Putting people in their place

Workplaces are changing as businesses seek to improve productivity and secure the talent they need to grow. We brought our expert panel to Workhouse Marketing in Ribchester to discuss the impact places we work can have on success.

How have workplaces changed and what impact has that had?

AW: There have been technological and social changes. People expect different things from work. Employees are looking at things like wellbeing and job satisfaction. It also links to employee flexibility.

RZS: We’ve seen a seismic shift in the way people work over the last few years. A lot of businesses are working offices around people, as opposed to the old days where they would shoehorn people into an office. It’s looking at collaboration and seeing how work flows and the best way of creating spaces to bring teams together as opposed to segmenting them in different areas.

  • Richard Slater (Chair) – Lancashire Business View
  • Tom Bennett – Senator Group
  • Alison Chesworth – EKM
  • Darren Clanford – Material Source
  • Andrew Graham – Graham and Brown
  • Nicky Jepson – Workhouse Marketing
  • Mark Lomas – Elgra Furniture Consultants
  • Martin Meadows – Workhouse Marketing 
  • Rizwan Seth – Wrkspace
  • Stewart Simon – Coulter Officer Interiors
  • Adrian Wright - UCLan

MM: It’s a shift in mindsets to the way we approach work and business. We’re constantly evolving and developing and trying to create a 27-year-old start up mentality. Changing the physical structure of a building enables emotional change as well.

AC: If people don’t love coming to work they are not going to love your customers. You have to make it a place where they want to be and are excited to be.

You have to create a culture where people are not just there to do a job; they are there to make a difference. We’ve recognised it is important to look after people.

We’ve also accepted that millennials especially are quite transient. They don’t want to be somewhere for a long time. They want to come, do a bit and move on, and that’s fine.

NJ: There’s a lot more emphasis now on collaboration. There are 43 of us and we’re all specialists in different areas. Every project we work on is different and we need a space that brings those people together in a really collaborative way. You get much more of a rounded solution for you customers. We were all very much deskbound, now we are much more agile.

DC: You can design an amazing space and drop a pool table in and say everyone’s happy now. I’m a great believer that unless people have a purpose at work the workspace won’t work. It goes back to the wellbeing aspect of what am I contributing? Am I being rewarded for it? Am I doing it right?

The workplace environment is pretty high now on graduates’ tick lists

MM: If you give people the objectives for that day, week or month, who cares whether you are sat around the fire or playing pool. As long as you get the work done, does it matter? It doesn’t. Those who don’t understand it come from a culture of clocking in, working nine ‘til five and if you’re sat at your desk you’re working.

AC: We’ve have pods and we thought they were a brilliant idea, but then we found that people were hiding in them and not actually collaborating at all. You have to have some thought process about the spaces you create.

AG: We’re trying to adapt our working space from the collaborative culture we have created. We’re a design and manufacturing company and we need people to come together.

AW: What do you want to do with the workplace design? Do you want to build a community? Do you want to build better social relationships? What is the purpose of doing it?

ML: The the furniture industry has become very much like IT. Thirty years ago when I started doing this you had a straight desk and it had either one or two sets of drawers attached and then you had a chair without any arms on it, and everybody had exactly the same chair.

TB: The market has changed so the products we bring to market have had to. 

The prevalence of interior design has become more important over the last ten years. On top of that we’ve had social change. Social media has become much more important in terms of the drivers for workspaces.

Can workplaces be used as recruitment and retention devices?

SS: We see that businesses that invest in a nice working environment - spaces where people can go and share and work collaboratively - are also the businesses that invest in their people and give them staff perks. That’s very important.

AW: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s not just the design but the culture of the organisation, the policies and what the organisation is trying to do.

MM: When we recruit we try and encourage people to come for a day before they accept the offer or before we decide to accept them, so they can experience what it’s like. The workplace environment is pretty high now on graduates’ tick lists.

RSZ: Today people can work from home and from places like Costa. We’ve found people want to be in our Old Docks House building in Preston in order to impress their clients. There is something about retaining clients too.

AG: No business can afford to carry any fat, everything’s lean. If you want to do something outside the norm you have to create a stakeholder group within the organisation and that stakeholder working needs collaborative space.

SS: There seems to be a fear among business leaders about having meetings for the sake of meetings, and the lack of productivity in meeting rooms.

I’ve noticed recently that there seems to be a trend to try and make meeting spaces more productive and to have shorter meetings. We’re seeing standing meeting tables, getting rid of all the chairs.

NJ: The talent pool we can recruit from has decreased dramatically. So we have to try so hard to attract talent and persuade them away from the bright lights of the big cities. We have to retain them as well. Millennials have a lot of choice.

Changing the physical structure of a building enables emotional change as well

TB: Jaguar Land Rover’s main headquarters in Coventry is an incredible facility. Attracting engineers and millennials into the industry is difficult and the building had to be special to attract the right kind of employees that would stay.

NJ: The biggest thing is culture. Research has shown millennials are more interested in a company that’s got a clear ambition, objective and brand values. They know when they go into that organisation precisely what they’re working towards. The environment is just a frame for that.

DC: I’ve worked in a business with an amazing breakout area, a fantastic café in the middle of it and beautiful furniture. The accounts team would never use it, they said, ‘We cannot go and sit there because we’ve got confidential information.’

Sometimes doing the right thing can put pressure on other parts of your organisation.

What would be a simple first step to changing a workspace?

DC: Listen to your employees.

SS: See how people work. If you have an existing workspace, see which spaces are used and which aren’t. It may be that you’re doing the right things but it’s been done badly in the past.

MM: Breaking down the fear of change is the key thing. Give people confidence that it is a good thing.

ML: Bring somebody in who knows what they’re doing, a consultant who deals with this on a day-to-day basis. Let them walk around the business and see how it works.

AW: For me it is job quality and what we can do to support that, working together to retain good colleagues and recruit good people.

TB: Take inspiration from the environments that inspire you and be brave enough to try and implement those ideas and the things you’ve seen. Don’t be scared.

RZS: Designing a workspace is really based around the workforce. A strong relationship between the workforce and workplace can unlock significant value for the company.

NJ: Develop and invest in your culture first and the physical environment should support your culture.

AC: Take your people and recruitment seriously and build your culture so that people actively want to work for you. A workspace where people love to be can influence that.

AG: Start with the culture, with the people and allow them to play with the space and it will come alive - something will trigger that may become a permanent physical fixture.

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