Leesman: Creating the elite workplace
Leesman’s CEO, Tim Oldman, explains what the best workplaces in the world are doing differently to everyone else.
For millions of Americans, work is no longer contingent on a workplace. Research by Gallup suggests that more than a third of the working population now spend part of their week working remotely, while the most recent US Census revealed some 8mn people using their home as a base.
The simple answer to why this is happening is better technology. Smartphones, laptops and a reliable Wi-Fi connection have unmoored workers from their office desk. But the reasons that people are turning to technology are even more compelling. The automobile remains the primary means of travel for three in four American commuters while their commute times remain outrageously long. The average US worker spends more than an hour getting to and from work, with only Belgians and Australians putting up with longer commutes in the Western world. This is the result of two things: first, the sheer size of US geography; and second, the increase of traffic on US roads, particularly in more densely populated urban areas.
So, if workers are turning to their digital tools to save them from these nightmare commutes, this also raises some fundamental questions about the role of the workplace in 21st century organizations, what it is people need from their working environments, and – crucially – whether the current crop is meeting those requirements.
Leesman works globally helping organisations understand how their workplaces support organizational performance, and in so doing has amassed more than 500,000 responses from 3,600 buildings in 291 countries. Its online survey examines what employees are doing and how well each of the activities that they undertake as part of their role is supported by the physical, virtual and social infrastructures in their workplace. The results are then added to a worldwide benchmark that calculates the design impact that these workplaces have on an employee’s overall experience, from their perception of personal productivity and level of enjoyment to their pride in the workspace.
Business leaders may want to look away now (though they mustn’t). The evidence is unequivocal: an alarmingly high number of workplaces across the globe are failing their occupiers in these fundamental areas. Currently, only 61% of employees can agree that their workplace enables them to work productively, just 59% report that their workplace creates an enjoyable environment to work in, and an even lower number – 51% – say that they would feel proud to welcome visitors.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The latest deep dive into the data reveals an elite band of organizations that are bucking this trend. Since 2012, Leesman has awarded the highest performing workplace on its index – ones that comply with strict qualification criteria – Leesman certification. While 2018 saw just 28 of the 560 workplaces measured earn this increasingly coveted status, identifying what separates them from the rest of the pack helps to unveil the cornerstones of great employee experience.
Crunching the 2018 survey data from these 28 buildings, together with information on key variables external of the research including occupancy density, desk-sharing ratios, and environmental certification, has identified the key differentiators between these two groups. And the findings expose some blunt discrepancies. When it comes to personal productivity, for example, 77% of respondents in the Leesman buildings answer affirmatively – a whole 15 percentage points higher than the global index average. On the topic of pride, meanwhile, scores soar by 29 percentage points, from 51% to 80%.
Delving into the factors that determine these scores reveals a great deal about how organizations can achieve exceptional employee experience. It is easy to make the argument, for example, that Leesman organizations have a much better sense of their employees’ increasingly mobile and flexible needs. A substantial majority of the high-performing workplaces offer either a fully flexible arrangement or a mix of flexible and designated workstations – and their occupiers are happy: a massive 86.5% of respondents from the Leesman buildings report satisfaction with the variety of workspace on offer.
Wider variety may also help to explain why the 2018 Leesman workplaces are predominantly open concepts. In stark contrast to the war on open plan now waged by the mainstream press, this suggests that open offices can be both popular and effective. The most common charges, now pumped out with unnerving regularity by glossy magazines and top tier business titles, are that open designs distract, diminish privacy, and create toxic levels of stress at work. Yet these latest findings show that organizations which get open plan designs right do not sacrifice visual or acoustic privacy. In fact, the number of respondents who were satisfied with the quiet rooms provided by Leesman spaces last year climbed to 61%, which represents an increase of 20 percentage points since 2015.
Deferring to conventional wisdom is riddled with danger. The common perception may be that remote working affords people the freedom to be both effective and creative away from the chaos of open plan offices, but this simply isn’t backed by the data. Leesman spaces contain fewer remote workers than the global average, while remote workers across Leesman’s wider database report lower levels of personal productivity than their office-based colleagues. Moreover, digital tools and better high-speed internet are still no match for face-to-face interaction in the workplace when it comes to something as critical as knowledge transfer. Office workers report 6% higher satisfaction with their ability to share ideas with colleagues than remote workers.
While it is difficult to determine whether an employee’s sense of pride in the workplace would make them more or less likely to work there given the choice, the data shows that employees in high-performing buildings are far keener to welcome visitors. It also highlights points of pride in some unorthodox areas. More than a third of the Leesman cohort boast environmental credentials including six LEED certificates, four BREEAM, and one Green Star – with the proportion of employees who are proud to welcome visitors in these certified spaces now sitting 15 percentage points higher than the global average. While there are many variables that might influence an employee’s level of pride in their employer or workplace, this speaks to a growing belief in business that employees desire to work for organizations that have serious ethical values.
That employees are choosing to work remotely or from home with increasing regularity speaks volumes about the standard of today’s workplaces. In response, organizations have a duty to reappraise their employees’ needs and ensure that they are providing the infrastructures, services and experiences to match.
Balance and choice are the watchwords for 2019. As people become more mobile, they demand greater flexibility. This is something the best workplaces in the world capture better than anyone else. And the organizations responsible for these spaces are now challenging the often-recycled idea that ‘work is a thing you do not place you go to’ by creating a series of work destinations that support employees’ evolving expectations with unparalleled accuracy.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.