Designing the Employee Experience

By: Elizabeth Mixson

Employee experience is about more than just reducing turnover. In fact, according to research conducted by Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, organizations that invest the most heavily in employee experience are over 4 times more profitable than the average company. 

Over the past decade, the role of HR has evolved from administrator to process developer to experience architect. At the same time, high-performance organizations are embracing human-centered design to ensure their physical workspaces drive collaboration, productivity and employee engagement. As a result, the line between HR, CRE and facilities management is starting to blur. Increasingly, HR teams and workspace design/facilities managers are teaming up to ensure office design and human capital strategies are perfectly aligned. 

A high tech, fully connected office space not only communicates to employees that your company values innovation and  is willing to invest in solutions that increase employee satisfaction, but can also enable employees to work smarter, faster and more collaboratively. Furthermore, as the war for talent rages on, many leading-edge companies are now finding themselves embroiled in an “amenities arms race” trying to out do the competition by offering the latest and, often, flashiest, cutting-edge workplace features and solutions. For these companies, it’s no longer about simply improving productivity through automation or increased connectivity but delivering awe-inspiring, one-of-a-kind employee “super-experiences” that no other company can replicate.

This trend is not lost on venture capital firms and real estate developers who, according to the New York Times, are investing more in high tech office technology than ever before. For example, in the first quarter of 2019, venture capital investment in real estate technologies increased by 250% to $4.9 billion over the same period in 2018, according to data supplier CREtech. With all this in mind, below we take a look at 5 “super-experience” enabling technologies ushering in a new, experience-centric era of commercial real estate and workplace design.

IoT & Smart Office Technologies

From work desks to climate control, IoT technology has the potential to reinvent almost every component of the modern office. Lighting, for example, can play a huge role in shaping employee productivity and well being. For instance, according to the American Society of Interior Design, 68% of employees complain about the lighting in their offices. In their 2017 study, “The Snowball Effect of Healthy Offices,” CBRE and their research team saw a 12% increase in task performance when respondents worked under circadian lighting (lighting that changes color to promote sleep at night and energy during the day), compared to traditional lighting. By combining smart lighting with smart windows, businesses can ensure workers are exposed to the optimal mix of natural and artificial light no matter the time of day or outside weather conditions. In addition, smart climate control systems and sensors can automatically adjust themselves based on real-time data to maximize comfort and energy efficiency. Furthermore, the data generated from these systems can also help facilities management leaders make smarter lighting and heating/cooling decisions.

Another type of IoT solution people are talking about is Smart Conference Room Technology. These solutions allow people to automatically book meeting rooms or hot desks, invite attendees and view meeting room status/occupancy in real time. 

In fact, when we recently sat down with Future Offices 2019 Future Offices Summer speaker Assal Yavari Director, Facilities & Operations, Gilead Sciences and asked her about how Gilead is using technology to enhance the employee experience. One, she told us, is by using 22MILES to improve their conference room booking system. In addition, they’re also are working on developing touch screen way finding. As she puts it, “we’ve incorporated 22MILES into our company halo so, as you're walking down the hall or in a neighborhood, you can tell whether a conference room is available based on our color coding system (green means available, red, booked). To ensure that reserving a room is as easy as possible, we have it so people can book via their phone, laptop or just come up to the space and reserve it on the screen. 

We're also working on implementing touch screen wayfinding. So, if you're in a space, and you're looking for a conference room to book or a person, you can go up to the screen, click what building and what floor you want to, type up that person and, kind of like Google Maps, it will tell you how to get to that person or to that conference room from your current location.

For us it's all about making the experience for users easier, because change is hard and so we want to make the journey as seamless as possible.”

Other IoT solutions that can impact the employee experience include:

  • Security cameras, smart locks, and various sensors to protect employees and ensure a safe workplace
  • Motion sensors to track how employees utilize office space and help office designers identify areas of improvement
  • Self-Monitoring Office Plants that water themselves and send out mobile alerts when they need additional care
  • Smart desks such as Herman Miller’s height-adjustable T2 smart desk that can be connected to and controlled by a smartphone. Theses desks respond to the user’s personal profile and even pings them via their phone when it’s time to get up and stretch their legs.

*Image sourced from

Advanced Ergonomics

A comfortable work space helps employees feel their best and perform to their highest ability. According to research conducted by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the average payback period for ergonomic office equipment was five months. Furthermore, the median decrease in the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders was 56%. The median decrease in worker’s compensation was 70% and the number of lost work days was down by 80%. Overall productivity increased by 20%. 

As important as it is to ensure the wellbeing and comfort of your workforce, advanced applications of office ergonomics go beyond injury reduction by promoting the physical, mental and social wellbeing of employees as well.

Examples of ergonomic solutions that have the most impact on employee satisfaction include:

Physical Solutions

  • Ergonomic task seating
  • Alternative seating such as kneeling chairs, stools and recliner chairs
  • Monitor arms & laptop stands
  • Height-adjustable tables 
  • Ergonomic keyboards, mice and related accessories (i.e. Wrist supports)
  • Ergonomic pillows, cushions & footrests 
  • Staircases (promotes exercise and social interaction)
  • Soundscaping & Acoustics

Software & Technology

  • Ergonomic software helps companies more effectively manage and track ergonomic data. These systems not only help companies pinpoint areas of high risk, but they also provide on-demand ergonomic/injury prevention training, alert users to when its time to take break or exercise and offer personalized advice for improvements.

Next Generation Digital Infrastructure

Leading-edge companies are boosting performance, productivity and employee satisfaction by enabling employees to work anywhere, anyway they need to. In order to accomplish this, companies must invest ensure interoperability or portability across all devices from desktop computers to conference room AC to mobile phones. 

For example, at Gilead, they’ve implemented Zoom, a video-based content sharing platform, to break down geographical barrier and facilitate real-time collaboration. As 2019 Future Offices Summer speaker Assal Yavari Director, Facilities & Operations, Gilead Sciences explains, “Our approach to office design is not one size fits all. We’ve really taken into consideration that people like to work in different spaces and created different types of meeting spaces for people to choose from. So, in every “neighborhood,” we have different types and sizes of conference rooms.

Whether it's a two to three people, or 20, we have a space for you. We've included Zoom in everything to enable real-time communication. Even our open collaboration spaces are fully equipped with Zoom but have a more informal atmosphere.”

Connected office solutions not only empower employees to work more efficiently and effectively by accelerating completion time for common tasks, but ensure accountability and security as well. Enabling technologies such as web conferencing solutions, employee-centered apps and cloud based collaboration tools make it easier for companies to not only track employee movement and activity but protect company data and systems from bad actors as well. The data pulled from these systems can also help companies identify areas of improvement, whether it be in workplace design or business processes, and  develop evidence-driven strategies for addressing them.


Though still in it’s infancy, Augmented and Virtual Reality solutions are already changing the way companies engage with employees. First and foremost, companies have already begun leveraging VR/AR to enhance employee training and onboarding. By combining AR/VR technology with gamification companies are able to deliver interactive and impactful educational experiences. Many organizations are also working on using AR/VR to drive global collaboration. Instead of meeting far off colleagues via phone or video conferencing, employees will actually be able to “meet” via virtual platforms and experience other office locations. Office designers can also use these solutions to help employees more effectively understand how they can best utilize their work environment.

In fact, a 2018 report by the Capgemini Research Institute, “Augmented and Virtual Reality in Operations: A guide for investment,” found that 82% of companies currently implementing AR/VR say the benefits are either meeting or exceeding their expectations. In addition, of those who have yet to invest in AR/VR, 50% say they will start exploring immersive technologies for their business operations within the next three years. Looking forward, incorporating AR/VR capabilities into the design of workspaces and meeting rooms will become increasingly mission-critical.

At the 2019 Future Offices Summer, Lynn Roger, Global Head of Employee Experience & Workplace Transformation, and Mohamed Rajan, Managing Director, Head Workplace Experience, of BMO Financial Group will shared how they successful implemented augmented and virtual reality into their workspace design strategy to create highly engaging, immersive educational experiences that drive change. In this video we filmed onsite, they discussed BMO's approach to building agile, human-centered offices. 

Back To Nature

As employees become increasingly 'plugged in' to their workspaces and automation takes over many of their day to day tasks, businesses need to ensure that humans are not overwhelmed by all the technology. Furthermore, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of their life indoors. 

Incorporating natural and biophilic design elements can have a huge impact on employee well being, happiness and performance. According to research by Human Space, “perceptions of well-being can increase by up to 15% when people work in surroundings that incorporate natural elements, providing that connection to nature, in contrast to those who have no contact to nature in their workplace.” In addition, a 2014 UK study, “The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments,” found that those who worked in offices with natural greenery saw a 15% rise in productivity over a three month period vs. those without.

After surveying over 7600 global office workers for the aforementioned report, Human Spaces found that the top 5 things people want in the workplace are:

  • Natural light (44%)
  • Indoor plants (20%)
  • Quiet working space (19%)
  • View of the sea (17%)
  • Bright colors (15%)


  • 47% of workers say that they have no natural light within their work environment
  • 58% of workers say they work in offices with no greenery

By incorporating biophilic design into your workspace, you will not only make your office a more desirable place to work and help you stand out against the competition but, considering the American Institute of Stress estimates that job stress costs U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs, it could also save companies millions per year.

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