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Workplace Blog

A blog of all things workplace related (when I get time).

© Oseland 2011

I’ve Moved to Blogger

Work Posted on Mon, January 28, 2013 12:53:43

I have moved my blog to Blogger. This allows you to follow my post more easily. Plus it also gives me analytics ao I can see if anyone actually reads my posts.

Personality & Communication

Work Posted on Wed, January 23, 2013 18:21:06

I recently read an interesting
article in the Toastmasters Magazine on the Power of Introverts by Susan
Cain. The article prompted me to share some of my own thoughts on personality theory and communication. These ideas informed
my research into The Psychology of
, carried out on behalf of Herman Miller, which I hope to be published soon. Hopefully you will
find my review useful in you day-to-day lives and at work.

So what is personality? Well
“Persona” is Latin for “mask”, so it suggests personality is the mask we
present to the world. But interestingly there does not appear to be any agreed
definition of personality amongst psychologists. My own mash-up of definitions
is: “Personality
is an individual’s unique set of traits and consistent pattern of thinking and
behaviour that persists over time and across situations”.
Personality is stable but not absolutely fixed. It is a proclivity for
certain traits (or characteristics) that in turn affect our behaviour.

Personality theories date back to ancient Egypt but it was the Greek
physician Hippocrates (circa 400 BC) who is attributed with developing the first structured theory of
personality. He proposed thatt
personality is affected by
the (in)balance of bodily fluids, termed the four temperaments. He believed that levels of phlegm, blood, yellow bile and black bile are associated
with four core personality types: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic.
His theory sounds antiquated but modern-day neuropsychologists
acknowledge that the presence of certain chemical transmitters in the brain
affect our mood and behaviour.

Today’s most popular personality theories are based on attempts to
identify and describe personality in terms of traits, or characteristics. In
the 1930’s Allport and colleagues found nearly 18,000 words in the English
language used to describe
characteristics of personality. Since then Psychologists have competed
to reduce the number of key traits that describe our personality. If you work
for a large corporate you have most probably been subjected to a Myers-Briggs
Inventory or the Cattell’s 16PF (16 Personality Factors). They both categorise
us according to one of 16 personality types. I find them a little complicated
and prefer Eysenck’s super-traits model.

Eysenck has boiled it all down to two core personality factors which not
only appear in all other personality theories and tests but also relate back to the Hippocrates’ four
temperaments. The extroversion scale ranges from introverted to extroverted,
and the neuroticism scale (which is more to do with anxiousness) ranges from
stable to unstable. We may lie at extreme ends of the scales or in the middle, the
so called ambiverts. I am going to discuss the extreme ends of the extroversion

An extrovert is a social person who seeks company and interaction; they get easily distracted
when on their own. They act
on impulse, require
lots of stimulation, they are
thrill seekers and takes risks – they are fans of roller-coasters. In contrast, the introvert prefers the quiet
life, they are reflective people preferring their own company and solitary
activity; they do not enjoy large social events and get easily distracted when with others.
They prefer reading a book to
roller-coaster rides.

In terms of communication, extroverts prefer face-to-face interaction, and large meetings;
they also tend to gesticulate
a lot. Extroverts like impromptu and informal meetings to share ideas. But it can be difficult to extract details
from an extrovert. On the other hand, introverts prefer written communications (email and text), and if meeting they prefer them small
and planned with advance notice.
Introverts are the ones who
send you a detailed and lengthy email in response to a simple question, whereas
extroverts will mention it over a coffee. Web-conferences are potentially a good format for
the introvert as they provide a good means of interaction and sharing data without actually
meeting face to face.

One explanation of the
behaviour of introverts and extroverts is Arousal Theory. Arousal Theory is a
psychological meta-theory that relates to how alert we are in our resting state and the affect it has on
performance. If our
arousal is too high we may get stressed out, and perform poorly, and if it is too
low we may fall asleep and
perform poorly. Arousal
somewhere in the middle leads to optimum performance. Now extroverts have a
low level of arousal so constantly seek stimulation. Introverts have a
high level of arousal and so
prefer calm and serenity.

Now here is the tricky
bit. Complicated tasks can
increase our
level of arousal whereas
detailed repetitive tasks will reduce it. As extroverts have a low level of
arousal they are better at complex tasks. However, as introverts have a
high level of arousal they are
better at detailed
and repetitive tasks. Research has also shown
that extroverts are more creative but their behaviour can inhibit precision or
logic. On the other hand, introverts are good at sieving through large datasets
and fine detail. The
more successful teams have been found to have a mixture of personality types; we need both extroverts and introverts in the workplace.

Social networking, like Facebook and Twitter etc, is a relatively new
form of communication. As
introverts can suffer anxiety
when meeting people, it was hypothesised that they would use social network sites more
than extroverts who prefer face to face interaction. Unexpectedly, it was
discovered that extroverts use social networking sites much more than
introverts. However, this
is because extroverts seek more interaction than introverts regardless of
whether it is on-line or face-to-face. More recent studies have indeed find
that introverts use online interactions as a replacement for face-to-face ones,
termed Social Compensation Theory.

So in conclusion introverts prefer the quiet life, are good at detailed
repetitive work and
prefer to communicate through email, text and well-planned small meetings. In
contrast, extroverts are social animals who are more creative and like
communicating through face to face interaction and presenting creative ideas to large audiences.

I have focused on
introversion-extroversion but there are many other traits that affect our
perferred means of communication. For me
introversion-extroversion is the key one and hopefully you will now appreciate
that the way you like to communicate may not be the most natural or preferred method for
your work colleagues, managers, clients or audience.

This blog formed the basis of my
CC2 presentation at Toastmasters.

My Path to Workplace Consulting

Work Posted on Fri, January 11, 2013 12:33:36

Consulting is a relatively new and specialist profession. Based on the description
provided by the Workplace Consulting Organisation
it appears to be:

“using a range of techniques, including engagement
with the business and end user, to gather data that will determine an
organisation’s requirements for their current or future working environments”.

There is no
formal training in Workplace Consulting, no Masters courses nor accreditation. Even
determining the basic criteria for who qualifies to call themselves a Workplace
Consultant proved difficult for the Workplace
Consulting Organisation
, see their website for more details. I am therefore
fascinated by how people came to work in Workplace Consulting. I know fellow consultants
who have entered the profession via architecture, design, HR, FM and IT. Below
is the story of my journey into the Wonderful
World of Workplace Consulting

It all started
way back at school. I was all set to do A Levels in physics, chemistry, maths
and applied maths – I was a serial scientist. But then I went to a careers fair
where I learned about the field of Physiological Measurement. They offered two
years training and a college qualification but more importantly they paid people
to do the course. I applied immediately and
was accepted onto the programme.

I spent the
next two years working in and around Birmingham hospitals in various “ology”
departments – audiology, cardiology, radiology and electro-encephalography etc I
successfully completed the course and this gave me the opportunity to move to
London and work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the Neurology department. Most of the work involved monitoring brain
activity in patients undergoing deep invasive surgery such as amputations and
open heart surgery. One of my fondest memories is seeing a human heart exposed
and beating – it is quite a magical site. But I also started working with a whacky
Californian psychologist. I monitored the brain activity and heart rate of
people undergoing psychotherapy. My interest in psychology grew and motivated
me to study psychology at Keele University back in the midlands. My main
interest at university was in what was then called “man-machine

Well I got my
degree then moved back down south to the Building Research Establishment in
Watford. There I worked for the Human Factors section researching the impact of
environmental conditions (temperature, noise, space etc), on satisfaction,
comfort and performance. Research involving observing people in their home and
office is quite voyeuristic. I spent 11 years at the BRE and managed to find
time to gain my Masters and Doctorate degree. Happy times but I felt I couldn’t
spend my whole life researching and theorising – I needed to go out into the
real world and apply what I had learned.

Fortunately I
was offered a consulting post at Johnson Controls. Initially the role was to critically
evaluate buildings and their impact on occupant satisfaction and performance.
But this soon turned into working with designers and applying my knowledge to
create new cost-effective and productive workplaces in places such as the
Shetland Isles, Algeria and Singapore. Without realising it, I had become a
Workplace Consultant

I then worked
with an architectural practice (SHCA) advising many international companies
throughout Europe and Africa. I spent much of my time working in Nigeria planning
offices, a hotel, housing and an airport – that was until I was evacuated by
helicopter due to a violent demonstration. I then worked with a niche workplace
consulting practice (AMA). We mostly worked with public sector bodies such as
the British Council who I advised in Dubai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Eventually
I joined the world’s largest workplace consulting practice – DEGW. Over a 15 year period I honed my skills and knowledge, evantually becoming internationally recognised in the field of
Workplace Consulting.

I was so proud
of my new profession that I co-founded the Workplace
Consulting Organisation
– a professional body for us specialist
consultants. I have also now set up my own consulting practice Workplace Unlimited.

So I spent just
over half my career in training and research and the remainder in workplace
consulting. It’s been a long journey, and I’m still learning, but a worthwhile
one. Contact me to learn more about a career in the Wonderful World of Workplace Consulting or contact the WCO directly. Also please comment on how
you got into Workplace Consulting and why.

This blog is based on my CC1 presentation to Toastmasters.

Vernacular Design, Air-con and Teapots

Work Posted on Sat, December 08, 2012 12:56:44

The humble teapot is a worthy example of what I call “vernacular
design”. You would have heard of vernacular architecture, which is building
design that has evolved over time based on local culture, climate and resources,
but vernacular design is a broader concept that includes the design of clothing,
furniture, equipment and teapots etc.

Teapots date back to 16th century China – they
were initially made of iron but over time they became fashioned from clay and then
from porcelain. The shape of the teapot has changed very little over time, the
key components being a solid base, good pouring spout, high-insulating
material, and a well-fitting lid to allow the tea and water to be easily added.
The “brown betty”, the iconic English teapot, optimises great vernacular and
timeless design for me.

Chinese iron, brown
betty and stainless steel teapots

So why is it that when I venture out for afternoon tea I am often
presented with a misshapen stainless steel teapot that has a poorly-fitting lid
and is made from material that can’t retain heat (so my tea is cold by the
second cup) plus is furnished with a spout that dribbles tea all over the
saucer and table? The answer is simple, such a teapot is mass produced, it is cheap
and easy to construct, and it kind of works and looks good when it is brand new.
And that exactly reflects the situation with most of today’s air-conditioned speculative
buildings. Post Occupancy Evaluations (POE) show that temperature control and air
quality are two of the main causes of dissatisfaction in modern offices. I think
it basically comes down to replacing good vernacular design with low risk, low
cost options that ignore local requirements, which have evolved from a millennia
of cultural development and climatic conditions.

I have taken issue with the standard of air-conditioned
office for some time, ever since my Doctorate proved that we Brits prefer
naturally ventilated spaces with good temperature control. The temperatures in
UK offices in summer are dictated by international standards which still recommend
set-point temperatures of 22 to 24 degree Celsius for those wearing suits and carrying
out sedentary activity. So maybe the cultural norm of wearing suits (and ties) on
days when the outside temperature indicates that lighter attire may be more comfortable
is partly responsible for the increased perceived need for air-conditioned

So let’s consider the suit for a moment. Apparently, the notion of tailoring
developed in Europe gradually between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. By
King Louis XIV’s reign, the 17th century, men had stopped wearing
the doublet, hose, and cloak and started to wear coats, vests, and breeches i.e.
the three components of modern male attire. By the start of the 19th
century the upper classes were dressing in a more restrained manner similar to
the masses. The suit was born out of tailoring to accentuate the male physique and
be less flamboyant than earlier European clothing trends. Thus the suit is a
fashion item rather than developed out of need, which is quite different to
traditional clothing – and don’t get me on to that superfluous piece of cloth
called the tie.

There are many examples of where vernacular architecture and
clothing design symbiotically support the local culture and climate. At one climatic
extreme, we have the Inuit people who replace their waterproof sealskin boots,
dense polar bear parkas and igloos in winter with soft elk robes, buffalo moccasins
and their tupiq tent in summer. In contrast, Arabic clothing includes long
flowing robes (the thobe or dishdasha) which create a pumping action with
movement to cool the body. Arabic buildings have wind catchers – tall towers
that divert cool air to the building whilst pushing out warm air using the
stack effect. Thick walls, shadowed courtyards and landscaping all help keep
the occupants cool by natural and passive means.

Japan provides some of my favourite examples of clothing and
building design working well together. On my last trip there I stayed in a ryokan,
a traditional Japanese inn, were the minimalist room simply had tatami mat
flooring, a foldaway futon and a kotatsu, which is a low wooden table with an underneath
heat source. There is no central heating system in traditional Japanese accommodation,
so in bygone years the occupant would sit in their robe (either a light yukata or
a heavier kimono) and pin the corners of the robe to the table so that they
received a direct gust of warm air – highly localised rather than central heating.

A few years ago the Japanese Government introduced the concept
of Cool Biz into the workplace. In Japan’s hot summer months, offices are highly
air-conditioned to cool the very formally dressed office workers. The idea of
Cool Biz was to encourage office works to dress down, and for it to become
culturally acceptable, so that set-point (thermostat) temperatures in building
could be raised in summer thus saving energy and reducing carbon emissions. The
campaign was a success and has continued with significant carbon savings year
on year. So let’s ditch the suit in the UK and encourage developers to build
more naturally ventilated offices.

The Quadrant – Network
Rail’s new HQ

I have just completed a POE of the Quadrant, Network Rail’s
new headquarters in Milton Keynes. One of the key success factors of the Quadrant
is that it is naturally ventilated (albeit by automated window opening). The
staff like the freshness of the air quality, the links to the outside world and
even that the papers on their desk gently rustle in a summer breeze. The
natural ventilation, ample food/drink stations and good daylight in the
Quadrant all cater for our evolutionary psychological needs – one of my pet
subjects referred to in my previous blogs and papers.
But more significantly, the Quadrant occupants appear more tolerant of the occasional
hot day in return for the other benefits on offer. Naturally ventilated spaces are
traditionally the domain of the small shallow-plan bespoke office, so in their substantial
400,000 sq ft office has Network Rail shown us a viable alternative to the generic
air-conditioned box so often offered by real estate developers?

It’s a Jungle in There

Work Posted on Tue, November 20, 2012 22:18:23

For some time I have been, on what feels like a lonely
crusade, evangelising about the need to design workplaces that focus on
recognising psychological [1] factors and enhancing individual performance [2],
rather than simply concerned with saving space. I was beginning to think that I
would never find an occupier who truly understood how their offices could be
used to facilitate and improve their business rather than treat it as a cost
burden that should be avoided. However, my recent visit to Lend Lease’s Regents
Place offices (as part of the Workplace Trends tours) has
restored my faith in common (business) sense.

Just entering the shared atrium in their
multi-tenanted building gives a tantalising insight into what lies in store in
Lend Lease’s office. Facing me was a large art installation constructed from
red and gold coloured mirrors which subtly reflect the surrounding office
spaces. Despite the red mirrors, the greenness (in both colour and planting) of
Lend Lease’s offices is evident.

Although, the sceptic may consider the planting (some
3,800 plants) a gimmick, Lend Lease maintain that the plants are there for good
reasons – predominantly that of improving productivity. Lend Lease unearthed
research showing that plants improve air quality which in turn has been shown,
in other studies, to improve performance. But contradictory research has
suggested that for plants to have a positive effect on air quality in offices,
it would require a rain-forest-load of plants – whilst there is an abundance of
plants they are nonetheless not a rain forest. However, it cannot be denied
that, despite being an Australian company, Lend Lease have in England created a
green and pleasant land, which will appeal to our innate affinity to greenery,
termed biophelia, and have a positive effect on occupant satisfaction , motivation,
and performance (all bar the odd hay fever sufferer). Furthermore, Lend Lease
has found that the healthiness of the plants is an indicator of the air quality
– so perhaps plants are the canaries of the office world.

If Lend Lease do clearly demonstrate that their
enhanced air quality does increase productivity they will not be able to claim
it is due to the planting alone. That is because they have also doubled the
fresh air supply rate, compared to British standards. Although this will
increase energy (and carbon) costs, as they are not recycling treated air, Lend
Lease firmly believe the productivity benefits make it all worthwhile. I
actually admire their commitment for investing in their workplace based on
productivity research findings and for putting people (and, let’s not forget,
business) above cost reduction. Perhaps the combined plants and increased fresh
air is a case of “belt and braces” – I will leave the reader to
decide if that is wasteful or just a good low risk strategy.

Lend Lease, like everyone else, have opted for a bench
desk system but the workplace nevertheless still feels spacious. I think this
mainly due to a mixture of generous primary and secondary circulation space (to
facilitate mingling). In addition, the adjacent nicely designed, cosy,
comfortable and ample quiet and informal meeting spaces all help break up the
desking. I found the space simply a delight to walkthrough and can imagine
myself comfortable and happy in this place.

Furthermore, there are well provided breakout and
coffee areas on each floor. Like Macquarie Bank, these areas are stocked with
good quality beverages and free toast and free porridge. Clearly Australians
are grazers; but regardless of antipodean eating habits these areas literally
cater for evolutionary psychological needs and thus create an attractive reason
for meeting and socialising with colleagues – which in turn builds trust and in
turn facilitates collaboration. The low-GI porridge is aimed at increasing
energy levels.

The meeting rooms all seemed well space planned with
good AV to facilitate productive meetings [3] and reduce the need for printing.
Special attention has been paid to the daylight and electric lighting throughout
the building – again acknowledging evolutionary psychological needs and
productivity research findings.

So have I finally found a workplace where the property
team understands the primary reason for offices is to facilitate the occupying
business and maximise performance? Well possibly, but I have only walked
through the space; my preference is to wait for the results of the post occupancy
evaluation [4] as it is the occupants who are best placed to say how we’ll the
space works for them.

1. Oseland N A (2009) The impact
of psychological needs on office design
. Journal of Corporate Real Estate, 11 (4),

2. Oseland
N A and Burton A (2012) Quantifying
the impact of environmental
on worker
for inputting to a business case
. Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal and Valuation, 1 (2).

3. Oseland
N A et al (2011) Environments
for successful interaction
. Facilities, 29 (1/2), 50-62.

4. Oseland N A (2006) The
BCO Guide to POE
. London: British Council for Offices.

Workplace Trends: Wellbeing & Performance

Work Posted on Tue, October 30, 2012 12:34:38

As usual I pulled the programme together for this year’s Workplace Trends conference. The theme
for this year, the tenth annual conference, was wellbeing and Performance. I
selected this theme simply because during the last year of attending conferences
the subject of wellbeing was raised, but not really discussed, by the audiences
and a few speakers. I was intrigued, is wellbeing genuinely a different issue to
performance, or is Wellbeing simply a rebranding of the whole productivity


Not only are wellbeing, performance and productivity mentioned
in the same breath but we can also add happiness, satisfaction and motivation
into the mix. Nic Marks opened Workplace Trends presenting his happiness index.
Nic presented research which revealed that positive emotions both a) broaden
our thoughts helping us to pay more attention and be more creative and b) build
psychological resources such as resilience/coping mechanisms and social skills.
Both are useful attributes in the workplace and clearly happiness is a positive
emotion but the link to performance is only implied and a direct causal link is
not demonstrated by the research.

So does happiness lead to better performance or better
performance lead to happiness? Well according to a Gallup survey presented by
Nic, the impact of happiness
at work on business performance is twice as large as from business performance
to happiness at work. Tim Whitely, an old friend of mine at Arup, found during
his PhD in the 1990s that job satisfaction and individual performance are
related but interdependent on each other. From my perspective I can see how a
successful business will lead to better rewarded, contented and high performing
staff and I can also see how highly motivated and performing staff leads to better

But, as
Paul Morrell pointed out in the afternoon, we are British and we are naturally suspicious
of happiness, especially at work. I think our fear is of being that happy
person in the office, the one who is unaware of office politics, the one who is
the last to know when the company is struggling and the one who is usually the
most vulnerable to organisational restructuring. The more cynical amongst us might
even associate happiness with (blissful) ignorance, being ill-informed or, dare
I say, a lack of intelligence. Or perhaps happiness is too high an emotional state
that can lead to distraction from work duties. For example, maybe “happiness” is too
close an emotion (or word) to “love” and Nic even reworded Tina Turner’s song
as “what’s love/happiness got to do with it”. But I also subscribe to the
“a happy worker is a productive worker” camp. So, I propose replacing “happiness”
with “satisfaction” (or even “motivation”) to make Nic’s underlying message
more acceptable to the dour British business.


In the second presentation, Mark Duddridge and Jane Abrahams
presented Ginster’s wellbeing programme. I love the irony of Ginster’s speaking
on wellbeing but the story of improving the health of Ginster’s meat-packers and
pie-makers is a one of success.

Mark mentioned that Ginster’s, like all good companies, have
a preventative maintenance programme for their machinery, so why not have one
for the workforce. Liking the wellbeing programme to preventative maintenance for
workers, akin to treating the workers as components in a process, was clearly too
Taylorist for many of the Workplace Trends audience. But the key point made was
that some organisations take more care of their machinery than their true primary
asset – the workers.

If employees are not working then they are not productive,
regardless of how well motivated they are. CIPD quoted the average absenteeism rate
at 8 day per employee per year (approx 3.5% of a working year) and much higher
in some sectors. In Pawel Wargocki’s presentation he told us that a productivity
gain of just 10% would offset all the organisation’s property costs. Pawel’s
analysis is based on the typical percentage of the business costs that are salaries
and property – but base the calculation on the revenue generated by the staff
and the productivity gain for offset is more like 5%. The outcome of this
analysis is that businesses should invest more in their working environments in
order to improve staff performance, rather than reduce investment in the workplace
possibly resulting in loss of productivity.

Some absenteeism is due to accidents and poor ergonomics
(such as RSI and musculoskeletal disorders) the realms of occupational health.
Nevertheless healthy and fit employees are likely to be more alert, and less
prone to accidents or illness, and therefore more productive over the working
year. It seems to me that wellbeing is similar to sustainability in that it is
about prevention of long-term possibly irreversible problems. The problem with
it, like sustainability, is that the effects (positive or negative) are not immediately
obvious and investment in it requires an element of faith.

Later in the day the Workplace Trends delegates were
introduced to Karōshi which is the antithesis of wellbeing. Karōshi means
“death from overwork” and in Japan is recognised as occupational
sudden death, most commonly due to heart attack or stroke brought on by stress
at work. Although I struggle with pushing happiness in the workplace, I certainly
prefer it Karōshi.


It surprised me that, in his light-hearted presentation, Paul
Morrell referred to motivation and to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (it surprised
me even more that it was one of my graphics that he was using without any citation).
At the lower end of the hierarchy are the physiological factors which are arguably
related to a safe and comfortable workplace. Morrell was arguing that we need
to get these factors right before worrying about happiness, although it could be
argued they are fundamental to wellbeing.

At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualisation, a point
when we are most productive due to be autonomous, well rewarded and respected. I
can see how happiness is an element of self-actualisation but what Maslow’s hierarchy
of needs is actually about is what motivates us. Maslow’s thesis has never actually
been demonstrated whereas Herzberg’s theory of motivation has. He found that
so-called hygiene factors (safety, ergonomics, temperature, light etc) can
prevent us from performing when they are not right, but it requires
organisational factors (management, colleagues, reward, respect) to motivate us
to perform better. Indeed, research colleagues of Pawel (including myself) would
also argue that the biggest impact on performance is from organisational
factors and the environment can only provide up to a maximum 15% impact.

The final presentation, from Doug Shaw, was an honest and
candid account about humanising the workplace by bringing authenticity,
vulnerability, simplicity and transparency back into it. These will help reduce
fear, enhance interaction, build trust, facilitate collaboration and ultimately
improve performance. The four characterises presented by Doug are actually more
akin to the positive emotions I would like to see in the workplace.


So my closing thought is that the underlying theme of the
conference was not wellbeing and performance but actually motivation and
performance. We shouldn’t worry too much about what makes our staff happy but
focus on how to motivate them (by addressing organisational factors, by
creating great workspaces and by improving their wellbeing) which in turn may
improve happiness but more importantly it will inspire them to perform better
and reap the rewards.

Quality and Motivation

Work Posted on Mon, October 01, 2012 12:31:51

I was recently asked by S&PA
Professional, a bi-monthly magazine for members of the
Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical
Activity (CIMSPA), to write 500 words on whether “the quality of
the facility impacts on the motivation of staff”. My response is below:

What appears to be at first glance a straightforward
question suddenly becomes complicated when attempting to provide evidence for a
demonstrable link between quality and motivation. This is because both
variables are quite subjective and therefore can be difficult to quantify. A
canter through the internet reveals that quality has many definitions but
fulfilling the requirements of end-users to meet their expectations is a
recurring one. In terms of facilities, quality may also refer to the standard
of the environment, the accompanying (facilities management) service provided,
and the robustness and longevity of products such as desks and chairs.

Many years ago I visited a new office facility on the day of
“practical completion” – the day that the office is handed over to the client.
I recall my architectural colleague being annoyed at how the top of the filing
cabinets did not align with the top of the desk screens – there was about a 10
mm difference. What he had not noticed, which I pointed out, was the absence of
chairs which meant the occupants would not be able to work at their desks (in
comfort). My point is that we notice different aspects of quality depending on
our experience and expertise. The lay person will most likely not readily
notice the quality of finishes of doors, partitions and furniture etc in their
new facilities and as a consequence it will have little impact on motivation.
However, I do believe that they will appreciate the quality of finishes
unconsciously using senses other than sight – for example the weight,
smoothness, texture and solidity of doors, chairs and desks all affect our
perception of quality. Although this unconscious appreciation of quality is
evident in some industries, such as cars and hotels where quality is reflected
in cost, the link to motivation in the workplace is less clear.

But evidence showing the impact of the quality of the
environmental conditions on the end-users motivation and performance is much
clearer. I recently published a journal paper[1]
in which my co-author and I predicted the impact of environmental conditions,
such as temperature, noise, lighting, ventilation and space, on occupant
performance. The predictions were based on a meta-analysis of 75 world-wide
academic productivity studies. After adjusting for the study setting and
activity recorded, we found that such variables typically have a 1% to 3.5%
impact on occupant performance. We also found that office refurbishments
including new furniture were found to have approximately a 4% to 8% impact on
performance. There are also many published post occupancy evaluations (case
which demonstrate an increase in staff satisfaction and self-assessed
performance as a result of moving to new workplace facilities.

You may have noticed that the impact of the facility on
performance is relatively small. This is because the largest impact comes from
organisational factors such as job satisfaction, recognition/reward and
management structure. I am a fan of Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory[3]
in which he suggested that such organisational factors motivate us to perform
better whereas a lack of “hygiene” factors have a negative impact on
performance. I believe his hygiene factors include the environmental
conditions, discussed above, such that we only notice when they are not working
properly which in turn leads to dissatisfaction, demotivation and corresponding
poor performance.

My conclusion is that although we may not always notice the
quality of our facilities, they definitely impact on our satisfaction with that
facility and affect our wellbeing, motivation and ultimately our performance.


1. Oseland N A and Burton A (2012) Quantifying
the impact of environmental conditions on worker performance for inputting to a
business case to justify enhanced workplace design features. Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal &
, 1(2), pp151-164.

2. Oseland N A (2007) The BCO Guide to Post-Occupancy Evaluation. London: British Council
for Offices.

3. Herzberg F (1968) One more time: How do you
motivate employees?, Harvard Business
, 46(1), pp53–62.

Benefits of Flexible Working

Work Posted on Fri, September 07, 2012 11:34:14

I am currently helping an occupier create a
new flexible working environment by facilitating the change management process
to ensure the staff buy-in to the new working arrangements. I presented my
usual list of the benefits of flexible working (to both the organisation and
the individual) but was told to go away and collate hard evidence. The client
is an engineering practice and their staff includes analysts and planners; as a
consequence their nature is to challenge and not accept consulting recommendations
without detailed and rigorous data to back it up.

Fortunately I have access to case studies that
I have collected over the years as a workplace consultant, and I also found
quite a few published on the web. You can read through the case studies in my occasional
paper on Flexible Working Benefits.

The case studies illustrate clear,
objective space efficiencies and associated property savings. However they also
support claims of the less-tangible (readily measured) benefits. For example,
organisations such as BP, DTI, EC Harris, GSK, PwC, Rolls-Royce and the
Treasury Solicitors all reported that flexible working enhanced knowledge
sharing, communication, team interaction and collaboration. In some cases this
resulted in better joined-up services, more cross-selling of services, and
ultimately increased profitability. GSK and EC Harris believe their flexible
working environments contributed towards increases in profit in the order of
12%. Decreases in travel time between the office and client sites, and reduced absenteeism
(from appointments) etc associated with flexible working have resulted in
further increases in productivity.

Interestingly, when I presented my evidence
on the benefits to the client’s engineers their response was to ask
about the dis-benefits. I took this response favourably as it means they had accepted
my evidence and had moved on to their next challenge. However, they do have a
point – most case studies only present the positive results and brush over the
negatives. Not presenting negatives is not just limited to case studies, many new
scientific researchers shy away from presenting negative results for fear that
they will be criticised. As a consequence they publish only the studies supporting
existing theory rather than challenging it. This leads to groupthink and makes a mockery of the view that good theories are falsifiable. For a long time I have suggested
we resent case studies “warts ‘n’ all” as we (due to our critical nature) tend
to learn more from mistakes than from successes, see the BCO’s Guide to Post Occupancy Evaluation.

So I explained to the engineers that my
task was to present the benefits and that also very few case studies presented
the negatives. The best way to discover what doesn’t work in flexible working
is to tour flexible working environments and ask questions (of the end-users not
just the design team and sponsors). I have done this for a number of years and
my experience is that most flexible working environments will have niggles but
they are not “show stoppers”. The issues that prevent a flexible working
project from being a success (or from even going ahead) are:

· lack of buy-in from senior management
who lead by example;

· a focus on culture, performance and innovation
rather than on reduced space and cost (pushed by the property or FM team);

not fully understanding the business
requirement and not aligning the flexible working strategy to it;

· setting an unrealistic workplace target
rather than providing an optimum solution, for example moving from private offices
to free-address agile working is a long journey;

· lack of liaison between IT, HR and
FM – all policies and strategies must be aligned;

· not communicating or involving the
staff, not bothering with a change management process.

So despite a focus on space and associated
cost savings by the property community, there are many more worthwhile benefits
to implementing flexible working. Indeed, flexible working is more successful
when the driving force is not space and cost savings but emphasis is placed on
these other benefits. Furthermore, the best flexible working projects tend to
be ones where the business is leading the project, based on a change in
culture or work-style, rather than being promoted by the property team as a
means of simply saving space.

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