The Wooden Workforce

What makes an effective and productive workspace?

I am mindful, whilst writing, that all my recent interactions with people responsible for the workplace are constantly talking about the “agile” or “mobile” workforce. Whilst this is a very worthwhile discussion, is it really focussing on the now? Agile workforces are aspirational rather than a reality, and we must not forget the high percentage of the workforce that will not have the ability to move around and work from the local coffee shop. What exactly is this percentage right now? I don’t know, but I would imagine that it is a very high percentage. So, if we focus on the agile workforce, do we lose focus on the workplace today, the workplace where an organisations biggest cost resides?

I marvel at the array of workplace consultants and the ideas that go into making an effective space; but questions remain: “Is an effective space a PRODUCTIVE space?” What’s the difference between effective and productive? Are the lines so blurred that we believe they are one and the same? I would argue that they are not intrinsically linked, and that focus should be placed on the productivity of our spaces and the well-being of our people within these.

Workplace consultants tend to say that their work focusses on environments that is conducive to the requirements of the workforce. This is a good answer, but the truth, in my view, is that it is about an environment which supports the illusion of effectiveness for the management team.

What inspired this comment was a meeting with a facilities director who had transformed the offices to make them more open plan and more effective as a workspace. As with all of these things, the initial results were very positive but they soon started to fade away, where people moved from smaller more intimate spaces to wide open plan offices they were not always comfortable and felt that their outputs had dropped as a result of this “positive” change to improve effectiveness.

The facilities director in question then referred to their teenage child, sitting on a bean bag with a laptop, tablet and mobile phone – operating all 3 at the same time – effectively being productive. The raised the question that they couldn’t possibly be comfortable and how could they do any work – the retort amused me – “Just because the only way you can feel as though you are working is when you have wood in front of you, don’t assume it is the same for all of us!”

This is quite a powerful statement and reflects how we are potentially making assumptions on behalf of the majority based on our own personal belief. Next time you are thinking about change in the workplace, ask yourself: Will this change improve effectiveness or will it improve productivity? I know which I would rather influence, and I will be focussing with the rest of the team at LCMB on the now for our clients. The percentage of the workforce that are not agile or mobile and potentially never will be.

We are leading an exciting project in this space focussed on measuring productivity in the workplace and looking to influence this through the environment.

For more details please visit

If you would like to know how building performance consultancy LCMB, can help your organisation become more successful then contact Sean Brook on 01295 722 823 or by emailing


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