Should businesses strive to create a kind of “brand loyalty” towards their organisations, as product companies such as Apple do? Dave Howell looks at the impact on productivity and wellbeing that adopting a people-centric approach to the work environment can have.

Creating a strong sense of loyalty is a core component of the massive commercial success many leading tech companies have enjoyed. Brand loyalty also extends to their employees who have a connection to their employers that is difficult to quantify but clearly enables these enterprises to gain huge productivity gains from their workforces.

Interserve recently looked closely at what other businesses and organisations could learn from those enterprises that have high levels of brand loyalty, and how this could be applied across a workplace. How consumers are supported and how brand advocacy is developed could be used by environment and facilities managers to enhance their own working spaces with corresponding increases in productivity and wellbeing.

How employees experience their workplace is becoming a key focus for managers who can see how improving this perception with practical changes and tangible support can have measurable positive impacts across their estates. Approaching these changes as a consumer business would reveal a number of components, which environment and facilities managers can pay attention to, and adopt across their businesses or organisations.

Jeff Flanagan, Managing Director, Commercial at Interserve states: “As consumers, we expect a level of service and connection with a brand that goes beyond a simple transactional relationship. The same is increasingly true of our working environments. What this study shows us is the importance of adopting a people-centric approach to the work environment, moving beyond purely functional concerns to think about employees as workplace consumers.”

Managers view their workforces as their most precious asset, but can sometimes find it difficult to support what can be diverse working groups. Here, the concept of the workplace consumer comes into play. This is the approach that Office Depot takes, as Paula Marshall, head of furniture category sales explained:

“Maintaining an element of flexibility with regards to office design and maintenance wherever possible will help businesses adapt to constantly evolving trends and methods of working. For example, the growing domestication of the working environment, with innovations such as Wi-Fi, is allowing staff to work outside of traditional fixed workstations. A flexible and agile approach to office design, allows environment managers to adapt and keep the experience of ‘workplace consumers’ at the heart of the business.”

As consumers, everyone understands the factors that determine whether we have a good or bad experience when buying goods or services from the brands we all regularly buy from. This trust can be developed in a working environment that needs to become more holistic to understand what “work” means for each employee.

Consuming work

Andrew Mawson, founder, Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) who worked in association with Interserve on their recent report was asked a number of questions on this subject, starting with:

How environment managers can create “brand loyalty” within their businesses or organisations?

“Environment managers have an important role to play in creating an experience that reflects the brand; and creating an emotional connection between an organisation and the individuals who are a business-critical part of its operations

“Just like in the consumer world, it’s imperative to have a clear brand identity in order to generate loyalty. Apple is a good example of this; its colleagues and customers are emotionally connected to Apple as a brand, to the point where a purchase becomes a sort of experience in its own right. The same approach should be taken with the workplace.

“Environment and their facilities manager colleagues need to take a sophisticated approach. First, they need to segment their occupier audiences to establish what their people need and what connects with them. To set themselves apart, they also need to understand what they need to do in order to compete with their competitors.

“Working with marketing and brand custodians can help environment managers translate a brand into an experience. It’s important to think about the visual as well as the sensual — smell, touch and sound all play a part in the user experience. To create a workplace experience that is neat, slick and reflective of the brand, environment managers should map out the journey through a space. It’s about providing the physical, virtual and social infrastructures that are deliberately there to delight and excite.”

Should environment managers place “workplace consumers” at the heart of the workplace design and management process to help individuals and teams achieve their best, reflecting lessons learned from consumer industries?

“We need to start thinking about workplace occupiers as consumers and do the same kind of research that the commercial world does when it comes to creating experiences that engender a warm feeling. Environment and facilities managers should seek to make people as effective as they can be; to be emotionally connected to the workplace and therefore the organisation in an economically effective way. What we’re trying to do is squeeze every ounce of competitive advantage from every second that an individual is in a workplace.

“That’s why we undertook the Workplace Experiences research project with Interserve; a study that explored the science behind creating more effective workplaces. We looked at all our past research reports, as well as consumer research, and started to translate that learning into an experience. From that, we developed a process that begins with the creation of a workplace experience brief, which can then be translated into a holistic approach; resulting in a second-by-second experience that touches every sense.”

Employees now have a level of expectation with their working environments. How can environment managers support these expectations?

“Well, like a consumer experience, a workplace experience is only delightful for a short period of time. Environment managers need to continually reinvent the experience, adding new components that will continually excite and delight. There’s a tendency to design a workplace and then just leave it. However, real change needs to be built in and embedded into the culture of an organisation. This, as you can imagine, takes time. Environment and facilities managers should continually monitor the experience as perceived by humans.

“The way you monitor performance is not about how many desks are in the building — it’s about how the experience is working. You need to talk to people and build in new performance measurements. For instance, you might want to understand how well the workplace is utilised in order to be able to determine the day-to-day practicalities. You might also want to consider how the experience varies in different parts of the building; for example, does the temperature fluctuate from one side of a workplace to another? In this plight, you need more granularity — measurements that help you understand the experience. Workplace technology, such as the Freespace platform, can help with this endeavour.”

How do you think the expectations of employees will change over the medium term?

“As organisations become more dominated by knowledge workers — simply because companies rely on the individual and collective brains for their commercial success — employers are going to be tasked with thinking about being there for them, as opposed to dominating them. Environment and facilities managers play a role in this. Top talent in the knowledge work economy is in extreme demand; the power of employment is with the people, not the organisation. That’s why experience is key.”

How is Brexit factoring into how environment managers need to enhance their working spaces to hold onto the staff they need?

“I think Brexit is forcing organisations to think more carefully about how they commit to real estate because of the uncertainties that lie ahead. Increasingly, thoughtful leaders are considering a variety of options, including different locations and modes of working.”

Employee expectations

Using the consumer approach to designing engaging work experiences is a new methodology that environment managers should closely consider. The current collective feeling about work and employers is one of utility and not emotion according to research from Paymentsense. It revealed that over 70% of those surveyed go to work simply to afford to live, with little motivation because of the working experience itself.

Interserve’s Jeff Flanagan concluded: “By looking to the consumer world, we can address this imbalance, enabling businesses to create environments where employees can thrive and ultimately deliver benefits for their company’s bottom line.”

With Office Depot’s Paula Marshall also advising: “Regularly seeking the latest feedback about employees’ expectations for their working environment is highly important. In doing so, environment and facilities managers can ensure that office layouts, design and maintenance meet the high standards of ‘workplace consumers’, helping to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. Seeking feedback from employees before making changes guarantees investments are justified and valuable resources are not wasted.”

The passion for the work carried out and the company or organisation that employs them is clearly missing. However, environment managers are not powerless to act. The working environment could change after Brexit, with locating and holding onto high-calibre staff becoming a key commercial imperative. Learning from the working environments that consumer brand companies have developed could deliver a more engaged and productive workforce.

Last reviewed 30 January 2018