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HR's key role in enlightened office design


HR magazine and Landid's roundtable on the workspace of tomorrow explored how HR can positively influence facilities management decisions

HR has a key role in moving workspace design into ‘an age of enlightenment', an HR magazine roundtable on ‘tomorrow’s workspace’ agreed.

The event, supported by property developer Landid, explored the evolution of the office over recent years and how it will need to evolve in future according to the demands of employees of different demographics, and in particular in line with a rise in remote and flexible working.

The roundtable panel agreed the workplace had undergone a significant design revolution over recent years. “I think there’s been a real enlightenment in organisations,” said Steve Sherwood, director of operations and infrastructure at PwC. “Before the office was somewhere that people went to work and it needed to function, it needed to do its job. I’ve worked in organisations where it was almost a badge of honour to have very poor workspaces because it was ‘we’re about customers'. It doesn’t matter that the furniture doesn’t match; we’re out there doing it.

“Now there’s a real understanding that the workplace has more significance; it is about recruitment, it is about brand and retention…”

It’s crucial that today’s office conveys the company’s brand and values, the panel agreed. This is particularly important in retail, said Usha Kakaria-Cayaux, regional vice president of HR UK & Ireland at The Estée Lauder Companies UK. “In retail if you look that great on the outside you have to look great on the inside,” she said. “You should feel that sense of brand and sense of identity and community.”

HR must also play a crucial role in conversations around FM (facilities management) to ensure workspaces are geared around wellbeing, said Chris Hiatt, director of Landid. “There’s now some really good hard evidence in terms of productivity, general health, chronic illnesses – all the things we should be worrying about,” he said. “In our buildings we have taller floor to ceiling height… and there’s phenomenal impact from just having greenery in buildings, which we don’t [as a business community] have enough of.”

The debate also explored the rise of remote working and the need for HR to consider the wellbeing of those working remotely, and the importance of still enticing staff into central offices.

“If you have people who decide ‘I’m not coming into the office', commercially it creates a bit of a problem,” said Lisa Hillier, chief people officer at Just Eat. “Being able to talk to people face to face is important. So there’s always two or three days a week where we expect teams to be in the same building in order to drive efficiency and get the best possible experience for our customers.”

Regarding the attraction for many staff of still coming into an office, Lesley Swarbrick, HR director at Time Inc, said: “I remember an employee [at a previous company] saying to me he was really struggling because he had no boundary to stop him working at home. He found it really hard; his sleep patterns were affected.”

Organisations must therefore think carefully about where they locate offices said group HR director at Advanced Alex Arundale. Then they can deliver the best of both worlds: a sociable, collaborative hub that doesn’t entail long, costly commutes. “When we ran our employee survey a lot of what people wanted from the building in terms of wellness was about location,” she said. “They wanted to get to work reasonably quickly. When leaving the office they wanted to be able to get to their places of social interaction or the gym easily.”

“Organisations must be brave and prepared to say ‘we’ve been around 150 years, we used to work like this but it’s 2017 now [so] how should we be working?’” said Sherwood regarding the need for continual reassessment and change in FM. “That’s not being a fashion victim, that’s being open-minded and smart.”

The roundtable also covered a range of other facilities and workspace design topics. Further coverage of the event will be included in the November edition of HR magazine