Commentary

Employee opinion matters: Survey your people during a workplace redesign

An employee questionnaire can guide your workplace strategy, but a series of workplace surveys will give you a much better workplace before and after.

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You may be absolutely certain that your workplace is dated and inefficient, yet you can’t confidently decide what needs the most improvement. Or worse, the leadership team sets out to right the workplace wrongs, but neglects a long list of problems employees encounter every day.

To create a better workplace in the future, you need to know how it functions today. A critical component of your workplace “before” state is knowing how employees perceive it. How does the space support their work? How about hinder it? What would they change?

An employee questionnaire provides deep insight on employee work styles and desires that will help guide your workplace strategy in a new space or as you improve on the existing one.

Three workplace surveys

The purpose of a workplace questionnaire is to gauge employee satisfaction with their current work environment. But just as important as knowing what to ask is knowing when to ask it.

Depending on your workforce and your project, you can stagger three or more surveys to create a comprehensive survey assessment.

  1. A location analysis helps you decide to move or stay.
  2. A workplace analysis evaluates the comfort, functionality and expression of the space you’re in.
  3. A baseline analysis compares your new and old spaces to see if your project delivered on its goals.

Location Analysis

Before you evaluate the workplace itself, you need to decide, should we stay or go? A location analysis is an early engagement to determine whether you’ll be renovating your current space or shopping for a new one.

WHAT TO ASK
Questions should evaluate the building itself and the surrounding area. What about working in this location is satisfying? What isn’t so satisfying? Ask employees about their commute patterns, the building’s features and nearby amenities.

Ask employees for age, length of employment and number of direct reports. After looking at overall responses, break it out by generation and seniority to see if you need to account for competing preferences. Comparing by department or business unit may also reveal interesting differences.

WHEN TO USE
Conduct a location analysis prior to your lease expiration and well enough in advance that if you decide to move, you’ll have time to do so.

A location analysis is much shorter than the other two surveys listed here, but it’s a good option if you want to stagger your feedback and decision making. Depending on your circumstances and timeline, you can combine it with the workplace analysis below.

Workplace analysis

Where the location analysis focused on fixed external factors (things that you can only change by moving), the workplace analysis goes inside the walls of your space to evaluate its physical features, layout and accessibility.

WHAT TO ASK
This survey digs deep into employees’ workplace experience across a handful of categories to find out 1) how they use the space and 2) how the space looks, feels and functions from their perspective.

Workspace location and activities 
How do employees use the space? What hurts their productivity? Where are they losing the most time? Determine which locations work actually happens in, where flexible space is necessary and what proportion of the office needs to be open vs. closed.

Collaboration
Do employees have access to resources and space to effectively collaborate with others? Both formally and informally? Determine their satisfaction with volume and quality of meeting rooms, technology and tools.

Culture and work environment
Do employees feel supported and engaged in their work environment? This encompasses qualities that are sometimes harder to measure yet easy to feel when you’re in the space. Determine how they value culture, design and workplace image as well as their satisfaction with how those qualities are expressed currently.

Again, ask employees for age, length of employment and number of direct reports. Compare responses between employees of different generations, seniority levels and business units to see if you should accommodate for opposing preferences.

WHEN TO USE
Depending on the results of your location analysis, the results from this survey can be used to modify an existing space or as criteria when looking for a new one.

The important question is, are you ready to respond? Once you engage employees in your workplace effort, you are committed to the process. Be absolutely sure you can devote the time and resources to respond with results that act on their valued input.

Baseline analysis

In any workplace project there are critical success factors that you want the new space to achieve. Maybe you’re looking for more cross-functional interaction, better collaboration or stronger mobile support. You started this workplace project to improve those areas, but you need a baseline to measure from first. The baseline analysis extracts your project objectives into a survey format so you can find out how your workplace currently performs based on the categories you value most.

WHAT TO ASK
Your survey will vary depending on the goals for your new space. Still, you’ll likely want to find out if the workplace provides adequate and appropriate space and resources, connects employees to the team and the organization at large and adapts to changes in workflow and business.

WHEN TO USE
Conduct the baseline survey twice—once before the renovation/relocation occurs and then again about six months after the final move in. Using the same questions after will help you measure change against the first survey and see how work is improved in the new space.

Supplement your surveys

Employee feedback is critical in any workplace project, but it’s not the only piece of the assessment puzzle. In fact, an employee survey is just one of a dozen ways to evaluate the workplace and results should be interpreted carefully.

The decision on what, how and when to ask the right questions is a bit of a science. If you follow employee feedback explicitly, there’s a margin of variance that could lead you astray. Asking people to self-report their activities and feelings—while capable of revealing generalizations and group consensus—is unreliable in isolated cases. People are prone to memory and cognitive biases (we misremember and exaggerate), so a string of bad days (or even really good ones) will skew your data.

Which is all to say, don’t only survey. Combine that piece with utilization studies, occupancy data, and in-depth interviews with senior leaders. Interview specific groups like IT and HR and hold focus groups with employees. There’s also good old-fashioned observation. Watch how people are using the space and add that anecdotal evidence.

Boost buy-in

Employees feel the micro effects of a workplace project but can’t always understand the macro reasoning behind it. Including them at the onset of a workplace project—and keeping them involved throughout the process—has the dual benefit of informing your strategy and engaging them. Early.

Employees who feel their input is valued and their experience is considered will transition faster and be productive in the new space sooner. After all, they’re getting what they asked for.

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