If you’ve seen the 1997 Steve Jobs developer conference insult, not only was his response regarded as the best retort, but he responded (in a way that I believe with all conviction) saying,

“I’ve always found that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology”.

This extremely compelling vision of working backwards from customer experience may have been innovative at the time (this was over 22 years ago), but now, wherever you go, we hear the same message…Experience is key!

Fast forward to today and its no longer about customer experience in the traditional sense. While attending CoreNet HK 2019 the main agenda topics and the phrase on everyone’s lips was “Employee Experience is key!” Key to understanding that the changing needs of the workforce and adopting strategies to improve employee experience, will and does yield greater business results, and that employees evaluate companies by the experiences they provide.

Now, I’m not referring to the “experiences” of standalone pool/foosball tables in a pantry/café spot, or the sleeping pods craze or even play stations. When employees and visitors alike come to the office, what welcoming experience is received? Is it a glum-looking body, often displaced and not fazed to greet, or worse not even aware of the person (name nor face) that you are looking for? Are you treated as a number by an automated screen message, informing your contact of your arrival (however 15mins later, you are still there and follow up with a WhatsApp anyway)? I believe it transcends from this.


Back to the start…

It’s about the experience that employees have from the first moment they come to the office, or actually…even before that… at the start of the day in their homes. From the moment they connect to a device, what is their daily welcoming experience? Is a digital tool providing a quick overview of the day’s agenda, informing them about a key visitor and prompting them to start a conversation regarding common projects/agendas that have been identified and connected via their profiles? Or is it an encouraging message to remind them to stay true to their holistic well-being ambitions, as a gap has been identified between meetings, at the same time of a nearby gym/yoga/meditation class? When you enter the “physical abode” of that brand – is it one that embodies the vision, mission and values of that company? Have all five senses been engaged regardless if you are a visitor, contractor, supplier, customer or employee? Was the brand experience evident, clear, and most importantly experienced?

  • And that’s just when you enter the door!
  • What, and how, does the rest of the day experience feel like? <pause …food for thought!>

Embracing employee experience should be at the core of one’s mission strategy, it is how you win the war on talent attraction and retention. It is how you stand out, and it is what remains. Experiences that resonate with people will result in forming deeper loyal relationships. We are not robots (yet), so until that day, let’s focus on creating human-centred emotional connections.


Back to being human…

Great workplaces need to be places where people like to be. So, if they are not functionally well designed and tailored to the types of activities specific to your organization, and if the spaces don’t serve the intended purpose, then simply put, people won’t use them. How many times have you visited a really cool looking office and find brainstorming “war rooms” or “collaboration huddle spots” are there, but empty and unutilized? Facilities peeps shake their heads at the waste of real estate, and HR folks worry “what’s wrong with the office culture”. In most cases, the problem lies not with the physical space itself, but that employees lack the skills, empowerment, or even more worrying, the “why” around using these spaces.

Reflecting on my professional life, my thesis looked at the impact Experiential Marketing Campaigns have on Customer Relationships – specifically focusing on Coca-Cola’s Experiential Marketing Campaigns. Since then, all experiential marketing campaigns I project managed, looked at engaging customers in a relationship by impacting upon one or more of their senses. So, if brands are focusing heavily on customer experiences, why are organisations not doing the same – in engaging our customers (a.k.a. our employees) with the brand (a.k.a. our company)?

The web is filled with research that shows the importance and benefits of employee experience and future trends are all pointing towards this direction. Why then is this still not on top of leaders’ business agendas. Why are first thoughts always regarding what an office looks like (physically) and the presenteeism of people behind desks, or in the office?

  • Could it be because we fear, what we can’t see?
  • Or because we fear what we can’t touch or measure (notions such as trust, autonomy, freedom)?


Back to work…

I am privileged to have experienced these struggles of workplace strategy from both sides of the coin – client side and consultancy. Before joining Veldhoen + Company I worked for LEGO Singapore for 5 ½ years and was part of the New Ways of Working team that transformed the London, Singapore and Shanghai offices. I specifically led the Singapore office transformation from a traditional way of working, to an activity-based working (ABW) environment for over 300 employees. Now I am fortunate enough to be part of Veldhoen + Company, whereby I can merge these experiences, seeing results live in action, having lived it myself as an employee, coupled with the wealth of information and 30 years of new ways of working experience that Veldhoen + Company has.

We all know, that the physical environment is the easiest part to change and the fastest. Even if we look at employees across Europe and Asia – regardless of geographical location, employees value the same Top 3 environmental factors.

Work Activities Physical Features Service Features
Individual-focused work, desk based Chair Good tea, coffee other refreshments facilities
Planned Meetings Desk IT Help Desk
Telephone Conversations Meeting Rooms (small) Restaurant / Canteen
General Cleanliness
Extracts from Leesman Leesman Index Report 14 May 2018, number of respondents: 29,098
  • So, let’s rather place our focus on why culture is not our immediate first thought?
  • Why is the employee experience not first thought of and then worked back into the physical design?


Back to the future of work…

Culture needs to be manifested into the physical space and the physical space influences, reflects and reinforces culture. My colleague Nicky Marshall, beautifully summarizes this in her article, where she combines an IBM infographic that illustrates what Employee Experience is i.e. three-overlapping spheres and matched it to the same three-sphere model that Veldhoen + Company uses to describe the interrelatedness of facets of work (i.e. physical, virtual and behavioural) and highlights the power that is gained by fully integrating them, rather than keeping as discreet, unrelated things.

Contrary to what people may think, the development of a New Ways of Working/Activity Based Working workplace is not primarily focused on the activity setting or the fit out, but rather on the development of a workplace that integrates the three spheres of interactions that defines the employee experience.

If we could consider breaking the chains of traditional methods, ways of thinking and doing things, I believe the possibilities are endless in creating an employee experience that starts first with the employee and then works back into the physical space. This is an awesome way to look at the physical, virtual and behavioural concepts in a holistic, integrated, interconnected way, instead of being concerned regarding which department’s “pocket” does this project come from.

At Veldhoen + Company, our clients embrace such ways of thinking by starting first with what the employee experience needs to be and then changing their workplace strategy by understanding how it can positively impact upon staff engagement, job satisfaction and overall company performance, and thus ultimately improving the performance and satisfaction of every individual.


Let me know – how does your experience relate? I’m curious to know more… 


For more about this project please contact Dina Sagia

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Changing Physical SpaceWorkplace Transformation in Japan