Role of Workplace in Talent Retention

Joe Harris, Global Business Development Manager at Trimble, gave a masterclass at the FM Inspired Conference to discuss how the workplace is a key factor in talent retention. He shares an insight into the ways organisations can utilise space to make savings and reinvest in a better quality workplace.

“I’ve been working with Trimble now for over 10 years, working with a lot of organisations who are trying to grapple with changing workplaces and space utilisation,” Joe says.

Changing Workplace Requirements

The workplace is changing significantly, with increased agility and a number of new challenges.

“A lot of organisations are seeing increased competition for talent across many different sectors,” Joe says. “They’re seeing this so-called ‘war for talent’ and the workplace is the battlefield. The feeling you get when you walk through the reception – do I want to work here? Do I fit here? The workplace is being seen as a shop front for potential graduates and recruitment of people in the industry.”

Joe believes the agile workplace is here to stay. “The requirement here is to optimise the business and productivity in the open workplace,” he says. “How do we allow colleagues to find each other quickly, find free space and get on with the work as quickly as possible?”

There is also an increasing focus on experience in the workplace. “A lot of organisations have these silos that they’re trying to break down, so you’re talking to other people and meeting other people,” Joe says. “That’s good, not just from a retention perspective, trying to build that community, but it’s also good for idea generation and productivity in general to have these different organisations talking to each other.” This all needs to be done while minimising the cost of occupation by up to 30%.

Joe describes how the workplace has changed since he first joined Trimble 10 years ago. “You’d have the desks in the middle and you’d have the offices or conference rooms towards the outside of the building,” he explains. “The design of the workplace and the desks themselves was fairly uniform – you’d see cubes or desks that would be almost the same across the whole organisation. You’d have your own space, you’d have a large desktop PC, you’d have your storage, your filing cabinet – you’d have quite a large amount of space per person.”

In the traditional workplace, space was managed was on a 1:1 ratio. “You’d have to go into the office to access your server and your files,” Joe adds. “There was no mobile technology then; you had to be in work to be productive.”

Planned occupancy was around 85% of the building, with utilisation monitored through floor walks. “On any typical day you’d have utilisation of around 43%,” Joe says. “There was very little change.”

The workplace today is very different. “If we look at the design of the buildings, there’s a lot more glass, a lot more open, and the meeting rooms and collaboration areas are usually towards the core of the building,” Joe says.

The designs of the workplaces themselves are also very different. “We don’t need the big desktops anymore; we don’t need our own filing cabinet,” Joe says. “We have lockable storage where we are shifting across different desks and different areas.”

Joe has noted an increased use of activity-based working, with different styles of workplace settings depending on the type of activity being carried out each day. “One of our clients, the Co-operative Group, had a triangle-shaped floor plate,” he explains. “They had an area for concentration, one for collaboration, and one for communication. You gravitate to a corner based upon your activity that day.”

In a flexible workplace, the whole building is occupied, with people oversubscribed to desks. “Instead of one person to one desk, we’ve got maybe 12 people to 10 desks – or 15 people to 10 desks,” Joe says. “Looking at the utilisation of the space, it’s varying over time. People are coming into the office, some are working from home, some are meeting suppliers and clients. They’re using the space much more as a collaboration hub and less so as a workspace for private working, with some of that being done at home and other areas.”

Utilisation is varying among teams and at different times of the year. With location becoming less important, Joe believes that work is now something that you do, not somewhere you go.

Managing the Workplace of Yesterday

Many of the organisations that Joe visits are in traditional buildings. “They still have the old portfolio that they’ve had for 10 or 15 years,” Joe explains. “To be able to invest in an entire portfolio, to bring it up to today’s standards, requires a lot of investment. Typically across a portfolio, new builds and relocations are about 10% of the portfolio – so that means there is a significant amount of estate which really is in the 1990s still.”

This brings a challenge of attracting and retaining talent. Joe believes organisations should look at the ways they can bring their workplaces into the 21st century.

Today's Workplace

“The ideal workplaces are those that provide a good choice of space,” Joe says. “Areas where you can gravitate to those teams and departments and collaboration areas. It’s very much organic and those offices feel like they have a good buzz when you walk into them. That’s a palpable thing; you can feel that when you walk through.”

Changing Working Practices

This choice of space and changing working practices is resulting in lower rates of utilisation. With more than half of the workplace being unused in some industries, organisations are not getting a return on the investment in their buildings. “There’s a big opportunity there to recapture that value,” Joe says. “To use those savings to reinvest in a better quality workplace.”

Understanding space usage is a key part of the battle. “One of our clients at Juniper said that understanding the usage of the space gave them justification to say, ‘yes, we can change this workplace and this is the proof,’” Joe says. “It was a key part of their business plan to close down one of their buildings, reconsolidate and use those savings to invest in the buildings that they were retaining.”

Integrated Workplace Management

A number of new technologies have been created for space utilisation. “It really started with using the IP network and access control to understand whether space is being used at desk level or at the building level,” Joe says. “Of course, that’s not giving you understanding of where people are going in that space.”

Technologies such as PIR sensors under desks or in the ceiling have given organisations a way to count where people are. As more laptops are used over desktop PCs, companies have also been able to triangulate the Wi-Fi signals to establish the presence of people in a particular zone.

“Other, more interesting technologies are coming through, like Bluetooth mesh networks on apps and on phones, to give an idea of where you are in the position of the building,” Joe says. “This is for indoor navigation and also things like smart lighting being implemented in new buildings – particularly when they have sensors built in.”

Joe also discusses emerging technologies that are still coming through. “There’s a provider that has these chips that look the size of a Scrabble piece,” he says. “You can stick them on a desk and those batteries last up to eight years. The idea of the Internet of Things being everywhere is starting to come into the FM and workplace area, which is becoming very interesting.”

The concept of 5G also has the potential to make a big impact on the future of the workplace. “We’re all carrying our phones in our pockets,” Joe explains. “GPS doesn’t work so well in a building, but with 5G it would provide you with a positioning within about 30 centimetres of that mobile device. The idea of indoor positioning, indoor navigation and indoor sat nav could almost be free with 5G, without any additional sensors needed.”

Workplace Strategy

Joe shares his insights into integrated workplace management. “Once you’ve understood some of these technologies on the marketplace, how do you start to dig into the complexity of all these different areas and trends and provide a workplace strategy that is going to drive value for the organisation?”

The first stage is aligning the organisation with a workplace strategy. “A lot of organisations don’t understand what spaces they own or what they lease,” Joe explains. “Just understanding the portfolio is a challenge for some organisations when they’ve got disparate teams in different locations using different systems. Simply knowing what you have is the key starting point, and then understanding where you need to get to.”

Joe recommends establishing the key performance indicators for occupancy and space planning, as well as how the business is growing over time and how the workplace will need to adapt to meet that. This workplace strategy will provide a framework for decisions on a portfolio level.

“The next phase is the floorplan level,” Joe says. “What’s the best way of using the space we have on this floor plate? Perhaps if we’re seeing utilisation of desks being quite low and meeting rooms being quite high, that tells us we need a bit more collaboration area. Why don’t we try to consolidate the desks, and create more co-working hubs and meeting room spaces? This is allowing us to understand the workplace demand, and how we’re going to adapt the supply to meet that.”

This can also lead to room and desk reservations. “This is a great way of encouraging flexibility and sharing,” Joe explains. “By having a booking system that has rules around who can book and reserve what spaces, this will also allow you to increase the headcount per desk.”

The next stage is utilisation capture. “We want to plug into any of these technologies that we find in the buildings – the access control, the Wi-Fi, the badge swipes in and out of the building, sensors under the desk or in the ceiling,” Joe says. “We want to consume all of that data to get an understanding of our space usage across our portfolio.”

With this data, organisations can look at their best performing locations and the areas that are not performing so well, and find opportunities to consolidate. Joe shares an example of the way businesses may review their portfolios: “Do we need five buildings in London? If the utilisation is 50%, could we not get rid of that last building, tied in with the lease break, and use that saving to invest in the remaining buildings?”

Workplace Planning

Joe describes the way Morgan Stanley changed its workplace strategy to reduce the cost of its portfolio. “They found with the lease accounting changes that there was an extra 3.5 billion dollars added to their balance sheet on the leases,” he explains. “They’re going through this rationalisation across their portfolio – many hundreds of buildings across the world – looking at driving the occupancy of a one person to one seat ratio to 1.2 across the globe.”

This has brought challenges, as some organisations have not been as receptive to the changes. “Home working and flexible working doesn’t work in some cultures and countries as well, so they’re having to work through that,” Joe says. “But they’re putting in place the strategy from the top level down, and then providing the right tools and the right management techniques for those local regions to be able to push towards this goal.” This has reduced the cost of the Morgan Stanley portfolio and is a key part of its strategy moving forward.

Workplace Management

Joe discusses a large financial organisation that is looking at redesigning its floor plates on a global scale. “If they’re stuck in the lease for 10 or 15 years, they are looking to refit those floor plates to make it much more agile,” he says. “Creating the zones and neighbourhoods so that teams have a department zone. They have ownership of a zone, not an individual desk.” By consolidating in this way, the organisation is able to increase occupancy and also provide more collaborative areas.

[slide 20.45]

“On the reservation side, this does enable end users to be able to find each other and find free spaces,” Joe says. “One of our clients, a large UK government organisation, was able to increase the capacity of a 5,000 building location by 25%, by increasing the desk booking within those zones and neighbourhoods.”

Workplace Utilisation

Joe believes it can be difficult for some organisations to know which technologies will work best for them. “We’ve worked with Royal Bank of Canada, where they’re looking across a number of different sensor types,” he says. “There’s a huge amount of technology out there and it can become quite confusing around what types of sensors work well for organisations. So they’re doing a pilot of about five or six different sensor types and seeing for themselves the accuracy and how well they’re counting the space.”

This pilot has provided Royal Bank of Canada with a live dashboard of how space is being used and allowing staff to find free spaces by checking their apps to find a green space. When they move into that space, it will become red on the app.

Workplace Performance and Review

At the review stage, organisations will look at the heat maps and ask ‘could we do better?’ Joe references Sun Life, who noticed pockets of green spaces in an otherwise highly utilised neighbourhood.

“They did a walk through and saw that nobody wanted to sit in this area because it was right where the vents came through for the air conditioning – it was too cold and too noisy,” Joe explains. “They made a change to this area, allowing them to make better usage of that particular part that was underperforming on the floor plate.”

From Insight into Outcomes

Joe believes that with the way people are now working, many organisations can look to consolidate.

“All of this information is allowing us to understand how we’re performing and taking that insight to drive towards smarter outcomes,” he says. “If we’re able to benchmark our buildings, our floors and our departments by occupancy and vacancy, it will allow us to understand if we need to acquire more space. If we’re growing as an organisation, do we need an additional floor? Do we need to grow in our building or perhaps acquire new premises? Could we perhaps look to consolidate or maybe dispose of some space?”

If organisations are stuck in leases, Joe recommends looking at the options available: “Do we have options to break? Does that give us an ability to look at much more flexible, agile workspace? If we’re stuck in that building or we want to remain in that building, if it’s the right location for us, perhaps we could look at refurbishments and ways of bringing the location up to the standards that we want to have moving forwards.”

Joe believes the way people use their workplaces is never static, so there is always the opportunity to restack and reorganise spaces, look at the occupancy and make changes. “If we were able to treat it as an organic thing, we can look to identify the trends and constantly readjust the workplace as we’re seeing the demand come through.”


Learn more about Facilities Management at Inspired Conferences and the Workplace X Conference.

Watch Joe Harris’ full Masterclass at the FM Conference in Ascot Racecourse here.