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Creating the Perfect Workplace?

23rd September 2015

In my last blog, I discussed the benefits that strategic workplace design can bring in delivering appropriate workplace environments and settings which support the different activities of modern day work. 

We discussed the need for these settings to have purpose, be connected to the activities within the office, and most importantly, be evidenced by the way in which the organisation operates both today and the future.  Whilst I hope you agree with my view you will also recognise that the perfect workplace environment cannot be created on the CAD machine or drawing board (for the more mature readers); fundamental to the success of any new workplace  is the provision of a structured change management programme, supporting the workforce during the transition and the leadership in managing, maintaining and growing the performance of their business and/or teams.

As strategic workplace consultants, we use techniques such as ‘syntax analysis’ and office snapshot observations to study the movement and interactions of people around workplaces. Understanding how the client is using their space serves as a ‘health check-up’ for their workspace layouts, highlighting areas for improvement and how spaces can be linked to improve the ‘buzz’ and integration around the office. We layer evidence from various studies and define the spatial foundation for the business.

For example, the DEPTHMAP software developed by UCL’s Space Syntax Laboratory was used to study office floor plate shapes and core layouts. The outcome of this analysis helped us to identify the natural integrated and segregated spaces on the floor or building, based on its layout. This type of technology enables us to understand whether existing spaces are being used efficiently and for the right purpose, and to identify opportunities to enhance layouts using the buildings natural activity zones to accommodate appropriate work settings. This means we can follow a strategic and informed approach to planning workspaces, considering the potential of office space to integrate staff efficiently and provide optimum layouts.

Studying the science of the workplace allows us to design creative, comfortable, healthy and effective work environments.  We do however recognise that this is not enough – the key ingredient, often overlooked, is the delivery of effective people engagement and change management activities. It is these activities, focused on how we use and behave in the workplace, that  can change a selection of work settings and spaces into a business transforming workplace.

In a dynamic business world, the ‘steady state’ of the workplace is a comfort factor when things around us are in constant flux. If we make changes to this ‘steady state’, or they are imposed onto us, we must be prepared and plan to manage the ‘fall-out’ – the negative aspects of change which are often met with resistance.

“A change to any physical environment we occupy, is a stress-inducing situation.”

As human beings, we are driven by habits and rituals, our brains hard wired to translate these into ‘unthinking’ actions which enable us to concentrate on the more important aspects of everyday life. For example, we don’t think about how we change gears in a car because we concentrate on the road conditions around us. Break these habits, such as by driving a left-handed car, and basic things become more stressful – that is, until those things become embedded habits. A change to any physical environment we occupy is a stress-inducing situation.

To minimize this stress, the people engagement processes should always begin at the start of a project in order to include the users in the project definition process, allowing them to co-create the solution therefore securing early buy-in. Early engagement, involvement, and effective and timely communication are the precursors to effective behavioural change. Community involvement in the design of a place improves acceptance and reduces resistance to change – it becomes ‘our’ space, rather than ‘their’ space, much in the same way as how we change the magnolia walls in a new home to ‘make the place our own’.

Furthermore, whilst we have established that different workstyles benefit from appropriate workspaces to support the delivery of that work, an adaptable workforce is also required in order to deliver it. For example, within the corporate world, ‘presenteeism’ is still accepted by some as a way of monitoring employees’ performance. Employees have to be seen to be working – overseen, physically, by ‘management’. However some employee’s work may be more effective if undertaken in a work setting not in physical proximity to their team or management. Another example may be an organisation’s desire for more collaboration. But collaborative spaces are never collaborative until people have been empowered and encouraged to use space for different ways of working. Thus, workspace design must strike the balance between a focus on designing the workplace to suit the client, and educating and empowering the workforce within it to use it to their benefit.


Mark Bradshaw is director, property & workplace consulting, at Capita.

Mark will be taking part in the FMP conference which takes place from 14-15th October at the Radisson Blu, Heathrow

This article first appeared at


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