapt and develop the workplace and it’s parts – the physical, digital and psychosocial – accordingly. So, the main mission for the Workplace Forum in the long run, will be to make sure that the organization stays happy, healthy and high-performing over time. It is not about maintaining things anymore, it is about continuous adaptation and development. We need to develop ways and processes to gather information from the organization, to follow the technological development and to have a great project leadership and management through which we can execute on the possibilities and threats that comes in our way and continue adapting and developing the workplace according to the new needs, possibilities and prerequisites around us. It will be especially important that we develop great change management and communication management skills and capabilities in the organization. In the end, most development will be more about shift in mindset and behavior, than a shift in technological or spacial solutions. And one of the most important mindset shifts is that Workplace really matters and is an on-going journey – not a destination! And our workplace journey has only just begun.

Yours virtually,

Kati

Kati Barklund is a Senior Workplace Strategy Manager at the Swedish workplace and property advisory company Tenant & Partner, helping clients realize their employees’ and organization’s potential through Performing Workplaces. For twenty years Kati has been working on the forefront of both physical and digital workplace areas. Before Tenant & Partner, she worked at Microsoft, Coor, Skanska and Pharmacia. She is also a member of the Leadership team of WE (Workplace Evolutionaries), a fast-growing global workplace strategy community within IFMA, and Advisory Board member of the international acoustics company Acoufelt.