Decoding workplace experience

Why companies should focus on the human experience at work and look beyond the physical features of an office. An interview with Dr. Marie Puybaraud

This original story appeared in Ambitions, a JLL publication. Download a copy here.

A unique global research project analyzing the human side of the office.

Do you remember your first office? Dr. Marie Puybaraud certainly does.

“It was a basement,” said Puybaraud, JLL’s Global Head of Corporate Research. “I was sharing an R&D lab with some Russian engineers. I remember it was very dark, and the only useful thing about it was a white board. It was terrible, absolutely terrible.”

There was a lesson buried in that basement with Puybaraud, and one that would shape her research going forward. Companies, she said, should focus on the human experience at work and look beyond the physical features of an office.

That was a concept her Russian colleagues had no problem illustrating.

“Looking back, what was interesting is that the space didn’t really matter to the engineers because they were so passionate about what they were doing,” Puybaraud said. “The lack of light didn’t frustrate them, and neither did the lack of proper furniture. The white board provided the experience they needed — a place to collaborate and develop their formulas.”

So, for Puybaraud, the idea of human experience at work was born. What worked for those engineers didn’t for her, but what if work wasn’t about the workplace at all?

A place of work is more than just a property, more than just an office,” Puybaraud said. “It’s opportunity to create memorable experiences with real estate.

How do companies do that? Puybaraud has spent the past year developing that blueprint with JLL’s new report, “Workplace: Powered by the Human Experience.”

The report surveys 7,364 participants across 12 countries and three regions with one goal in mind — decode human experience to understand its specific impact on business performance. What has Puybaraud learned so far?

From the survey, 40.4 percent of participants report that they are very engaged at work. Trust-taking initiatives and kindness are the work philosophies the most implemented in companies, and communal space has the strongest impact on quality of life and engagement, particularly in the United States and Asia.

Country and cultural-specific trends also became apparent. Across China, Australia and India, agile and mobile working is on the rise. In the United States, 60 percent of respondents preferred working from home as the main alternative workplace for employees outside of company premises, while only 27 percent of respondents in Japan preferred homeworking.

Large corporations are still attractive, according to the survey, but employees crave an entrepreneurial culture. Sixty one percent of employees globally aspire to be employed in a large corporation – for their next move – but 21 percent want the large corporate experience plus a start-up environment.

There was one cohesive theme from all the data, according to Puybaraud.

“There is a direct correlation between productive places of work and healthy balance sheets,” Puybaraud said. “It’s as simple as that, and based on our global survey, there’s an opportunity for many businesses to do more.”

We discussed the report with Puybaraud and examined the “human experience model,” a tool for helping organizations shape the optimal user experience to create value for employees, customers, colleagues, visitors, stakeholders and brand.

Q: In the context of commercial real estate, what does “human experience” mean? How would you define it?

A: Human experience goes beyond the concept of user experience. It refers to the place of “human” within the whole solution we provide. Corporate real estate services can seem very cold, but human touch or human-to-human contact is extremely important across our survey results. The place of human within the solution matters deeply to our clients and prospects.

In our research, we found three key factors to improving human experience at work: engagement, empowerment and fulfillment.

Q: Why should human experience matter to companies?

A: It matters because it impacts everything; it impacts the lives of all of your employees, but it also impacts how effectively they contribute to organizational goals. Without focusing on the human experience, companies are not doing everything they could to support their employees.

Q: Is there a logical first step for companies to improve the human experience?

A: The easiest way to start is to be open to a conversation around human experience. Talk about why human experience is important and how you are addressing it. With a clear understanding of the importance, you can more easily positively impact human experience. You can identify your unique key priorities and determine effective success metrics.

It’s important to understand where you are on the journey of human experience. This is where our diagnostic tool comes into place. What are your key objectives and priorities? How do you measure impact? Our tool provides a powerful summary of where you are today and where you want to be in the future.

Q: What are the common traits for companies that create a positive human experience with their real estate?

A: Cross-collaborative organizations are the furthest along on the human experience journey. I’m referring to companies where CRE, HR, IT are all working together toward a common goal. To positively impact human experience, it’s important to have this collaboration across multiple departments. All departments should understand the priorities and how they can work together to drive better results.

Q: What are the cultural differences globally in the perception of human experience in the workplace?

A: Across cultures, most survey participants were ready for change and innovation that improved human experience, though not at all costs. Additionally, the majority of participants wanted an entrepreneurial culture. It emerged as a significant differentiator to attracting top talent.

What strengthened their commitment to their organizations was where we started to see cultural differences. There were six main drivers that increased staff commitment to their organization. For instance, participants in the United States, France and Australia felt a sense of pride in their workplace that strengthened their commitment. In Germany and the Netherlands, employees most strongly felt a sense of belonging that strengthened their commitment. In Mainland China and South Africa, participants felt a sense of challenge strengthened their commitment.

It’s important to factor in the differences in culture and an organization’s unique DNA for whichever human experience solution you apply.

Q: What parts of an organization need to be involved to transform the human experience?

A: To effectively transform human experience, it cannot be CRE working alone in a silo. You need widespread organizational commitment to positively transform human experience. There are so many departments who need to work together to define priorities and agree on success metrics. CRE, HR and IT are probably the first three departments who need to collaborate. Additionally, departments in charge of health and wellness, safety, security, corporate social responsibility, and energy and sustainability should all contribute to creating a positive human experience.

Q: You’re asking organizations to rethink and reframe much of their workplace strategy. How do they react?

A: First of all, they don’t disagree. They don’t always connect with the wording and the idea of “human experience” right away, but they recognize themselves in the structure of the proprietary model we have developed. They are surprised at the depth of the model and that it is accommodating for things in their organization in which they don’t always control or departments they don’t always collaborate with. That is the biggest surprise, but it’s the first realization for achieving a workplace that support human experience and not just a typical workplace experience.