Friday, 20 March 2015

#SWDS15 HR and Workplace Design

I've been at Fleming Europe's Smart Workspace Design Summit for the last two days.

Although this is billed as an HR conference there's a major lack of HR people here, compared to Corporate Real Estate / Facilities Management.  (Don't get me wrong, the conference was well attended, just not by the people I think needed to be there!)

It's something I focused on in the panel I moderated.

Firstly we ran a poll on the objectives attendees had for their workplace design projects.  I missed the percentage responses, but the order for the top four needs (which note didn't include cost) were:

(picture credit Petronela Zainuddin)

I asked about this because I wanted to point out how core HR objectives are to workplace design and employee engagement hit the nail on the head.  If workplace design is about engagement, then it can't be done separately to all the work HR does on this.

However given that there were so few HR people in the room (and apart from me and Deloitte, a lack of HR experts who were supposed to be on the panel - see the outline from the conference agenda above) I also asked about to what extent HR were involved in attendees' workplace design projects.  51% suggested HR had a minor role, with fewer saying HR acts in partnership and hardly anyone responding that HR has a leadership role.

We came back to this point later on as well with RBS' Head of  Choice and Design suggesting that HR has lost its leadership role because it's not taking a role in this agenda.

We did discuss some good examples of good HR and CRE/FM collaboration throughout the conference too.  For example:
  • Karel Massop, Human Capital Director for Deloitte, Netherlands said Workplace Design work very closely with HR by focusing clearly on outcomes like engagement
  • Nelson Morales suggested GSK got HR on board with their move to the Navy Yard by emphasising the hard financial requirements (the tax issues) as well as the soft intangible stuff
  • Hendrik Grempe, Head of Property for Vodafone, Germany reports into HR (they also piloted their workplace changes in HR as 'if it works there it will work anywhere')
  • eBay Workplace Design worked with HR to look at better feed options to lift employees up the energy curve.

I got asked several times during the event about HR's role in workplace design, and came up with the following suggestions:
  • Identifying the required outcomes and behaviours (selecting from or adding to the list I provided above.)  Both HR and Workplace Design benefit from a clear focus on objectives and the most useful objectives are the human, organisation and social capital required by the business.  HR doesn't need to undertake all of the actions required to create these outcomes but given that they are about our employees, I do believe it should be HR that articulates them.
  • Ensuring that the workplace is designed in conjunction with the rest of the organisation - see my recent post on organisation models.  Workplace design won't work unless it's supported by organisation structures, working styles etc, and in particular focuses on the needs and aspirations of the employees.  And the rest of the organisation design won't work unless the workplace design supports it.
  • Conducting integrated workforce analytics.  Decisions about the workplace and workforce need to be taken together.  We saw that a lot of workplace decisions are driven, or are at least modified, by cost.  But is there any point reducing office costs by giving everyone stroller they can push around if that means you need to increase their pay 20% to recruit and retain them?  One Facilities Manager told me large companies in Germany need to pay 30% more (I'm not aware that this is an HR benchmark) to cover the additional inhumanity of working for a large organisation - dreadful!
  • Managing or participating in the changes involved in moving people into a new workplace.  This can be a huge wrench and quite a few people talked about making people cry when told to ditch their personal belongings and the comfort of their walls. HR needs to be involved in helping with this transition.

Also, particularly for collaboration (third in my list of objectives), you're going to need a collaborative approach to workplace design.  You're not going to achieve that objective if HR, CRE/FM and IT can't even collaborate over the design of the workplace!

And one more point as well - we talked a lot about human centric design ensure a truly people focused approach but speakers still talked about users (even Google) and even worse, desks.  Employee isn't a great term but it's much better than seen as a desk!  Involving HR will ensure whenever forget people are people (as long as they've not been drinking the 'business person first' kool-aid of course!)

The other reason for suggesting this integration is that not all CRE/FM professions are as with it as the ones in the room.  If they're not th en HR should be leading the human centric workplace design agenda that speakers were talking about here - ensuring that people not property are placed at the centre of workplace design.

More about the conference in my next post.

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