Companies wishing to attract and retain talent nowadays have no choice but to incorporate workplace wellbeing in their real estate strategy. However, the vast majority of recent attempts to develop “new ways of working” have been focusing way too much on design. At Cushman & Wakefield, we believe human-oriented workplace development is the smarter way to approach the future of work.
The global shift towards more attention to wellbeing has reached the labor market. Employees find it increasingly important that they feel good at work. The job itself of course has its influence: diversity of tasks, room for growth and salary packages will never completely cease to matter. But companies need to be aware of the impact the environment in which the job is performed on how their employees are feeling. This environment needs to have an answer on today’s wellbeing needs. Companies wishing to attract and retain talent nowadays, must absolutely meet those needs in a well-considered real estate strategy.
Admittedly, offices were once boring, impersonal, closed spaces. Take any movie portraying a sixties office scene and you’ll notice an abundance of cubicles, for example. Among other things, this led to the introduction of open office spaces, one of the most popular ways companies thought the “new” way of working should be organized. However, consensus is growing that open office spaces maybe aren’t the most ideal work environment: they distract, hinder focus, lead to decreased productivity and don’t cater to the specific needs of every employee. Other attempts to change office environments led to the introduction of ergonomic desks, good lighting, attention to air quality and acoustics, and so on. We’re not saying these workplace environment aspects are not important, but they’re not the holy grail of an optimal workplace environment. In fact, we believe focusing too much on design, is merely covering up workplace imperfection.
Human-oriented workplace development is what we believe will truly define the future of work. The human capital is more than ever the wealth of an organization. People are at the heart of every company, and no two people are alike – nor are two jobs alike. It is important to know all the people within a company and to thoroughly understand their individual needs. If companies don’t understand who’s working for them, how will they ever be able to meet their needs?
Employee profiles are of course very company dependent, but we believe that, in general, there are what we call ‘’sedentaries”, “nomads” and “internal nomads”. The first group always performs their tasks in the same place. “Nomads” are constantly on the move, in and out of the office all the time. The third group is also constantly in a different place, only within the company itself. All those profiles need a specific approach and an intelligent answer to their needs. This is why, instead of speaking about a “new” way of working, we prefer the term “smart” way of working.
Today, we believe information technology has sufficiently evolved to help support smart ways of working. Only in the last decade or so, IT really started to pick up steam, having now reached a point where it can really support the creation of activity-based workplaces, with which a human-oriented office space is optimized. IT has become a tool for companies to free themselves from previous constraints and a way for employees to be more agile and productive. Artificial intelligence, for example, helps to constantly monitor and improve the use of office spaces, whereas stable WiFi and network speeds contribute to the design of specific spaces for specific uses. A little example we use to illustrate the idea behind activity-based office design: you watch TV in your living room, not in your bathroom, neither do you take a bath in your living room. Yet you need both spaces for their own reasons – a logic that also applies to the office space. It is primordial that your employees have specific spaces to carry out specific tasks.
We believe that a workplace is a tool, an asset for a company. Like any tool, if it’s lacking, it will have negative consequences for the company. The key to optimize the tool is to start with a thorough audit, a sit-down where a company and the interior expert they’ve chosen to work with, go in dept into what’s going on in the company. Only when the expert has full knowledge of the company can the audit be translated to plans, which can then be executed.
In some minds, the shift towards a smart way to approach the future of work will go against the conception that a workplace merely is a place where people work. But we believe people don’t just work at work – they live at work. It’s a place where duties are performed, but also where people come together, where a community is formed. As Aristotle once proclaimed: a human being is, by nature, a social animal. Why would a human being in a workplace environment be any different? It’s therefore important to create an environment where workers feel they actually belong to the community – another thing smart work environments contribute to. An increased sense of community will in its turn contribute to more happiness on the work floor. And as science has proven over and over: a happy worker is a productive worker.
We’re happy to see how Belgium is well advanced in understanding the importance of a smart future way of working. There’s still a long way to go, especially with technological possibilities (artificial intelligence, anyone?) on the verge of breaking through, but compared to companies in neighboring countries, Belgian companies seem more than ready to go.
At Cushman & Wakefield we also showcased interest in and engagement towards a smart way to approach the future of work back in 2017, when we acquired ADMOS Design & Build. Our belief in a human-oriented approach of workplace development has only strengthened since then. As a way to further emphasize this, so to speak as a way to renew our vows, we choose to integrate this belief even deeper in Cushman & Wakefield’s core by changing the name of ADMOS Design & Build to C&W Design + Build.
 An interesting article about this topic was published on Harvard Business Review late last year: hbr.org/2018/10/staying-focused-in-a-noisy-open-office
 A few recent examples: