How to unlock your space and empower your people

By Rosie Haslem on 19 May 2017

Space plays a bigger role in the delivery of your business strategy and culture than you might think.

Most businesses spend 5% of turnover on property costs but don’t always appreciate the impact that their space has on their biggest overhead – their people. We know that supporting people to be as productive as they can be leads to increased satisfaction, engagement and motivation. This in turn can breed more productivity, a general feeling of happiness and a better-connected workforce.

So, how can you unlock your space and empower your people? It's quite simple really:


Step one: First, ask yourself and your executive team this one crucial question:

“What is our future business strategy and how can we empower our people to help deliver it?”

As a part of your future business strategy, do you have a clear understanding of the issues and challenges you face? Do you have a set of goals you wish to achieve? If so, then how can you wrap your space around your strategy and your people? How can you empower your people with the right tools – and spaces – to be successful? Can you better optimise your space for future growth, making it more flexible to changes, without the need to add desks or remove walls?

It’s also important that you identify your key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring whether your space is empowering your people and meeting your business goals. That way you can assess the impact of any changes you choose to make to your space – for better or for worse.


Step two: Ask your people what they feel they need

As business leaders it’s no good assuming what your people need. You need to know what they actually need. The only real way to get this information is to ask them. It’s important to gain an understanding of all of the tasks and activities they undertake in their roles. Do they currently have the space and facilities they need to fulfil these tasks and activities? Do they mostly work with their team, other teams, or on their own? Do they have space to meet and collaborate with other people or alternatively, for quiet concentrated working? Do they have a choice?

If you ask your people for the top three things they'd most like to change about their workspace, it may look something like this:


This provides an opportunity to turn the negatives into a positive. As in this example, the lack of natural light and windows were having a negative impact on people and their ability to perform well at work. The business in question took this into account in their choice of new space. When asked what the best features are in the new space, natural light and 'the view' were some of the most cited attributes:



Step three: Observe your people to find out what they are actually doing

While it’s important to ask your people what they need, don’t just take their word for it – build an accurate picture by observing them (maintaining their anonymity) as they go about their daily tasks. It can be surprising (not for us – we’ve done this countless times) to know all of the activities carried out in the working day that don’t come to mind when asked.

We regularly find disparities in the data between perception and reality. For example, from our database of over 30,000 people in 50 businesses over five years, we know, from our staff surveys, that, on average, people think they’re at their desks 69% of the time. However, our observations reveal that in fact they’re only at their desks 44% of the time. It’s important to capture this data and to be able to share it with your people so that they also gain a truer understanding of their, and their colleagues', working patterns.


Step four: Identify the potential for your space to meet your people’s needs

It’s one thing to understand your people’s needs but another to unlock your space to truly meet them. The right spatial analysis tools will support you to identify why some aspects of your space are more popular than others. They can identify the potential for it to facilitate team collaboration, simplify business processes, encourage chance interactions, or simply provide space for quiet and concentrated working – whatever it is your people need to best perform their roles.

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Step five: Test any changes

If you’re thinking about making a change to your space but are concerned about its impact on your people, empower them to test it. Create a pilot space that will bring any proposed layouts, new technologies and / or ways of working to life. This will allow your people to trial the space, feedback and suggest any necessary adjustments before rolling it out.

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Step six: Communication, communication, communication

This may seem like the most obvious step but you’ll be surprised by how often it‘s taken for granted. The key aspects to empowerment are communication and engagement. Involve your people in any changes and decisions from the outset by following the steps above and keep them informed with regular updates. If you’re worried that there may be resistance to change then (as above), ask them. You’re all on the journey together and by engaging your people in every step of the process you will ensure your end solution works for everyone.

Once you’ve gathered all of this information, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of how to unlock your space to empower your people – an understanding that is specific to your business and culture. This should give you a strong foundation to create an inspiring and supportive workplace – one that makes people feel good and be great.

Topics: workplace, workspace, workplace design, spacelab, empowering people, empower, unlock space, workspace design