By Elliot Felix

How effective is your office? How engaged are your employees?
These are important questions companies ask themselves, often without a good way to answer them. At brightspot, we are familiar with the importance of planning engaging offices. Last year, we had our first opportunity to plan our own office. Our team developed the workplace strategy and worked with architect Martin Hopp and interior designer Irina Sai to develop and implement it, and Bonomo & Sons to build it—all three were fantastic partners.

brightspot is leading by example
Since creating engaging experiences at work is what we do, a new office was a great opportunity for us to walk the talk and set an example for our clients. The process we used can help you design, assess, and continuously improve your workplace. So, we’re sharing it with you.

In a nutshell, we travel a lot so we wanted to think of our office more like a home. We made it warm and welcoming and, in the same way that a home has different places to live, we wanted lots of different places to work: a front porch, a parlor, a salon, a den, a study, a yard, a library, a studio, and a kitchen. If you want to read through the welcome guide we created for our office, you can find it here: new home for brightspot. 

What is an engaging experience?
We’ve all read Gallup’s statistics that 32% of the U.S. workforce is engaged. But few know what that means and fewer still know what to do about it. We think about engagement as the degree of connection and commitment people have to a company’s purpose, people, and work. Another simple way to think about engagement is in terms of “discretionary effort”–engaged employees go above and beyond, disengaged employees work against you, and everyone else is in the middle. (Professor Wilmar Schaufeli has done quite a bit of research in this area, if you’re curious.)

How can you make work more engaging?
Organizations can increase the engagement of their employees by considering five things (which conveniently all start with “P”):

  • Purpose that inspires and motivates them
  • People that support and challenge each other and are committed to quality
  • Projects that enable them to do their best and make an impact
  • Process that involves them so their opinions count
  • Places that support their work with the right spaces, tools, and services

You can learn more about the relationship between the workplace and employee engagement and some useful tactics in this post we did for our client, Reward Gateway.

How did we apply that at brightspot?
At brightspot, we created an effective, engaging workplace by thinking strategically about the process, the assessment, and our culture. First, we used a process that was collaborative: we involved our employees through observations, a survey, and work sessions to give input, co-create the layout, and review furniture and material options (more about the process in this post). The process was also research-based so that we had evidence to enable us to make decisions; for instance we aligned the amount of space we allocated with the amount of time people spend doing related activities (whereas in most workplaces, people spend 50+% of their time collaborating in perhaps only 20% of the space).

Second, we made assessment of the workplace a priority. The benefit of a research-based approach is that in addition to enabling informed design, you get baseline data from which you can measure your success. So, measuring before and after is critical. As is pairing objective and subject data; for instance, the former might include things you can observe and track like utilization, attrition, sales, etc. whereas the latter would be employee and customer perceptions such as satisfaction data, net promoter scores, etc. (This presentation on post-occupancy assessment is also a good resource if you want to learn more.)

Third, we thought about how our workplace could support our culture in three important ways. We made the workplace strategy process open, transparent, and collaborative, one that everyone could have input on. We treated this as a learning and development opportunity so that our newest brightspotters (we call them “newspotters”) served as the project team. We also used the workplace to reinforce the idea of continuous improvement, because we are regularly having informal and formal discussions about our office and how we can improve it and then continuously making small changes such as reconfiguring spaces and furniture. (We also tried to model our change management process: beyond a participatory, evidenced-based process we created a welcome guide for the transition and intentionally designed our space norms.)

What were our results?

  • We achieved 88% employee engagement! That’s a big deal.
  • Productivity increased significantly, reducing time lost on average by 2.8 hours per week per person. For us, that’s like hiring an additional person!
  • There were big gains in everyone’s ability to work with clients, concentrate, get and give feedback, and chose where and how to work.
  • We got strong marks in terms of our culture (increased from 64% to 100% satisfaction), our community (increased from 86% to 93%), and our workplace norms (increased from 29 to 71% satisfaction).
  • We achieved 100% satisfaction with team effectiveness, 71% satisfaction with individual effectiveness, and 100% satisfied with overall experience.
  • We also learned about a few things to improve: better temperature control, more meeting space, and reorganized storage space.

What are we doing now?
In addition to the post-occupancy evaluation, we do a quarterly pulse survey to understand satisfaction and engagement with the company direction, people, projects, and office. Taken together, these data–which we put on our public dashboard and discuss as a team–have lead us to reorganize some of our spaces and furniture as well as continuously work on brightspot’s organization and culture.

How can you do this too?
First, you need a baseline so that you can understand the effectiveness of your office and the engagement of your employees today. Then you need a vision for your organization tomorrow and goals for the workplace to help you achieve it–these are the most important thing for you to measure later. Then, you need to make the changes to your workplace based on the research you do–both internally with your employees and externally looking at trends and examples for inspiration–and think about these changes in terms of the “5 Ps” above. This can be a small pilot or a large scale change. Finally, do a post-occupancy to measure your success and continuously improve. Good luck!

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