888 Brannan Street — San Francisco, California
888 Brannan Street — San Francisco, California
A large building with glass windows.

Can employee data drive workplace strategy?

Research Project Name

WPI Tool Development

What We Did

We developed a pre- and post-occupancy survey tool to gather employee input on workplace performance factors before a design project—in order to inform design decisions—and after the project—to measure the success of the design solution. Past project-specific explorations of design and performance measures served as a means to identify the most meaningful and important questions to incorporate into our workplace survey tool—Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index® (WPI℠). The questions developed for the WPI became the cornerstone of national workplace surveys conducted across the US and the UK in late 2007 and early 2008, with the goal of creating a comprehensive benchmark database to track design and business performance.

The Context

Pre- and post-occupancy evaluation (POE) surveys have been valuable tools in the workplace designer’s toolkit for many years. As a diagnostic, a POE can determine what is and what is not working in the existing physical environment, and those findings can be used to inform design solutions. In the post phase, it is an opportunity to measure the success of the project and learn how the workplace is performing after it is built.

Existing POE tools became limited, however, as projects became increasingly complex, and the changing nature of work placed new demands on the performance of the physical work environment. What’s more, the need to better connect design to business performance created an imperative to include high-quality, business-relevant findings in the pre- and post-measurement phases of design projects.

The Results

WPI℠ is an enhanced pre- and post-occupancy evaluation tool that goes beyond measuring functional aspects of workplace performance by incorporating an assessment of four work modes that are fundamental to knowledge work—focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize. In addition, the tool contains questions that help our clients connect workplace design to key business drivers such as employee engagement, satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Armed with this information, we gain deeper insights into what we can do to deliver a workplace solution that responds to the specific business needs and requirements of our clients, while post-occupancy measurement allows us to track our design and business outcomes.

By using a consistent set of core questions in our WPI℠ survey, we have been able to amass a benchmark database that represents hundreds of companies and the responses of thousands of employees across key industry sectors. This allows our clients to benchmark and compare their workplaces to those in their industry and top-performing workplaces identified through our national workplace surveys.

What This Means

Understand work through the lens of four work modes. Our 2008 research uncovered the importance of four work modes—focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize— as the key work activities in the knowledge economy. The WPI measures time spent in each mode alongside a breakdown of the spaces used and how effective those spaces are for supporting each activity.

Measure functionality to uncover opportunities. At its foundation, a workplace must be functional and support human needs. The WPI measures the quality of 28 attributes of physical space such as layout, acoustics, privacy, light, air, and furniture comfort. Information gathered through the survey informs what is working well and what should be improved by a new design.

Align workplace strategy with organizational goals. Employee engagement and satisfaction are key business drivers. The WPI reports on the values expressed by your current workplace and uncovers opportunities to better connect the workplace with drivers of organizational effectiveness.

Benchmarking puts results in context. Our 2013 US workplace survey established that top-performing workplaces have more satisfied employees, better support the four work modes, and therefore have a higher WPI score overall. Measuring individual project findings against the WPI dataset allows for direct comparisons to top performers and industry peers, while placing workplace performance and effectiveness within a broader business context.

What’s Next?

WPI℠ continues to grow in use as the scope and breadth of the tool expands. We update the survey on an ongoing basis by developing new modules to measure other important aspects of workplace design that are important to our clients, and have translated the survey into multiple languages to meet growing global demand. As part of our WPI analytics initiative, we continuously mine our database of employee responses to unearth new insights and uncover actionable findings that can inform and improve our workplace design solutions.

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Janet Pogue, James Williamson, Andreas Andreou, Christine Barber, Isabel Kraut, Elizabeth Riordan, Renny Shih

Year Completed