How new metrics are capturing the human side of the office
Companies are turning to a growing range of metrics to measure how well the modern workplace supports employee needs and performance
Work life has changed significantly in recent years but ways of measuring how well workplaces and the people within them are performing have struggled to keep pace.
The rise of the knowledge economy, where people multi-task on complex longer-term projects, has made it harder to gauge productivity levels. At the same time, office space itself is becoming increasingly people-focused – and the financial metrics of previous years no longer give a complete picture of whether they’re meeting today’s expectations.
“There was already a longer-term shift from muscle to brain strength taking place, with companies turning their attention to the experience on offer to their employees,” says Flore Pradere, global corporate research director at JLL.
“Working styles have been evolving for some time and the shift is really from outdated metrics such as productivity and working hours – which harks back to a much less knowledge-based economy.”
In response, companies are turning to new metrics which capture people’s experience of the workplace and better assess if their working environment enables people to perform at their best.
New metrics come to the fore
Employee health, the types of workplace amenities on offer and job satisfaction levels are now among a growing batch of people-focused metrics. Others like workplace comfort, staff interaction, diversity and - at a time of increased remote working - virtual collaboration, are now considered by at least 75 percent of firms surveyed by JLL.
These newer metrics are, however, harder to measure. Some companies are conducting sentiment surveys but measuring less quantifiable issues, such as the ability of spaces to support mental health or collaboration, becomes more anecdotal.
“Human resource departments need to be closer than ever to their colleagues in real estate teams and to individuals when working out what the perfect workplace should look like,” says Pradere. “In France and Germany, there’s also greater scope through the comité d'entreprise and Betriebsrat, their respective employee work councils.”
While these new metrics may better reflect employee experience in the workplace, they don’t go far enough when it comes to employee performance. “Companies typically use simpler indicators such as ‘engagement’ or ‘workplace satisfaction’ to gauge employee performance,” says Pradere. “While this approach may be effective at capturing workforce sentiment, it does not accurately reflect how well people perform.”
New approaches, such as JLL’s Human Performance model, are helping quantify employees’ ability to add value to their organization through a single indicator which aggregates 28 performance measures and reflects if they’ve met all the conditions to achieve the highest levels of performance in their work environment.
Health and wellbeing here to stay
Corporate attitudes towards employee health and wellbeing are rapidly shifting, even before COVID-19, and companies are taking the human side of the office more seriously.
In Germany, car manufacturer Volkswagen created a playbook with different scenarios for the best possible working environment, reimagining offices across its group with employee satisfaction in mind. Its New Workplaces project was developed in the IT City near its Wolfsburg plant, while other sections of the VW group such as Scania and Audi, have also piloted more interactive workplaces with less traditional metrics in mind.
Other companies are using wearable technology such as Fitbit to monitor employee health and wellbeing.
With neuroscience and psychology already in play in today’s workplace strategies, Pradere believes companies will have no choice but to become more people-centric in the future. Indeed, they could increasingly turn to methods more commonly used in retail and advertising to improve workplace engagement and employee performance.
“Creating consumer personas is something the advertising world is already very familiar with, whereby target audiences are more deeply understood through profiling,” says Pradere.
“Of course, that could create apprehension around privacy and intrusion. But it’s about getting closer to understanding how people behave in the workplace. And companies need this if they’re to successfully identify what works best for their employees.”
And with work life now incorporating both home and office working for many people, it’s presenting even more of a challenge.
“Working life has changed dramatically in the past year and companies not only need to keep employees motivated but also refresh their ideas on boosting and monitoring their performance, wherever they’re working from,” says Pradere.
“It shouldn’t be about output levels alone but a range of metrics around the workplace and the workforce, which give companies an idea of where they stand in terms of performance enablement and where they need to improve to stay on top of their game - and keep their employees on top of theirs.”