When it comes to measuring productivity of knowledge workers in the workplace, it's quality, not quantity, that should be the focus for employers, says Carissa Kilgour, Workplace Innovation Director at commercial property development and investment company, Landsec.

“We need to move away from quantitatively measuring productivity,” she says. “The benefit of most knowledge work is not measured in quantum. In headquarters buildings today our work is centred on the value we create for the business, not the number of items we have produced. We have to stop asking ourselves, 'How many emails have I answered today?' or 'How many proposals have I created today?' and think instead about the quality and value of the work we are delivering.”


Technology and outsourcing are driving change


One reason for this is that the workplace is currently undergoing radical change, thanks in part to the constant advance of technological innovation and the trend for outsourcing location independent activities. “Many businesses are continually restructuring and trying to optimise efficiency,” says Kilgour. “A lot of operational and transactional tasks for all workers are either being automated or, for some specific operational roles, outsourced into shared service centres. That leaves people in the head office workplace — for example, those in product development and sales and marketing — to spend their time applying a deeper level of thinking to their work.” This type of work is more difficult to measure quantitatively; it’s the value and impact of these ideas and the execution that matters.

"Employers have to think about giving their people greater autonomy, because then they'll feel more empowered, more creative and take a greater interest in the outcome of their work."

The property sector can play a big role in shaping a workplace environment which encourages and facilitates creativity by providing more spaces for imaginative thinking. For example, 'activity-based working' is being adopted by numerous high-performing organisations. “This is a strategy that gives employees different spaces for different kinds of activities,” says Kilgour. “There could be desks with screens for detailed analysis, break-out areas with soft sofas for informal relationship-building conversations, more structured meeting rooms for formal presentations, workshop areas to solve problems, private spaces where people can take phone calls, and library spaces where they can find peace away from the open-plan environment.”


Taking individual needs into consideration


Kilgour believes that this is a big step in the right direction for future working but argues that employers need to go even further. It's not just about making sure that offices are multi-faceted and well-structured with good natural light sources and fresh air — important though this is. For better employee engagement there's now a growing clamour to consider an individual's personal needs and circumstances, too, both in the culture of the business and the physical spaces it provides.

Take flexible working, for instance. “Traditionally, the thinking has been that employees should be in the office from 9am–5pm (or beyond), but that doesn't work for everyone,” says Kilgour. “Employers have to think about giving their people greater autonomy, because then they'll feel more empowered, more creative and take a greater interest in the outcome of their work.  For example, I've had team members say to me: 'I don't want to come in at 9am because, if I do, I have to spend an hour on the bus. But if I come in at 9.30am, I only have to spend half an hour on the bus.' And that's a very pragmatic, productive, and refreshing approach, actually. With that level of personal autonomy in choosing when to work, the built environment needs to respond with options to allow people to choose how they work.”


Property industry should anticipate the needs of the future


“People need breaks,” says Kilgour. “Studies show it's healthy to step away from work to free up your mind."

Organisations are becoming more comfortable with the notion that employees don't necessarily have to be sitting at their desks to add value. “There's much to be said for the connections, conversations and serendipitous interactions that workers can have with their colleagues away from their desks,” says Kilgour. “With that in mind, the property industry could benefit from thinking about how an office environment can drive that quality of thinking, and how it can encourage people to have those quality interactions. Because that's where the value for organisations is going to be in the future.”

To do this effectively, the industry needs to think 'out of the box', argues Kilgour. “We have to anticipate the kind of jobs we'll be seeing in future,” she says. “The offices that the property sector is building now won’t be delivered for a few years' still — and we will need to be working in a different environment to the one we have today. Just think back; who would have thought, 10 years ago, that digital marketing companies would be the major employers they are now? But that's where technology has taken us.” The workplaces of the future have to be designed with foresight and anticipation.


Designing spaces for downtime


They also need to include more conducive environments for both introverted and extroverted workers. “We all have elements of introversion and extroversion within our personalities and many of our work outputs require us to work in both ways,” says Kilgour. “Currently, modern office spaces are generally more open-plan, so aren't really built for introverts — although there is a backlash emerging against this at present. People need more spaces for contemplative, private, quiet thinking. At the same time, they need a communal environment where they can then workshop their ideas with others.”

The property industry also needs to design spaces that give staff the chance to make the most of their downtime. “People need breaks,” says Kilgour. “Studies show it's healthy to step away from work to free up your mind. So, as a landlord, we have a focus on providing more spaces to allow people moments of respite – opportunities to relax or engage in something creative that is not directly related to their work. It's better for staff and better for businesses.”