11th November 2014
Workplace weeks’ convention day was billed as ‘an edgy blend of case studies, expert insights, and new research, aimed at providing an intriguing melting pot for everyone involved in the work/place industry’.
There was a refreshing diversity of backgrounds in each of the speakers ranging from cancer charity CEO, cognition expert, Professor and a chap who seemed to know what the future might hold for us all. Fortunately he wasn’t wearing a headscarf and clutching a crystal ball.
I was intrigued to see what this fusion of backgrounds and experiences might reveal about how the ‘workplace is working’ and what our future working lives might entail.
Two of the sessions were case studies on relocation and office consolidation. CEO of charity -Prostate Cancer UK, Owen Sharp and Head of Real Estate & Facilities Management for Invesco, Denise Harrison, talked candidly about their workplace transformation projects and it was refreshing to hear real, honest accounts of unsupportive management, things that could have gone better as well as the overall good news stories. I applaud them for their honesty in sharing the ‘warts and all’ pictures of property and facilities management. Following the workplace move and facilities transformation 45% of the cancer charities staff felt they were more productive in their new environment. Whilst this measure was not an exact science it is certainly a stride in the right direction.
It was then onto the topic of cognition. So, my previous exposure to cognition involved watching Tom Cruise in Minority Report, so I had high expectations in learning what cognitive health in the workplace might involve. If it didn’t involve predicting future crimes and fancy touch screens I was going to be disappointed.
Keiron Sparrowhawk of Mycognition didn’t disappoint though as he outlined the effect of poor cognitive health in the workplace. We learnt that one of the following might diminish your performance.
Feel free to tick the boxes as you read:
• Poor physical health
• Poor nutrition & or hydration
• Home & workplace environments
• Life events such as bereavements
Whilst as employers we can’t do much to influence life events and genetics (although I’m sure google have got a black ops. team working on it) at least we can contemplate our role as employers in providing good, well run facilities and a well nourished and watered group of employees.
Referencing a paper published in the British Journal of Psychology back in 1998 it was claimed that an open plan office can reduce your productivity by 66% because of the impact on your cognitive health.
Sparrowhawk’s firm aims at improving employee’s performance through a series of assessments, to identify deficiencies and provide computer game based stimulation to target the areas which require development.
I see this type of performance boosting as analogous to sports people 40 years ago and professional sportsmen and women in the 21st century. Gone are the days when Jimmy Greaves would have a couple of pints and a fag at half time to pick himself up. Todays’ athletes practice strict nutritional, physical conditioning and psychological regimes that are light years beyond the practices of old. I think we’re still a few years away from this type of cognitive work being common in the workplace but I’m sure it will come eventually, especially if the benefits to productivity are as great as suggested.
Next, we learnt how to measure the productivity of so called ‘knowledge workers’. Defined by the speaker Eric Barends broadly as people who have to think a lot at work. Barends and Professsor Rob Briner of Bath University had trawled a huge array of academic research on the subject to find that it’s not an area that has been widely studied, which in itself was quite a surprise when you consider how many people ‘think’ for a living. We learnt that the things that have the largest effect on a knowledge workers productivity is social cohesion, (people liking each other), perceived supervisory support, (your Boss), information sharing and trust.
So in summary, if you like and trust the people you work with and your boss isn’t a tyrant you’re likely to be more productive.
Lastly we heard from Misha Gopaul of start-up, Workplace Fabric who offered some prophetic views on what technology might do to our working and broader lives. Gopaul urged the assembled audience to embrace all this new technology or risk becoming commercially extinct or at best left behind.
Gopaul listed so many new technologies that if one were to run out and embrace it all (putting commercial realities aside) it’s highly likely you’d be stuck with a large batch of the next version of Betamax video recorders. In my experience, choosing which technology to lead on is tricky. It’s like trying to guess the second bounce of the ball….it’s unpredictable.Like so many other things the event showed how change is the only constant in the workplace.
Despite this, with the right level of thought and insight into these changes, by embracing new ways of doing things it can have even the smallest impact on peoples’ working lives and very often an even bigger impact on their work, productivity and general wellbeing on a day to day basis.