Thursday 9 May 2019

Workplace analysis – Finding the balance between quantitative and qualitative data

Prior to any workplace change programme, baselining the workplace’s performance is essential to understand where an organisation can start making improvements. No matter what the initial drivers are; rationalisation of space, increase collaboration, improve employee satisfaction or to aid new ways of working, it is important to measure and understand the use of the physical space.

With property being the 2nd biggest cost to any organisation, after its people, it’s an obvious consideration for any organisation to measure the performance of the workplace, thus ensuring space is optimised and waste is reduced. The better an organisation understands this, then the better the decision-making process becomes.

However, many organisations can often be led down a path that relies purely on the quantitative data and therefore the output does not deliver the desired outcome. Here organisations often fall to a ‘paint by numbers’ approach that results in workplace change programmes that are nothing more than an expensive and ineffective reshuffle.

Why is this? Well firstly, we must look at what ‘workplace’ is.
There are of course many variations and opinions as to the precise definition, with some claiming there are no defined boundaries to the discipline. However, etymology aside, it can generally be agreed ‘workplace’ is the blend of physical, digital and cultural factors that allow an employee to perform their role, hopefully in the best possible way. The workplace often manifests itself in the physical space of an organisation but is not solely this environment. This is crucial to get right and is often the reason for organisational change projects to end up circling around cookie cutter approaches as to how it uses its space. It is important to understand the cultural aspects of an organisation, as well as its digital capabilities, as these are significant in determining the success of the physical environment.

We must, therefore, approach quantitative data as it is – a snapshot in time. It is a measurement that, once gathered, is already at risk of being obsolete, if it is not used in the correct manner and being married up with robust evidence-based qualitative data.

A utilisation study may highlight an estate that is vastly underutilised, and therefore the decision to remove allocated desks, in one example. In theory, this may play out well in the spirit of a ‘smarter working’ programme. However, if there are workers who are low mobility, in relation to their tasks, then their work style and the role has not been considered and this has a negative impact on the change journey. Any negative factor during change will have a direct and indirect impact on the successful delivery of the project.

Furthermore, is the IT infrastructure in place to remove desk ownership?  Do the employees have the digital tools to communicate and collaborate effectively in order to optimise the use of the physical environment? There is also the need to understand permissions and trust within the organisation and those cultural drivers represented by the leadership team.

If the physical and digital factors are taken care of, are the staff given the right level of trust? If an organisations leadership has relinquished that control, are the employees able to carry out their tasks in a variety of different settings via the appropriate technology? And does the physical space allow its users to work productively with the level of comfort, convenience, and connectivity suited to their function within an organisation?   

Finally, are the solutions implemented being tailored to the organisation or is the organisation being made to retrofit into an off the shelf solution?

It is important to ensure there is a balance of quantitative and qualitative data when embarking on any workplace change programme. There must be a robust and evidence-based approach to any decision-making process and ensure that the change programme isn’t forced down a path of fait accompli and predictable desk ratios.  

So, it would be recommended that any workplace analysis undertaken is done so with a balance of quantitative and qualitative data.  Of course, it is important to measure the utilisation of the space available to its inhabitants. However, understanding how they work, what tools are at their disposal and the cultural and behavioural aspects of the workplace are essential to making informed decisions. The quality of the output is completely dependant on the quality of the input, and this comes from knowing how the organisations employees work and what they require to maximise their productivity.  

Workplace strategy, change programmes, and management must be approached from a solid, evidence-based process. Can you afford to risk making decisions based on one-sided data?