National Grid: how workplace design has boosted productivity

National Grid commissioned infrastructure services firm AECOM to radically redesign its headquarters in Warwick.
National Grid commissioned infrastructure services firm AECOM to radically redesign its headquarters in Warwick.

National Grid has redesigned its workplace to help it engage and attract talented engineers. Simon Carter and Hilary Jeffery outline the importance of workplace design to inspire productivity and creativity at work.

We are working in an age that has been dubbed “the third industrial revolution”, with technology constantly changing how we work.

This is a time when computers allow us to connect with colleagues across the globe within moments, using technology beyond George Orwell’s wildest predictions. Our computer systems are constantly evolving to make the workforce more efficient.

Expectations within our modern workplaces differ hugely, with four generations working alongside each other for the first time.”

Despite 21st century technology, many companies are still working in very 20th century spaces. How are workforces able to meet their full potential if they are held back by ageing facilities that hinder productivity and creativity?

A poorly designed office space can result in lost productivity and disengaged staff, which could potentially lead to a high staff turnover.

As we know, staff turnover is one of the highest costs to a business, so it is extremely important that employees are happy in their surroundings so they can perform well and be productive.

Competition for talent

This is a very real issue faced by companies across the engineering industry. HR departments know only too well about the competition to hire the best graduates at a time where there is a shortage of young people entering the engineering profession.

In response to this problem, forward-thinking organisations are looking to use their workplaces as people magnets. To achieve this, it’s important that the workplace reflects a company’s brand and its values in order to attract and retain employees.

This is a factor that organisations with an eye to future operational performance in an increasingly pressurised global economic environment simply cannot ignore.

While it may once have been outside the HR director’s remit, making sure the workplace redesign is fit for purpose is now a pivotal aspect of the role.

A well-functioning workspace can contribute to improved wellbeing, which in turn can lead to a number of benefits such as reduced absences and increased productivity.

It is therefore important that HR teams engage with staff early in a redesign process to understand the needs of the workforce.

There was an 8% improvement in staff performance, equating to what National Grid believe amounts to £20 million of increased productivity per year.”

In most cases, a blend of spaces to suit a range of expectations and working styles is required as everyone is different.

Expectations within our modern workplaces differ hugely, with four generations working alongside each other for the first time.

People are working for longer and organisations need to ensure that they are meeting employee needs across the full spectrum of the workforce. Meanwhile, the next generation of digital natives will soon join the workforce, so the office a constantly evolving environment. Flexibility and adaptability is key.

Workplace design at National Grid

Understanding the importance of a workplace that is fit for purpose, National Grid recently commissioned infrastructure services firm AECOM to deliver a radical redesign of its headquarters in Warwick.

The redesign had to put employees first and foremost, delivering key objectives to enable them to work more productively and collaboratively. It also had to make sure that flexibility was at the forefront of the agenda.

Working with a leading UK university, both companies carried out a study to show, for the first time, an objectively measured link between employee productivity and workplace design.

The study suggests that transforming the workplace not only has a direct impact on staff performance and satisfaction, but that it also can translate into bottom-line benefits. It has allowed us to make significant strides in measuring the impact of the workplace on employee output, something that others have to date only been able to gain through subjective measurement in employee surveys.

We used a range of cognitive performance tests to measure staff performance before and after the office redesign.

Savings and improvements

Outcomes were very positive, with an 8% improvement in staff performance, equating to what National Grid believes amounts to £20 million of increased productivity per year. A further £8 million to £10 million in reduced annual operating costs was achieved, leading to a total positive financial impact of up to £30 million per year.

Results revealed that employees gained back 5% in productive time due to improved access to meeting spaces. Importantly, there was also an 8% increase in employees’ comfort and satisfaction levels following the redesign.

The redesign has resulted in real changes in the National Grid workplace.

This insight will help employers across sectors and industries understand how to improve their working environment to increase staff productivity and wellbeing, as well as inform recruitment and retention strategies.

After human capital, real estate is the second highest cost for a business, but all too often it gets little attention at board level.

We have found that by taking a more strategic view of our real estate and the workplace environment, employee performance and wellbeing have been boosted.

About Simon Carter and Hilary Jeffery

Simon Carter is head of corporate property at National Grid and Hilary Jeffery is workplace strategy director at AECOM.
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