Can we make U.K. office environments work better for everyone?

Research Project Name

U.K. Workplace Survey 2016

What We Did

We surveyed a panel-based sample of 1,200 UK office workers in 11 industries to gauge the current state of the UK workplace and uncover opportunities to improve employee performance and experience. Our goal was to uncover detailed insights into the connection between workplace design and organisational innovation, and identify key strategies to improve UK office environments. Similar to surveys launched in the US and Asia, we gathered responses using Gensler's proprietary Workplace Performance Index (WPI) online survey tool. Respondents represent all the generations and seniority levels in the workplace, companies of various sizes, and were geographically spread across the UK.

The Context

At the time of the last UK Workplace Survey in 2008, the UK entered a period of economic decline which saw UK GDP drop by a staggering 2.6% in the first quarter of 2009. The recession has had a significant impact on the workplace, as companies have been forced to reduce their costs whilst maintaining or even improving productivity levels. Many have become smarter in their use of space and have developed new, more efficient ways of working, whilst others have not. Despite being in a period of economic recovery, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that UK GDP per worker is lower than all other G7 nations, with the exception of Japan, making it critical that our physical environments are working at maximum effectiveness, supporting the work we do and can meet our changing needs in the future.

The Results

The UK workplace significantly favours those in management positions.
It may come as no surprise that employees in leadership positions have higher performing workspaces, but the gulf between the haves and the have-nots in the UK workplace is dramatic and it poses a significant challenge for organisations looking to innovate. The starkest representation of the difference is in the allocation of private offices—89% of those in senior leadership have private offices, compared to 23% at lower levels of the organisation—and the impact shows across all performance and experience metrics.

Poorly designed open-plan environments are negatively affecting 8+ million UK workers.
The UK has an established open-plan culture, and the majority of workers are in open-plan environments particularly at lower levels of the organisation. However, the basic open plan environment often fails to support work activities as well as those providing a variety of enclosed environments, with job satisfaction, performance and at-work relationships suffering as a result. Key to this problem is a lack of alternative spaces for work. Our data shows that open-plan environments can be just as effective, if not more effective, as more enclosed ones, but on the condition that employees have a range of spaces in which to work more effectively and use them optimally.

Legacy workplace behaviour and lack of choice are a drag on performance.
Not only variety but the freedom to work wherever and whenever is most effective, is a key performance driver for UK workers and workers across the world. Employees who rate their organizations highly on innovation measures also report having greater choice and use a wider range of workspaces to get their work done. Issues sometimes arise from employee behaviour and change management a transition to open environments and activity-based work settings can be successful but only if there is a change in behaviour.

What This Means

We need to take a more considered approach to the open plan.
Effective workplaces must support both individual and group work, and open plan environments without access to a range of alternative settings and enclosed spaces are challenged to do both. If adopting an open strategy, the right—and separate—spaces for individual and collaborative work are key. And for some organisations, becoming more open may not be the best option. The enclosed office is not necessarily the enemy, but one size very much does not fit all.

Expand workplace variety and choice.
British workers are still using their desks for most work activities and this appears to be to the detriment of performance. Give employees a greater variety of spaces, and the choice to work when and where suits their current tasks and workstyles best, and their satisfaction and performance will improve.

Match space to role, not status.Employees who report that the spaces in their offices are assigned by job requirements, rather than hierarchy, are much more likely to also report an optimal workplace experience. Given the current challenges of workplace performance across all levels in the UK workplace, strategies that match space to need rather than seniority are an opportunity to engage and improve at all levels of the company.

What’s Next?

We continue to analyse data gathered via this survey and other, individual WPI surveys to uncover industry and client-specific insights into how best to leverage workplace design to maximise organizational performance and innovation.

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Philip Tidd, Jane Clay, Anna Sigler, Annelise Tvergaard, Sarah Ekundayo, Amrapali Agarwal

Year Completed