Tim Oldman is CEO of workplace effectiveness measurement firm Leesman
Despite the somewhat underwhelming increase of 0.5 per cent highlighted in July’s ONS Labour Productivity report, productivity remains at an all-time low.
Overall output has dropped by a staggering 17 per cent since the financial crisis first reared its ugly head.
Considering the most recent surge of economic unsettlement post-Brexit, it’s fair to assume that UK productivity will continue to stagnate unless something significant is done.
But before we aim to reverse the trend, what does ‘productivity’ actually mean?
It’s measured as ‘output per hour’ and reduced to its most basic level, has a pound sign attached to it. However, the Oxford English Dictionary’s threefold definition offers further guidance:
- the capacity to produce; the state of being productive
- the effectiveness of productive effort
- production per unit of effort
Translated into the business world, that can really mean:
- the work environment (are people supported in their role?)
- the workforce (are people satisfied, engaged, making the effort?)
- organisational performance
People are productivity drivers because effort always underpins output. Productivity is linked to performance. Performance is measured in output. The latter dictates commercial success or failure.
British businesses have been treading water since 2008 for a multitude of reasons. However, the area we can comment on with absolute authority is the role of the corporate workplace in boosting productivity.
Across 108 UK workplaces and 11,812 employees measured by Leesman in the last 12 months, one in three say their workplace does not allow them to work productively.
This is having a continued negative impact on employees and creating “toxic workplaces” where efforts are running up against business environments that are simply not supporting people in the role they are employed to do.
Employers are failing to recognise the role of the office and how it supports the way people work.
As the costs of delivery continue to increase, and as finance directors continue to sacrifice property and infrastructure to save money, more workplaces pass a tipping point where workspaces are failing to support the productivity of the workers they need.
People can’t work productively if they’re elbow-to-elbow with their colleagues; nor can they collaborate or communicate with each other effectively if the technical systems in place aren’t adequate.
Across our global sample of more than 155,000 employees, 43 per cent report that ‘collaborating on creative work’ is important to them in their role.
However, ‘light bulb moments’ are far and few between when one is forced to work with slow wifi or while experiencing other technical glitches.
Worse still is a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to office design. Just because a space works for one organisation or division of a business does not mean it will work for all.
There is a great deal of complexity to unleashing a workforce’s creativity and there are many different landscapes where collaboration can happen, but the physical and technical infrastructure needs to be able to both spark and support serendipitous interaction.
For those who rely on technology, many are not satisfied with their workplace’s current offering. The promise of fluid interaction often falls short of expectations, either due to poor layout or broken equipment.
Having amassed data from 1,400 workspaces worldwide, there is a general level of discontent with:
- file storage (only 37 per cent satisfied)
- guest network access (39 per cent satisfied)
- audio-visual equipment (44 per cent satisfied)
- video-conferencing facilities (56% satisfied)
- technical equipment (65% satisfied).
In short, the technical infrastructure out there isn’t supporting all employees to do their best in their roles. For the workspaces that are getting it right, technology definitely plays a part.
Since 2012, Leesman has awarded high-performing workplaces, with a functionality and effectiveness score of 70 or more, called the Leesman+ accreditation.
One of the commonalities among this elite group include higher satisfaction levels with technical systems.
Let’s not be seduced into thinking everyone needs sexy spaces. Employers need to understand what their employees need.
They don’t necessarily need slides, foosball tables and beanbags. These aren’t drivers of productivity.
They do need a variety of spaces with a range of environments, as well as the freedom and choice to select a suitable work setting for the task at hand.
Our research has found that nearly half of employees actively partake in ten or more activities as part of their day-to-day role, so people need more than just a desk to be able to do their jobs.
Business leaders need to recognise that the corporate workplace is a tool, in the same way technology is. Blending these infrastructures together will further support and encourage the people who are fundamental in moving a business forward.
This is ever more vital as the UK seeks to find its place in a world that is perhaps even more different than the one we work up to post-crash.