I picked this session out for the blog, because it was excellent, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it introduced a genuinely new tool for understanding the workplace, albeit not a ‘public’ tool as it is owned and delivered by JCI GWS (actually designed by Rob Wright, who has a track record of designing useful web-based tools; he was also one of the drivers and creators behind QLW, or Quantum Leap for Work). Secondly, it was an international application of this new tool, as it was developed by Rob, an Englishman (only just – he’s a Geordie – very close to being Scots :-), tried out in the USA (where Rob is now based), and applied for a client in Johannesburg, RSA. Thirdly, I think it showed that large organisations like Johnson Controls do, contrary to some commentators, deliver innovations like this. Julie Boshoff, their client, was warmly singing their praises, which is perhaps proof enough. It is certainly not one of those cases where a service provider does a project for an innovative client, learns on the job, then passes this off to their next client as ‘our innovation’….this process below was developed and led by Rob Wright.
Understanding work: a business programme (not an RE/Facilities programme)
The session was really about understanding work (or at least, understanding work in the context of one organisation – we all know that every organisation has some similarities, but many differences). And it was clearly a business programme, with an emphasis on changing people’s ways of working, and helping staff to become more efficient and effective in their work tasks.
To put it in context, the client has 12 branches across the Republic of South Africa (RSA), with 14,000 what it terms “flex staffers”. As the company supplies staff, and teams, for temporary positions and projects, and some outsourced functions, it has been the focus of some pressure from the Unions, and accused (like all similar agencies) as a “form of slavery”. The client wished to address this, and has implemented benefits that more permanent, long-term staff, would
expect, such as medical aid and retirement plans. The client expressly wishes to
be seen as an “employer of choice”. It is also around 99% women, so we are told
it is “very productive”! But this is a challenge, as good people want the best
jobs, and they perceive this to be in permanent employment.
WOW was born….(how many programmes are there globally called “WOW”?)
Space in the current (first pilot) office was not effective, or efficient. So the WOW programme was originated by the client, using JCI’s four part plan, as follows:
- Workspace Review
- Workstyle Review
- Design & Planning
- Supporting the Change
Utilisation studies were conducted in 3 locations. Nothing especially new in this – we have all seen workplace utilisation charts, I’m sure, showing utilisation of the offices at several ‘timepoints’ throughout the working day. This is usually repeated (in my experience) over a 3 week period, and can be broken down by desk, meeting room, and other facilities, depending on how the survey is made up. The end result showed an average utilisation of 48%. This is probably +/- 10% from your offices, and most other offices – unless you have already implemented some form of ‘agile working’ programme. Or unless you sit in a call centre, or a country where people predominantly sit at their office desk and work long hours (i’m thinking particularly in parts of SE Asia & Japan where people routinely sit at their desk until the boss goes home….having said that, I have experienced that in London also!)
There were a variety of spaces, from induction and training rooms, to testing (examination, psychometric tests, etc.) and lots of meeting rooms. So some utilisation levels were up in the 80/90%.
This is where “A day in the life” comes in as a process. Rob asked selected members of staff to complete a diary for a day, outlining their work experience. 187 days of diary evidence were received and analysed. Different diaries were collated from different functions and roles across the client organisation. This especially highlighted barriers to working. The results were collated in terms of number of minutes wasted per day due to a variety of factors. The overall results were as follows
- Technology 40 minutes per day
- Workplace 31 minutes per day
- General work 26 minutes per day
Alongside this, the survey showed particular issues with workplace factors, and ‘general work’ factors. No surprises with the top ‘barriers’ – these were noise and disruption. Any workplace consultant could have guessed that before the surveys, but that is not the point – the point is engagement. Listening to the staff, and feeding back.
The FBI was engaged – the “Finance & Branch Infrastructure” department – headed by Julie Boshoff. With JCI-GWS, a list of potential solutions (which, to me, looked much like a ‘risk register’) was compiled, and given a ranking number.
AiaDW – a user friendly online survey
The interface for the online survey is easy to use, which could be why they received a record 80%+ response rate (266 staff), from a good mix of groups across the organisation. The survey is designed to feedback primarily (1) understanding of workstyles, (2) a quantitative measure of unproductive time, in minutes as above, (3) insight into attitudes towards working ‘differently’.
Rob admitted, “the high response rate was a surprise”, and puts it down to the relative simplicity of the process and the survey itself. It goes out to staff as an email link, and is easy to fill in.
The survey starts with 24 categories of work, which the respondent selects according to their usual work routines. It then asks how much time the respondent spends doing each type of work. It then has 4 groups, which the user must ‘drag and drop’ their work categories into – simple! The 4 categories are:
So now, the team can analyse the types of work, time spent on each, and which of the 4 boxes they fit into. This is quite a lot of analysis from which the design team can start to adjust the sizes of different categories of space to suit work patterns.
Instant feedback, and constant communication – keys to success
One of the features of this survey and analysis tool, which I have not seen in similar processes before, is the ‘playback’ at the end of the survey. People can (and were asked to) print off their ‘playback’, and the ones who were to be invited to workshops would bring their own ‘playback’ with them. This just adds to the excellent communication process, before, during and after (via workshops, and announcements from the ‘FBI’ team).
Time in different spaces/ places
This was shown to be 60% in the office, but only 35% at “the desk”. Out of the 60%, in addition to 35% of time at the desk, 12% of time was spent in the open support areas, and 13% in rooms. The other 40% of time was split between being out of the office, and around 11% spent at home. So this showed that there was already some implicit home-working, even though, like in many organisations, this had not been made explicit until now.
Two ‘Group’ companies, merge into one office? Data….
The question arose, during the project, of ‘could Quest and Emmanuels, two companies in the same Group, work in the same location’? The same data collection process and analysis above was applied at Emmanuels, which showed that the types of work and work-styles at both companies had a very similar profile. So the project team were able to say ‘yes’, and back up their views with facts.
This would clearly mean moving to different ways of working, which means in effect varying levels of workplace sharing – desk sharing ratios above 1.0, and shared meeting rooms, etc. But the survey had asked people to rank their attitude towards working in a different way. Of 4 categories, the top two were (1) enthusiastic, and (2) open-minded; i.e., not quite ‘enthusiastic’, but open to try it. Both categories are considered to be positive attitudes, and totalled 90% of respondents (37% enthusiastic; remainder ‘open minded’). This was good to know, and will now result in the same process being rolled out in the Cape Town and Durban branches.
Design & Planning stage
Following this analysis stage, the next step is to move into thinking about how space can be redesigned to support people to work more efficiently and effectively. This consisted of 3 key processes, as follows:
- Results of the analysis fed into the design concept
- Users connecting their survey responses, and the ‘playback’ that they kept copies of, with the new designs – important to close the feedback loop
- Making new tools work for the user
It was interesting that this programme was completed with very little new furniture or technology. Mobile staff got laptops issued before the move (what is mobile? Outside the office – OK; but people are mobile around the office also, even if they rarely or never work elsewhere).
Stage 4: supporting the change
The key word that sticks out strongly is engagement. Communications were clearly very good throughout the programme, led by the ‘FBI’ team on the client side, with support from JCI-GWS.
In addition to the ‘playback’ of results described above, a website was set up for users to keep them in touch with the process, and any milestones or decisions on design and features. The fact that people were listened to, and they saw this in effect in the new designs, was critical to the success.
Economics / results
Some headline real estate results given by JCI were impressive, as follows:
RE (space) cost per head down by 44%
RE (space) cost per SqM down by 13%
SqM per head down by 36% (from 29 to 18.8)
These results clearly show that, although some smaller (but not insignificant) savings were made in the overall space costs, it is the change in working practices that leads to the large reductions in cost per head, as people use the space more effectively. This is not news – but worth reinforcing!
Q & A session
I asked Rob whether, if the project had not involved a full scale refurbishment and move into bright new offices, the perceived productivity gains would have been the same. Rob replied that
we could have achieved some of the
productivity gains without the new fit-out, but not as much
Julie added that “connectivity”, including the new laptops for mobile users, and introduction of the office intranet, had improved people’s productivity also.
Tim Oldman, Founder of Leesman (and the Leesman Index, or LSi) made the point that “this is an employee engagement project firstly, and a property project secondly”. That seems very true, as engagement, feedback and action on the results, was the critical factor in the success. Tim also reminded delegates of the “productivity toxins” research by HBR (Harvard), and asked how many of these “toxins” had been removed from the old environment. Julie responded that the old environment was dark, and some people called it ‘the dungeons’! The new café spaces where people are encouraged to work, and other open shared space, had removed some of these “toxins”.
Melanie Woolcott from Pringle Brandon made a valid point that perhaps in future the process could capture the positive factors about the existing workspace, as well as the productivity inhibitors. Rob said that he was considering how to feed that in.
The session moderator, Rene Buck, asked a question that I have heard other senior managers ask before, ‘Rob, if you have been doing these types of surveys and collecting data for many years, surely you know what people are going to say, what the issues are? You don’t need to repeat the survey for every building, do you?’ Rob Wright’s reply was two-fold: firstly, every organisation (and I would say many parts of the same organisation) have different work types, styles and attitudes. So the answers don’t necessarily roll-out across a portfolio (Rob
has found that recently even in his own JCI portfolio in the USA). But the key
point, and one which backs up this entire case study, Rob said as follows:
“You may get the same results every time, but I would still advocate doing the survey every time – its about engaging with people”
Germain Verbeermen, Partner at Wiceley in Brussels, made a point based on his similar experience of these types of workplace surveys:
“Managers know how to cheat on these surveys! They will tell you that they spend most of their time on ‘concentration’ tasks, and at their desk – they are just angling for an office!”
Rene chipped in, “yes, and its not only managers that do this!” Rob had an answer though, saying “that’s why the list of work types, and amounts of time spent on each, come before the section that asks them to move these work types into the 4 boxes of ‘Focus, Collaborate, Network, Develop’…so they cannot do that”. Mmm, maybe?
Rene also asked “What didn’t you do, that you would have liked to have done”. Rob replied,
“working with the designers from day 1…when people get the data and analysis, and they were not the ones that collected the data, they don’t always like it”.
That is what happened here, as Rob explained. The designers were brought in by the client, not JCI-GWS, and didn’t at first accept the analysis. This may be in part due to the fact that ‘workplace’ and ‘new ways of working’ generally are at an embryonic stage in RSA. Perhaps, though, the way to achieve a greater project success is for the client to appoint one firm to see the project through from analysis into concept design at least. Perhaps another designer can pick up the detailed designs, or a lower cost/lower level part of the design organisation. The strategic upfront work is always going to be more expensive, whereas the more ‘routine’ design work uses lower level (lower cost) staff.
Tim Oldman again picked up on this issue, asking “where do you draw the line between data “harvesting”, data analysis, and feed into the design solution. Rob replied that he “would like, in JCI-GWS, to have more people in the design team that can do the analysis, to create an effective handover into the detailed design”.
Julie added, “yes, that would be better – there were some problems with getting the designers to follow what we had set out”.
Rob Wright had the final word, saying
“one funny thing that happened on this project was that I had 20 interviews set up [with key end users]…and I met about 120 people! I had expected to meet one person, and 5 or 6 may turn up to the interviews, because they all wanted to have a say, and were genuinely interested in the project”.
I know from experience that many corporates would restrict this, and claim it is a waste of staff time and resource for them to ‘all go’. But all credit to this client, not experienced in workplace projects, but experienced in engagement of people in change processes, that they went along with it. They may have had 180 hours (or so) of time taken up by people attending interviews, instead of 20-30 hours. But, how much has this saved the organisation in the longer term. Julie and her team clearly understood how to effect change in their organisation, and with Rob Wright’s workplace strategy skills, have been able to deliver a successful pilot which looks likely to be expanded across RSA….many people in sub-Saharan Africa will probably be looking carefully at how they can learn from this case study by Quest and JCI.
20th Sept 2011 (in the vicinity of, but not that close to) Paris at the CoreNet ‘Paris’ Summit.
CoreNet members can download the slides here.