Employee engagement needs to be a core part of business strategy argues Keith Perske, who leads the Workplace Innovation advisory practice for Colliers International.

While most business leaders understand the importance of employee engagement, three quarters of those surveyed in a recent study said that most employees are not highly engaged. This presents a variety of missed opportunities and even business risks. On average, happy employees have 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales performance and a level of creativity three times higher than their unhappy counterparts. Research also shows the direct impact that engagement and productivity can have on the bottom line: public companies with engaged workforces report higher earnings per share.

In the same way that businesses focus on delivering excellent customer experiences, companies must also focus on creating a superior employee experience to succeed. This challenge becomes more interesting in an environment where technology is making it easier to work from just about anywhere.

Think about the way this is playing out in the retail sphere: as e-commerce makes it temptingly simple to avoid stepping foot in an actual store, bricks-and-mortar retailers are finding new ways to draw shoppers in by providing authentic experiences that can’t be replicated online. In the same way, employers must provide engaging employee experiences to realise the benefits of the physical workplace, from fostering cultural cohesion to inspiring innovation through personal interaction.

Employee engagement often falls into a corporate no man’s land. Is it human resources’ responsibility? Corporate communications’ responsibility? Management’s responsibility? While each of these teams, and more, should play a role, in the coming years we expect a greater focus on designating an ‘owner’ of employee experience: the ‘CXO’ or chief experience officer.

This role or team will function as the company ‘cruise director’, focused on engagement, productivity and curating experiences that make the workplace attractive and ‘sticky’. Think about what it would mean to your employees to have access to interesting speakers, inspiring exhibits and fitness activities, let alone moments of spontaneity that create delight and drive innovation throughout the work day.

Remember that old adage, ‘what gets measured gets done’? By dedicating a person or team to creating a rewarding employee experience and establishing metrics for accountability, businesses can make significant progress in this area.

A heightened focus on employee experience also helps create a ‘bleisure’ environment, blending business and leisure. As it becomes simpler to work anywhere, we must be more purposeful about building in time for fun, relaxation and socialisation.

If you can create an office environment where work and play are blended, you can drive more collaboration and innovation. We expect that the three primary methods to this will persist:

The campus approach

Some companies see a tie between productivity, engagement and employees spending as much time as possible in the workplace. Companies like Google have set the standard in shaping behaviour this way – bringing the fun, food and relaxation to the work campus. In a world of choices, they have made their workplaces into attractors, making them the first and best choices for their target employees to work.

The neighbourhood approach

Within some company cultures, relaxation and socialisation are strategically centred ‘off campus’. With this approach, the key is securing a location near the right features and conveniences to make your workspace and the surrounding environment attractive to employees. Booking.com’s new Amsterdam office (set to open in 2020) will be an example of this strategy, given its location in Oosterdokseiland – a growing hub of urban business, recreation and entertainment.

The shared amenities approach

Smaller companies might find it difficult to provide a cafeteria or other amenities within their own offices. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important that landlords of multi-tenant facilities provide these kinds of spaces for occupants’ shared use. Service providers like Convene, work with building owners to create conference spaces and casual meeting hubs, complete with food and technology that draw tenants in.

A fully stocked break room or a weekly ping pong tournament are great ways to engage the workforce, but an equally important focus is improving the employee experience by reducing ‘friction’. Things that slow or stop work from getting done can wear on employee morale and motivation as they build up the level of ‘frustration time’. The flip side is that removing barriers or delays – the friction – can not only make work more efficient, but also more engaging.

One of the ways companies can do this is by putting the concierge model you find in the hospitality arena to work in the office setting. Hotels are all about a service-oriented mentality and a commitment to doing whatever it takes to meet guests’ needs. We’ve seen businesses achieve impactful results by translating this mindset into a workplace concierge service – one central place people can come with needs and questions. We found almost 60% of typical workplace issues can be resolved on the spot, rather than contacting a service centre.

Beyond helping employees with room scheduling, event preparation and technology issues, more companies will start to provide services that reduce friction in employees’ personal lives as well. The hospitality model acknowledges the fact that the pressures of life affect performance in the workplace. By addressing both internal and external sources of friction, employees can better focus on high-priority business issues. If employees can quickly schedule a car maintenance appointment through a concierge service, they are left with more time to dedicate to productive work or leisure.

While the hospitality model has distinct benefits for employees, it also creates a meaningful feedback loop that allows for more proactive facilities management.

Think about what defines your employee experience today and where you have the greatest opportunities to meet the needs of tomorrow’s employees. Do you know what your employees value? Do you know where they consistently experience friction?

If you can create a service-oriented mindset toward employee engagement and true ownership of the employee experience, you can create meaningful change within your organisation.

■ Keith Perske is executive managing director, workplace innovation, with real estate company Colliers International