If you need some evidence to make the case for a flexible workspace, or are wondering what relevance all the research has, look no further. Here, Laura King looks at some of 2018’s reports on the subject and identifies the pertinent questions answered.

Following on from the Stoddart Review in 2016 which looked at the role the workplace plays in productivity, there has been a lot written, and a lot said, about what our future working spaces might look like and the role facilities managers (FMs) can play in creating a more productive environment. Reports and research are aplenty, although many come to similar conclusions; a smart workplace enabled by technology, where people have control over where and how they work, is one factor that drives up productivity. It’s a more human way to approach the nine-to-five, and so the ability to work more flexibly also appears to correlate with increased worker satisfaction and better productivity.

Here are some reports from 2018 that highlight the latest considerations and trends towards flexible workspaces and smarter working.

Can flexible offices improve engagement?

Engagement and the Global Workplace, Steelcase Global Report.

This report, published by Steelcase and based on research carried out in partnership with Ipsos, argues that business resilience is built on employee engagement, and engagement can be improved by making changes to the office environment. Some of the key findings from over 12,000 responses were as follows.

  • Employees were more engaged if they had control over where they worked in the office based on the task they were doing.

  • The majority of people still work in traditional office environments, with an emphasis on desk-based individual work.

  • Something of a dichotomy, the UK is the world-leader in both open-plan offices with assigned seating, but also has more than twice the number of nomadic workers than the global average. Access to technology appears to be low when considering the technological needs of nomadic and remote working.

  • UK employees are less likely (when compared to their global counterparts) to be able to concentrate in the workplace, and also rate their access to meeting rooms and canteens as below the global average. Satisfaction with their quality of life at work is also below the global average.

In summary, the report suggests that a lack of a range of office spaces in the majority of British offices is likely to be taking a toll on employee engagement and satisfaction, despite workers having access to space for relaxation and exercise.

How important are collaborative spaces to today’s workforce?

Top Trends in Facilities Management, CBRE.

The aim of this report is to give facilities management professionals a heads up with regards to the direction in which the industry is headed. It focuses on how users’ expectations of a building are changing and, consequently, how FMs need to work to deliver the best service possible.

Its analysis of flexible working is based on the results of the 2018 EMEA Occupier Survey (see below), which highlights that 75% of those surveyed expected companies to provide collaborative and social space. The solution presented in the report is an increased uptake of third-party serviced offices/workspaces and using shared spaces with other organisations, also known as co-working. The benefits? More flexibility and improved creativity. The challenges? Maintaining brand identity and a fragmented workforce.

Are other companies investing in flexible workspaces?

EMEA Occupier Survey, CBRE.

This survey asks questions about a broad range of issues, from the use of real estate technology to the development of wellness programmes. Emerging trends are the shift in towards a better user experience and facilities as a “service” with the aim of improving productivity. The survey’s respondents are mainly from a range of professional, predominantly office-based industries with over half of respondents within the UK or USA.

In terms of flexible working, the report highlights a number of trends, namely that:

  • companies expecting to use flexible space will rise over the next three years to around 45% of those surveyed, and the proportion not using flexible space is likely to decline

  • flexible office space is the most popular area for expansion when considering real estate

  • occupiers are expecting that their use of co-working spaces will be greater than traditional office space within the next three years

  • the reasons companies are using flexible space is starting to shift from practical considerations (for example, to reduce costs) towards cultural reasons (for example, to increase innovation).

Do workers need a fixed location?

The Economy of People: Why Workstyle is Worth £39.8 Billion, Ricoh.

Like the Stoddart Review, The Economy of People, looks at how much more gross domestic product (GDP) could be generated by companies optimising their workspace. It estimates that by designing optimal offices, the nation’s GDP could increase by 1.8% in the UK (and an additional 1% in Ireland) adding an estimated £39.8 billion to the economies of the UK and Ireland.

The report, published by Ricoh in partnership with Oxford Economics, summarised findings from both executives and employees, providing an interesting insight into the differing opinions seen at different levels within the organisation. However, in general, the report found that culture was the foundation to motivation, satisfaction and wellbeing, with the workplace and technology acting as an enabler. With 91% of executives thought that productivity would increase by modernising the workplace and interestingly, an average of 93% of respondents said they were more productive when in a fixed location. Over three-quarters believed that remote working would be more efficient if they had the right technology.

Ultimately, the report concluded that flexible working and flexible office spaces can offer benefits, but needs to be done in combination with improved technology, and that the importance of a structured workspace should not be underestimated.

What are the hazards of flexible working?

Future Risk: Impact of Work on Health, Safety and Wellbeing, British Safety Council.

This report summarises the literature on a wide range of topics, from the unknown occupational health risks of nanotechnologies, development of artificial intelligence, to the stresses of working in the gig economy. With regards to flexible working, the report does not cover much about office space, but is more concerned about the impact of flexible (and in particular, homeworking) on stresses such as being unable to “escape” work and a detachment from work colleagues. The report acts as a useful reminder that flexible working is not necessarily a panacea for workplace satisfaction and looks at some of the risks that need to be considered.

Summary

  • The UK’s workforce has potential to be more productive and the workplace can play a role in this.

  • Frustrations such as a lack of space to concentrate and inadequate meeting room facilities can impact on employee satisfaction and engagement.

  • Flexible office space offers benefits, and occupiers of buildings expect that their buildings will increasingly offer a range of environments in which to work.

  • As a profession, facilities management is moving away from maintaining an “asset” to providing a service.

  • When designing workspace and providing alternative working environments, thought needs to be given to inherent risks — both to people (such as the inability to switch off) and the brand (for example, a loss of brand identity).

Last reviewed 8 January 2019