A flash new office? I'm worrying about my job!

This week I’m drilling into the first of seven key forces influencing contemporary workplaces. The shadow still looming over corporate Australia and many other countries is what we call the "new world economic order."

Following the global financial crisis (GFC), organisations are more conscious about their costs and cautious about their spending, while many individuals may be a little more tolerant about working conditions in order to safeguard their employment. This is translating to a lot of property consolidation as organisations compact themselves into a smaller footprint and release or sublease excess office space.

I've looked previously at the ways organisations use less space, through space intensification and more recently hot desking strategies.

We've seen many organisations trying to combine efficiency with a more effective workplace - increasing the variety of work settings and implementing flexible mobile technologies. Our research looks at the adoption of flexible working as a workplace strategy and found that one in three organisations had already deployed it (to at least part of their workforce) or had firm plans to do so. We think this level of interest was clearly driven by the impacts of the GFC and wonder if the catalyst of a certain investment bank's celebrated activity-based working implementation in Sydney (occupied in 2009) would have had the same level of impact on market trends if it had been rolled out in, say, 2006 when the economy was still riding high.

At the other end of the spectrum we're also seeing many organisations defer refurbishments or relocations, preferring to sweat their accommodation assets rather than sink capital into a new fit out. Our research shows 15% of tenants are more likely to renew and stay put with a further 30% focusing on cost savings. In cases where the existing workplace is not aligned with the organisation's employment brand or is impeding productivity or restricting opportunities for collaboration, this could be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The latest ME Bank Household Financial Comfort Report shows job insecurity is in the top three money concerns noted by respondents. As such, employees may be more accepting of older fit outs, lower quality buildings, fringe locations or desk sharing arrangements. There's a realisation too, that spending on a flash office fit out has a direct and long lasting impact on a firm's bottom line. Workplace projects that achieve a balance between cost savings versus staff amenity and other benefits may be viewed more favourably by current and prospective employees. 

Conversely, while there's no evidence that people leave organisations primarily because of physical workplace arrangements (it's more likely to do with relationships with colleagues, pay, or the work itself), it can be an influencing factor in some cases.

In the various top employer rankings there are many examples of high ranking organisations where the workplace arrangements are cited as a significant strategic factor. In times where many organisations are tightening the purse strings on accommodation, those that do invest in workplace arrangements that appeal to employees may derive some advantage in the so-called war for talent.

But it's important to understand what will appeal to the employees you want to retain - those with the right cultural and productive fit - as opposed to those you don't. For instance, if many of your competitors have introduced desk sharing, perhaps the retention of assigned seating could be a point of difference.

David McEwen is a management consultant working at the intersection of workplace strategy, sustainability and technology with Colliers International.

You can connect with David on LinkedIn.

This article first appeared on Colliers International News.


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