Five hard truths about great workplaces

Leesman has surveyed over 740,000 employees in more than 4,900 workplaces. Its data can help to debunk some office myths

April 2020

Words by Peggie Rothe

Illustration of Dr Peggie Rothe

“There are so many articles about how the open-plan office is really bad. But ‘open-plan’ is such a generic term, it’s like saying ‘car'”


A new office is no guarantee of success

It’s often claimed that 70% of organizational change programmes fail, so we analyzed our database to see if that also applied to workplace change. Of the 346 workplaces that we’ve measured post-occupancy, after a relocation or a refurbishment, 41% got outstanding results, 40% got mediocre results, and 19% had pretty terrible results. That’s quite shocking, considering the time, money and resources the organizations had invested. A new office is a massive opportunity to catalyze changes in an organization or make improvements, but it has to be delivered thoughtfully and based on what people really need.


You can overbake collaboration

Most new workplaces do pretty well at creating environments for people to collaborate and share ideas. But unless people have the space to do something about those ideas, it’s just a lot of talk and not much action. Individual work is the single biggest thing affecting whether they feel able to work productively — 92% of our respondents say that desk-based focused work is important to them. So a good workplace needs to support both, not create spaces for one at the expense of the other.


There’s no such thing as open plan

There are so many articles about how the open-plan office is really bad. But “open-plan” is such a generic term, it’s like saying “car”. You wouldn’t test drive one car and decide all cars are bad if you didn’t like the functionality. Open environments can be outstanding or they can be terrible. There are so many variations, from spaces with nothing but identical workstations and poor acoustics, to spaces with areas for quiet concentration, informal work, collaboration, phone booths, small and large meeting rooms. Actually, across our entire database, the best workplaces are all some form of open environment.


Hot-desking ≠ activity-based working

On average, our respondents say that they do about ten different activities, from individual work to meetings, speaking on the phone, reading or thinking. An activity-based workplace has spaces to support each one, and often that means employees don’t have their own workstation. But that’s not the same as hot-desking — if you just have a sea of identical desks to choose from, that doesn’t support anything. And you have to help people change their working behaviour too, or all you’ve got is activity-based design.

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Millennials are not the problem

There’s a perception that the millennial generation have greater requirements, and that they’re the ones that you need to satisfy in order to succeed. But we find that consistently it’s the younger employees who are easiest to please. It comes down to experience: the earlier you are in your career, the less responsibility you have, the fewer types of things you do, and the easier it is to fulfil your needs. So if organizations focus only on younger employees, they’re not only not fulfilling the needs of the rest of the population, they’re designing for the lowest set of requirements.

Dr Peggie Rothe is chief insights & research officer at Leesman

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