Determining Workplace Effectiveness

We Are What We Measure

I recently traveled to Philadelphia to attend and participate in the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference, an annual ritual and gathering of industrial and organizational psychologists, HR leaders, and experts on organizational change. Several sessions on workplace assessments and analytics were among the many great discussions I attended.

One particular session focused on determining workplace effectiveness. It resonated with me by driving home the point that “we are what we measure.” Common metrics that we use in architecture and design involve measuring square feet, desk sharing ratios, collaborative seats per person, percentages of open and enclosed workspace, and percentages of shared and owned spaces. However, a new framework presented at the conference recommends rethinking what we measure in order to tell a more compelling story.

4 Key Metric Qualities

Four key qualities can be applied to all metrics.

1.       Quality—Is the metric accurate? Is it a valid measure?

2.       Applicability—Does the metric resonate with people? Does it inform people?

3.       Championing—Will the findings result in actions? Is this something worth measuring, potentially something that will tell a story about change?

4.       Simplicity—Will others comprehend the metric? Will people properly interpret the metric’s meaning?

Pondering this framework of four key metric qualities can lead to a number of new ideas about what variables associated with workplace design can be measured (and how we can measure them). Ultimately, we track workplace metrics in order to help our clients make more informed decisions about their own projects, with the goal of having decision-making align with “best practices.” 

But, what if conventional best practices are incomplete or missing the mark when tracking what really matters?  Alternative ways of thinking about and measuring the workplace may be more truthful reflections of the value of great design.

Workplace Metrics are Business Tools, Not Just Real Estate Tools

Traditional real estate metrics, such as USF per person, can help real estate teams track the efficiency of their portfolios. However, portfolio efficiency is not the only variable that matters to a business. Densified and efficient spaces have to work for the people using them, which is why user satisfaction and productivity measures should be tracked in parallel with density metrics. This approach prohibits spaces from shrinking or densifying to a point where it is possible to compromise broader performance.

Don’t Forget the Human Side of Workplace Metrics

The importance of employee engagement was another theme of the conference. Engaged employees who strongly identify with their profession and with their organization are more resilient against naturally occurring job stressors. We should be asking questions about how the human side of workplace metrics can identify opportunities for reducing stress and for increasing job satisfaction and employee engagement. 

One study demonstrates how a variety of factors related to work experience can predict job satisfaction. Having proper ergonomics, technology, and other relevant tools in the workplace matter for job satisfaction. Architects can directly address these variables through the design process.  Other variables, such as the receiving of feedback from others, seeing the significance of one’s work within a broader context, and having the autonomy and independence to structure one’s work, also matter for satisfaction and engagement.

Workplace design that provides people with flexibility and choice around where and how to work can impact one’s feeling of autonomy and interdependence. In addition, the expression of brand, mission, and values in the workplace can reinforce the significance of the work being done so that it resonates with employees. A more open, transparent workplace can increase the likelihood of decreasing barriers to connectivity, which allows employees to “see and be seen” and to receive feedback. 

All of these factors and considerations are measurable variables that can tell the story of workplace effectiveness.

Asking Clients the Right Questions

Begin a workplace design project by asking your client how the work environment can be strategically leveraged as a tool for their organization. Clients who are interested in impacting positive change within their organizations through workplace design should be prepared to champion and reinforce the need for change.

Clients need to be willing to let simple data guide their decision-making process. Workplace design can impact a number of metrics that relate to people and an organization. Frank discussions, at the beginning of a project, about which metrics matter most, how to measure a project’s success, and what steps the organization is prepared to take (based on experience) are necessary for a successful project.

I return to my original take-away from the conference: we are what we measure. A holistic approach to the assessment of workplace design is characteristic of a holistic organizational approach, one that will be successful across a range of key variables that matter to a business and to its people.