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Understanding the user-experience enhances workplace well-being

Rachel Permuth

- Corporate

- Oct 24 2016

As companies around the world try to boost performance and engagement, more and more attention is paid to enhancing the workplace experience. Today’s corporate real estate (CRE) executives are tasked with helping companies meet these rising expectations. Rachel Permuth, Sodexo Global VP of Research, discusses Sodexo and CoreNet Global’s joint research project* exploring the expanding role of CRE execs.

Rachel Permuth

PhD, MSPH, Global VP of Research, Corporate Services, Sodexo USA

One of the key takeaways of this survey is that assessing the user experience has become the "core function" of CRE professionals. What role do they now play in ensuring a healthy workplace?

Rachel Permuth: When CRE professionals look at a corporation, they look at what’s going on at the building level – but they also examine the human aspect as well. This idea is really the heart of Sodexo’s study and also the reason the CRE field has had to change over the years. Traditionally, CRE professionals only looked at the physical environment in terms of its attributes – such as air and water quality, acoustics and lighting – and while those are key, the factors that truly drive performance are the people. Today, CRE professionals examine how aspects of physical space – such as design, space, and layout – impact the quality of life of the employees themselves.

The majority of survey respondents, 93%, reported that they are “somewhat” or “very” active in the current assessment of end-user workplace experience. Why is it important for companies to focus on improving the end-user experience?
R.P.: That's the million-dollar question. The bottom line is, when people are happy at work they tend to be motivated and often enhance the company’s reputation, profitability and relevance. So what makes a happy employee? The physical environment can really impact whether or not employees perceive that their company cares about them. Additionally, companies can show that they care in other ways, such as on-site concierge services, helping employees stay fit and eat right – these factors together create a workplace experience that really lends itself to overall quality of life.

These elements are even more relevant in this day and age of social media. People feel inclined to talk about their companies – either with praise or criticism. This very public communication has huge implications on retention and public perception of the company.

Currently CRE professionals are heavily involved in assessing the workplace experience. Would you explain how these assessments can impact productivity?

R.P.: Actually, the notion of productivity, especially in a knowledge worker environment, is becoming a bit antiquated. I think the more important topic is really about overall well-being – is the workplace somewhere that enhances your overall state of well-being or detracts from it?" If we can determine what aspects really enhance one's subjective well-being then we've really hit the nail on the head. You see, productivity is part of being a well person but you can't have a productive person if you don't have a well person. We need to switch the conversation a bit and really focus on well-being and quality of life – and productivity will eventually be an output of that.

Ok, so how can assessment tools be used to evaluate well-being levels in the workplace?

R.P.: Sensors are a great example of a CRE assessment tool. Placed in the right locations, sensors can be used to see if people are using staircases to enable their well-being. These devices can also help companies evaluate the use of flex spaces – do visitors have easy access to flex space? Is space underused or overused? Are there certain areas that are over-crowded, thereby making it harder to do work because of acoustics, distractions or cramped conditions? Companies can use this information to improve the physical workplace and ultimately employee quality of life.

Any last thoughts to highlight this topic?

R.P.: Just one. We need to truly understand the notion of “experience.” Experience is very different than satisfaction. It’s very different from engagement. In order to have a good workplace experience we need to be able to understand experience, define it, operationalize it, measure it and deliver it.  Experience design is very complex but it needs to be at the heart of the overall workplace strategy.

*Innovations in Understanding the End-User Experience

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