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Designing for Employee WellbeingJune 2019

AECOM workplace strategy and design specialist Nicola Gillen looks at how strengthening the relationship between people and place through workplace transformation can influence employee and organisational performance.

The workplace is no longer just a place where we go to ‘work’. To attract and retain the best talent, today’s workplaces need to inspire, support wellbeing and encourage collaboration and creativity. So how do you create workplaces that achieve all these things while also driving employee performance and achieving return on investment?

Following a recent acquisition, AECOM rationalised its real estate portfolio by consolidating its two central London offices into a single workplace over five floors in Aldgate Tower, East London. The move brought about the opportunity to drive cultural and behaviour change across the business: our vision was to encourage innovation, collaboration, wellbeing and ultimately employee engagement.

To do this, we brought together an in-house multi-disciplinary project team from workplace strategists and interior designers through to IT, human resources and organisational development experts. The team then developed and implemented several key workplace strategy and design initiatives including agile working, technological transformation and comprehensive change management processes, all designed to optimise the user experience during and post transformation. Central to the success of the project was putting employees’ working requirements at the heart of the design process.

Promoting wellbeing

We wanted to create a work environment that would foster collaboration, conversation and the cross-pollination of ideas across multidisciplinary teams in order to support clients through our integrated offer. This required a highly-flexible physical space that would enable staff to work according to their personal preferences and changing needs, with design features, amenities and policies that would promote wellness.

An open, central staircase provides vertical connectivity and encourages movement and cross discipline interaction. Spacious breakout areas around the staircase provide social hubs, with amenities to promote relaxation and areas to collaborate or work alone, according to employees’ changing needs and preferences. Good-quality coffee, herbal tea and sparkling and filtered water are freely available in large kitchen areas, with generous seating at every level. An in-house cafeteria serves healthy breakfast, lunch and snack options.

Teams and departments sit in designated neighbourhoods, with workstations, collaborative project spaces, quiet rooms and meeting rooms forming flexible and dynamic spaces. A quarter of workstations can be used in either a seated or standing position.

Enhancements have been made to the building to increase cycle provision, with additional cycle racks for standing and folding bicycles, new lockers and a laundered towel service.

A sustainable environment free of toxins

Sustainability has been embedded across the project through the sourcing and procurement of sustainable furniture, fittings and lighting components. SKA rating principles were woven into the design; lighting complies with the Carbon Trust’s Energy Technology List (ETL) and building services equipment complies with SKA criteria for refrigerants, domestic hot water systems, external plant noise, server equipment and pipework insulation.

Office fit-outs can introduce a range of toxins into the internal environment through microbial contamination of the ductwork and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the furniture, fittings and cleaning products. AECOM’s designers used SKA criteria to methodically select finishes, furniture and fittings with low VOCs to avoid contaminants. Incorporating the natural environment into the built environment in order to increase staff wellbeing was a key driver behind the scheme. Extensive planting schemes, fine air filters and high volumes of fresh air achieve low CO2 and low VOCs across all floorplates. No employee is seated more than seven metres away from direct light from full-height windows.

Employee feedback

Transparency, collaboration and equality are all reinforced through the office design, with the workspace structured to eliminate silos and encourage creativity and innovation. Employees have responded well to the new office, reporting higher levels of collaboration and increased opportunities to connect with colleagues across different disciplines and functions. The office serves
as a canvas for AECOM’s brand and values, enabling employees to showcase their projects and ideas.

To measure success, we partnered with professional services firm AON. We created a bespoke method of assessing performance, building on existing world-leading psychometric tests assessing performance, pre and post occupancy, by measuring concentration, logical reasoning, multi-tasking, and creativity. The holistic post occupancy evaluation (POE) results demonstrated significant improvement in the following categories:

  1. Collaboration – which included a threefold increase in the value of cross-discipline client proposals.
  2. Performance – the new heavily-occupied open plan agile environment sparked a 10 per cent increase in creativity while not impeding people’s ability to concentrate, multi-task or think logically.
  3. Wellbeing – improvements were evidenced by a 26 per cent increase in retention and a maintained level of wellbeing post transformation.

Ultimately, the project outcomes demonstrate it is possible to influence employee and organisational performance through defining and strengthening the relationship between people and place in the workplace.

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