Using Office Design to Drive Recruitment & Retention

By: Elizabeth Mixson

AECOM's real estate team has started to rethink the way they use office design to shape the employee experience. Over the past year, they've started to examine how work environments impact the full employee experience life-cycle from a career fulfillment standpoint. Find out more about how AECOM uses technology, employee engagement tools and cutting-edge design techniques to build work spaces that not only delight employees but serve as a career success-enabling asset. 

What role does office design play in shaping the employee experience at AECOM?

I think all design impacts the employee experience, but it's different in every business unit depending on how much that particular group values real estate. One thing we are really focusing on now though is how to use office design to cultivate more collaboration and engagement from employees. As the company transitions to more of an agile environment to provide more flexibility, we're also approaching engagement from the client management/branding standpoint. Looking at how employees work with clients, where they work with clients, and giving employees a say in shaping that environment.

As an example, we're engaging more with the employee base early on in the design process, so they have a say on what works, what doesn't work. I would tell you that there's no easy answer on that, there's no easy cookie cutter solution to engaging with employees. But we're rolling out some new solutions to help us engage employees. For example, we launched a new facilities management app where employees can submit requests and get services done. We also created a new internal website that helps people identify and contact the right member of the Real Estate team

We're still in the early stages of this initiative, though, and still have a ways to go. It's only within the past year that we started to address engagement through design. We've actually hired one of our own architectural firms to help us evolve our approach to employee engagement and change management; to better understand and articulate the benefits of using real estate design to engage employees. At this point I still look at our approach as an evolution, it's not baked, it's not finalized, it’s a work in progress.

How do you know what employees expect/want when it comes to office design? 

What we always do a pre-project or pre-move survey to find out what's working and what's not for employees in their current location. After we move to a new location, we also send out a survey at the 6-month mark to find out what's working in the new space, what's planned to work, and what's not working. We do pre-imposed survey's for our employees as a way to gauge did we hit the mark? Is there anything we could to possibly change the environment? We also do town halls with our employees during the design process to get their input on design and site selections.

What are the top 3 technologies or office design solutions shaping the employee experience and why?

One of the things that we're just beta testing right now are some new sets of technology to help us get a better understanding of how our employees are using real estate. For example, we're beta testing sensor technology right now to give us long term data on how groups are using real estate within a certain building, at a certain location by function, to get a better view on that data. That's one technology we're doing with the new company, so we are doing sensor technology.

The other thing we're doing is what I would call a live database for our locations where we're mirroring our workday HR technology and downloading information into live flow plan for our location. This will allow us to see how real estate is being used; and then mirroring that with a technology sensor that delivers live 24/7 data on the actual usage of those properties. It's sensor technology with a live flow plan database, tied with work day technical information on employees by function. We're getting a better view of what's the demand, what's the usage, how do people relate, and use real estate data to make better decisions.

Every company looks at real estate differently. Some look at it as an asset, some look at it as a cost structure, some companies don't realize that real estate and the workplace play a critical role in recruitment and retention. It comes down to good site selection, and I've seen everything under the sun. Though it's different for every company, now that we have four plus generations in the workplace, people have to be more aware that real estate really is a retention and recruitment tool and not just about employees engagement. It's about the fulfillment of those employees for their whole career, and I think a lot of people miss that point. Otherwise, what happens? The different generations look at their roles differently and look at the flexibility they need, or don't need. It's more challenging today with four generations in the workplace.