“When I was studying my masters, I would never have guessed I would be working in the job I am today,” says Keti Malkoski, Principal at Schiavello’s People and Culture Consulting business. Along with data analyst Samantha Simpson, Malkoski works closely with businesses to optimise workspace strategy alongside staff productivity and wellbeing through the gathering of data.
The line of work that Malkoski and Simpson engage in wouldn’t have even been imagined some 20 years ago. But as the workspace sector began to shift towards open plan and activity based working (ABW), workspace strategy emerged as an important factor in creating an effective office space, and now, is deemed imperative. ABW is an intricate, nuanced style of working, and doesn’t operate the same for every organisation, so data helps ensure each company is doing it in a manner that suits its staff and enhances productivity.
“We use data to quantify how the people are working, which spaces they're using, how they are using them and how they feel about the workspace,” Simpson explains. “This is crucial for ABW-type spaces in particular, because there are so many different kinds of settings for different uses, and they don’t all work the same, or at all, for every company. From the data collected, we will see meaningful trends, and they can be translated into effective physical workspace design.”
Alongside ABW, the rise of globalisation has fed a need for data through the creation of added pressure for businesses and drastically changing client drivers. “Businesses don't have the pick of the litter anymore. Back in the day, when employers could poach and take people as they pleased, they held all the cards, but nowadays, people can be selective, knowing they have the skill set, talent and choice to work anywhere in the world. So people weigh up what different organisations are going to offer them. That means businesses are now having to look at how they're supporting their employees, and data helps them understand exactly how to do that,” Simpson says.
A business must know exactly what type of talent they are trying to attract, what those people want out of a workspace, and analyse what they are doing to attract them. Data is a big player in this because it alleviates risky and potentially expensive guesswork, assisting organisations in answering these questions. This, in turn, allows the organisation to create an appealing environment, give back to staff, and keep employees loyal. As Simpson says, “Data quantifies the needs of the employees so they can be translated into workspace design.”
Without data, employers would be creating a workspace that they assumetheir staff want, and risk it not being necessarily correct. Capturing and analysing data opens up a whole new possibility for leaders to find out more about their people, while simultaneously creating a space that employees feel connected to. Simpson cites an example in which her data brought up the fact that a company’s staff deeply cared about sustainability, a trend the leadership was unaware of. Thanks to data collection, the organisation could see hard evidence regarding their employees’ needs and wants, and was able to develop a fitout that mirrored those values.
In their line of work, one thing has become clear for Simpson and Malkoski: that opinions are not always galvanised, but data doesn’t lie – provided it is interpreted correctly. Simpson explains an example in which a manager said his team worked purely independently, without collaboration. Despite this, the survey and observation data revealed otherwise. “That particular manager was working in an office,” she says, “So, of course he couldn’t see everything all the time and the resulting data came as a surprise.”
At the same time, Simpson insists that data isn't everything. It is useful and can help to uncover a lot of things, but it doesn't provide you with all the insights.
“At the end of the day, you might get a piece of data, and three of us might come up with three different reasons why that result came out that way. If you don't deeply explore what that data means, it can be interpreted incorrectly. You can't just solely rely on the number that comes out,” explains Simpson. “For example, a manager may say they need to be with their team 100 percent of the time, while the employees say they only need to be with their manager 20 percent of the time. One person may see that and think the manager is clearly controlling and micromanaging. However, that might not be the case. It may be that the team is underperforming, so the manager says they need to be with them to provide regular mentoring and assistance. So unpacking the meaning behind the numbers with the business is essential, otherwise it can be misleading information,” she says.
While data is complicated, it helps make sense of an increasingly complicated world. And while it's not the complete picture, it is rather an important part of the jigsaw puzzle that is creating an effective, productive and evidence-based workspace. Combine data with creative design, and you have the workspace of the future – one that has the numbers to back up that it will work.