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How Great Workplace Design Improves Productivity and Profitability

Having a beautiful work space is one thing, but ensuring it allows for everyone to perform at their best takes much more than pretty pictures on the wall. In this episode of my ‘Wine and Wisdom’ show called ‘How Great Workplace Design Improves Productivity and Profitability’ I speak with the very talented Annelie Xenofontos from Axiom Workplaces.

We discuss:

  1. How you design for different organisations and how it is different? Isn’t office space roughly the same?
  2. What is the best advice when it comes to embarking on a workplace transformation journey?
  3. What are the pitfalls when first communicating potential workspace changes to staff?
  4. Plus lots lots more. 🙂

You can either watch the Q&A here, or read the full transcript below.

#workplacestrategy #creatingthrivingworkplaces #workplacedesign

H – Hello everybody, welcome to Wine & Wisdom. I am very pleased to have the wonderful Annelie, here tonight to share with us about how great workplace design improves workplace productivity and profitability. And welcome to you, Annelie, lovely to see you there. I know you’ve got a nice glass of Rosé and–

A – Thank you Heidi.

H – We’re just working out have a little cheers. Cheers to you. You know, amongst all the mania that’s going on right now, it’s really important that all of us find space in our lives that we can come together and we can share wine, we can share a little bit of joy. We can share stories, and we can share wisdom and that’s what this whole show is about to… Yeah, for me to find the people who are at the very top of their field, the experts who can share the wisdom that they have had an experience and skill over so many years and bring it to everybody who is either watching now or who will be watching later on. So, that’s why I’ve got Annelie here and Annelie, let’s get straight into it ’cause I would just love for you to share with everybody about who you are? What you do? And why your work is so important in this world that we’re living in?

A – Well, I guess who I am is Annelie Xenofontos born in South Africa, emigrated to Australia, almost 22 years ago now. Studied in South Africa, qualified in South Africa, had what I would have described as my dream job at the time working for Southern Sun across hotels all through Africa, and then a crazy husband to be who said, let’s go to Australia. Fast forward 22 years later, I’m loving my job, loving the impact that everything that we do at Axiom has a positive impact, not just on senior management, but on everyone in organizations by improving their experience as an employee from the moment they walk in the front door to the moment that they go home, we really would like them to feel that we’ve created the best possible workspace that they can be in. So, I’m quite passionate about that in that days gone by, CEOs used to come in and say, oh, I need five offices, 20 workstations, 20 hot desks, and be done with it. Where today, I think people are paying attention to the man on the ground and asking them for their input as to how they see themselves working and how they feel they need to work. And that’s where we come into play We create in that space that really engages with the workforce.

H – Yeah, and I mean I’ve been lucky enough to visit  Axiom’s Workplace a number of times and it’s an extraordinary, extraordinary place to walk into. And I’m sure that for anyone listening, if they contacted you that you would invite them to come and see the incredible work you’ve done. Because it really showcases everything that you, of course now, do with all other people and all other workplaces and I think it’s a great place to start just to see how design can create a thriving workplace, this thriving work culture, which is something we all want to be able to create. And I was reading earlier today a Gallup report about how… What the engagement that staff have in Australia and New Zealand companies. Is somewhere, depending between 14% are engaged to about 33% are engaged, which is very, very low. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on how workplace design can actually improve that engagement score. Cause I know you actually have a really great tool, don’t you? To help measure that. Can you talk to us about that?

A – Yeah, we do. We have found a loop hole, I guess in the market in often sitting in front of CEOs and CFOs saying, well I’m making a significant contribution and investment in this project. How can you prove that what you do is going to increase productivity and engagement? So, we took a step back, worked with behavioral psychologists to develop a questionnaire that would at very baseline, engage with all staff across organizations, ask them what’s really important to them and how well it’s supported in their current workspace, which then, allows us to sift through the data, see where we need to pay attention, what they’re doing really, really well, you don’t want to lose. In turn, what’s really important and not well supported are the things that you want to focus on and ensure that in future that you picking up the support level on those important elements and really pay attention to what matters. Because individual organizations have things that matter to them that are different to other organizations. And to me that’s the crux of it all. No one has the… This is what an office looks like, this is the formula, we’re going to roll it out and that’s what it’s going to be. Your offers needs to represent the who you are, the culture sitting in behind, how you live out every value in the organization, in contact with other staff members, in contact with your ELT, with your customers or your members, be it, whichever way it goes, you need to feel what that culture is like. And for me, I guess, when you walk into a space and you sense what it feels like, you have an idea of who the organization are and as a candidate, when you walk into that for your first interview, you’ll go, oh yeah, love to work here. I’m aligned. They believe in the same things I do. They work the same way I do. Or I can see myself adjusting and working the same way they do. In turn for organizations that means that they don’t spend oodles of resource and money on getting candidates through the door, onboarding them, training them up, and they actually go, this is not for me.

A – Yeah. So even at base core principals, you’ve got an alignment as to whether you are going in the same direction. It talks to that, having a strong vision from a leadership team, it should sift through everything. It should sift through how you work with your people, how you represent your values in space, what people feel like when they enter your space as a candidate, as a visitor, as a staff member. And in turn, that improves that engagement with staff. I mean, I could never imagine working on something that I didn’t value or believe in. So, if we took that as the baseline of employees saying they are going to find a job that they love doing, in addition to that, what’s going to make them choose one job over another job? I would say it’s that sense of feeling, do I belong? Do I have a synergy with the people within that organization? And spice in some way defines that culture because it enables you to live out your values. You know, a simple example would be transparency. If someone says to me, transparency is one of their values, and I walk into their office and it’s got, you know, hailey gyprock walls in the arrivals area, no visibility through to the workspace. You then walk into the workspace and you’re walking into enclosed offices. I would stand back in question, what does transparency really mean? Because this is not transparent. You’ve got to have that synergy in that feeling that they are actually living their values.

H – Yes, and I mean that brings up two things for me. Firstly that you know, first impressions do count.

A – Absolutely.

H – So when you are… when you are attracting the or trying to attract the most talented people within your industry and they’re shopping around. You know, it’s their decision these days. They’re the ones… They’re checking you out and when they walk into a place, it is that first feeling they get on whether there’s that feeling of more, I think I can fit here. So I suppose, there’s that first impression thing, but secondly, there is also that whole thing about… You know, everyone went through these whole stage of wanting to have these kind of groovy Google look alike work places. Make me look like Google and I know that I’ve worked in many places where that was kind of the feel, but it just did not have any link to what you’re talking about with their own values. So, my question is for that, how do you extract all that? Like when you first go in and someone says, we want to transform this space. How do you extract those values that are the real values, not just the lip service ones and then designed to that?

A – I guess in some way, shape or form we’d taste the lip service values, so we look back at the organizational values and go, well how does that really translate in practice? We often get a collection of people. I like having a mix of senior, junior, experienced, non-experienced people in a room. You dedicate an hour, two hours worth of quality, connection, discussion on things they would normally not talk about. Forced them to really think through. You know, what does all of this means? So when you are responding to what would I like my office to be in view of my physical environment and in view of my values. Make people, make the connection. Cause as soon as you have that staff engagement they are providing you with the solution. It’s back to basics. going to the ground. the men on the ground or in this case men and women on the ground do have the answers. If you just dare ask them, they will give you the insight of what would be a really good solution. We sit on top and then interpret what they are telling us is the real crux of how they’d like to work or how they perceive their values and then interject on how we can see it practically evolving and pushing the boundaries and providing a space that really connects those things. But for us it’s really listening. If anyone’s out there, if there’s anything that you can ever do is really connect to people, is to really listen, to sit back and just keep quiet for a moment. Listen to what they have to say because the most junior staff member who’s coming with fresh ideas, new energy can have such an impact on your organization if you just give them airtime.

H – Yeah, yeah. And I suppose, you know, no… Change is something that a lot of people fear. And even when there is that belief that the changes that perhaps are going to happen are for the better good of the whole organization and for all the individuals who are coming in because it is going to be better tech and there’s going to be better places to work, lots of different places to work, so that they can do deep work in one place, yet brainstorm and collaborate in other places. But there’s that fear of change that goes on. And I would imagine that there are a number of pitfalls that organizations go through with communicating what is about to happen. And you would see that all the time. I would imagine, and I wonder if you could just talk us through that. Like what are the pitfalls that organizations have when they’re trying to communicate about the change, so that people don’t go, it’s going to be different, I don’t know if I’m going to like it.

A – So, I think fear is normal and recognizing their fear is normal is really important. From a pitfall perspective, once you’ve set an expectation, you need to either meet the expectation or exceed the expectation. From my perspective, it’s always good not to go in with a set agenda, which dictates to staff what’s going to happen. Yes, senior management have a vision and they have a guideline as to what needs to happen at what budget, within what time frame that’s really, really important. But within those boundaries you need to truly engage with staff and listen to what they have to say. So don’t jump to a conclusion. Don’t set an expectation because once you’ve done that, you are going to be backtracking and trying to get there. Where, if you have open, honest communication with your people, and admit, we’re on a journey. We’re not sure what the outcome’s going to be. This is where we heading, this is what we’re trying to achieve. You’re going to get them solving problems along the way with you as opposed to disengaging and sitting back and saying, you told me bloody, bloody, blah. So, there’s a very different scene setting there. You’ve got someone helping you along the way on every level of your business. If you engage with them, that’s a much better outcome than having someone say this is the way it’s going to be. And then someone coming along and criticizing the outcome and not being part of the solution. So for me, the pitiful really is listen, don’t set expectations, and be very clear and honest that it’s going to take change. It’s going to involve fear. But we all in it together, we’re going to stand together. We’ll get there.

H – Yeah, great. And I suppose you know, in these times that we’re living in, which are quite unusual right now. As you know, I help companies create what I call resilient workplaces. And right now resilience at all levels from an individual level, from a leadership level, and from an organizational level is really crucial. How do you say, what place design helping to create a resilient workplace?

A – For me it’s about the flex. So, if you fill someone’s bucket with frustration every day, you are asking them to stretch beyond what is enjoyable. I would like to think that you can create a workspace where you removing frustration and you are empowering, and enabling, and providing choice, and making sure that whatever that person is dreaming up to do and achieving that day is possible. I think that’s a very positive way to start your day and feel like you’re going to achieve what you want to achieve. Whereas if you start on the flip side, you know, I’ve got 20 things on my to do list, I’m only going to do five. So you’ve already failed. And that in my mind, me personally is very challenging to know that you’ve already failed when your day hasn’t even started. In order to create a workspace that provides flex for everyone, you really need to look at how people are working and connecting, what are the idiosyncrasies that that particular organization may have or may need to give them that extra bandwidth to cope with whatever it is that they face as a challenge to face that day. So, for me that resilience comes from being able to adapt. I get plan A is not working today, we’ve gotta go to plan B. I mean, for example, today is classic for us internally. We’ve been set up to work flexibly in an activity-based environment, none of us are attached to desks in XCM. We can work from sight, we can work interstate, we can… So, today we were faced with well, what is your COVID-19 action plan. We looked at each other and went a little bit of extra hand sanitizer, possibly working from home as opposed to working interstate or working from a different site. But the biggest impact was how do we connect to people? We were already set up to be able to connect to people in different ways. So for us, we were set up to succeed already. For me that is already having resilience built into the way we work. And that’s really, really important.

H – Absolutely, and you know, I suppose we’re seeing right now those organizations that have already been working hard and having those capabilities within the organizations to allow for a very unforeseen time which we have, but that they are resilient because they are able to continue with business because of the tech that they have brought in. And also the… That shift in mindset of it’s not about having somebody that I can see in front of me working from nine to five, it’s outcome-based. We want to an outcome. So, whether you get to that outcome from your home office, from your work office, interstate or in the coffee shop, doesn’t matter as long as you get the outcome. And of course, that’s what we need right now. We still need outcomes. Organizations still have to be productive and perform and we just need to do it in a whole different way and so, getting that particular part right is what’s going to help organizations be resilient in times of stress, uncertainty, and change, which we’ve got going on right now, of course. Annelie, what do you do personally to put… Fill your bucket up. Fill all your resilience buckets, so you can deal with times of stress, uncertainty, and change. What’s your number one ?

A – Before I answer your question, I believe to having backing from leadership adds to resilience. If you know someone’s got your back and someone believes in your ability, that boosts your resilience to the nth degree. So, I just wanted to put that out there as–

H – Thank you for saying that for sure.

A – Yeah, leadership out there, you’ve got to back your people, you’ve got to trust them. You’ve got to believe in what they do because you are making them more resilient by giving them that positive, I believe in you cause I know I’ve got the right people on board. Me personally, interesting, probably a few layers I always go to my team and I work with a greater team across XCM. My resilience comes from knowing that no matter what goes their way they’re going to cope, they going to shift and resource, and we’re going to work together as a team. For me, that resilience really comes from that sense of, I’m not in it alone. I have a greater team that I can tap into and go gosh, today I need Ben, tomorrow I need Ruben, the day after I need Nicole that day after I need Michael, I’ve got people around me that I can assign specific things to. From a personal point of view, I have a wonderful family to come home to for me to tap in and go, how was your day? How’s it all going? Is really good for… To see how they are doing in their individual days and it fills my buckets cause I going to take, I’ve actually accomplished something beyond work. I’ve created human beings that can kind of function on their own and even when they have a challenging day, you workshop it out with them and go, let’s put things in perspective. When all else fails I’ll water my garden That’s my absolute and have half an hour to myself, I’ll weed, I’ll water the garden, it’s my alone time. So that’s really, yeah, my bucket fill–

H – Nature is very powerful, fulfilling our resilience buckets. That is for sure. So I love that Yeah.

A – Yeah.

H – Now, we’re on the Wine & Wisdom show. I would love to hear from you about your greatest wine experience. Coming from South Africa, you obviously have amazing wine regions, which I’ve been lucky enough to travel through many years ago, but tell us, what is one of them?

A – Look, I’ll give two contrasting ones. One was from a wine experience, a trip into Stellenbosch wineries is unforgettable. You know, when you drive down their the road with all the trees up to the Cape Dutch House or the winery and behind it, it leaves an impression that’s very, very hard to forget. The creaking wooden floors, the beautiful smell in the wineries, yep. I won’t carry on, because if anyone’s been to a winery in Stellenbosch know exactly what I’m talking about. On a confession, one experience, one that I will never forget was probably age 19 gung-ho drinking red wine in a shopping center, not the similar to chats than down in Melbourne I think it would have been a pizza hot at the time. The point was, I was surrounded by a group of friends that were unforgettable. We had an absolute blast. I had a massive, massive headache the next day because we really, really bad red wine and a lot of it. But for me it was being with people that mattered in an environment that was welcoming and enjoyable. And honestly, I won’t forget that moment in time that one of my friends that was at that dinner actually has passed away from cancer. But he was a larger than life icon. And that made the moment for me as a memorable one experience because I do recall thinking, gosh, why did I have so much Tess and boot wine at the time?

H – Yeah, sounds like lots of fun. And you know, that’s the beauty of that type of experience. It’s that social connection with people you love that you’re sharing a glass of wine or maybe too many at this particular kind of weather, but you’re sharing wine, you’re sharing stories, and this is what connects us as humans and it’s a very positive thing. Thank you for sharing that. So, my last question for the night. I’d love to hear what has been the best piece of wisdom that has been passed down to you? Who was it from and what impact has it made in your life?

A – A probably very easy, easy one to answer. It was my father. He kind of shared it with me when I just started high school. Now when you get all that extra pressure of you have to do well, you have to spend time studying. And if you can tell, I was the Straight A student to… You know, I wasn’t the rebel at school. I think I was stressing over an assignment one day and I was collaborating with a couple of people and my dad just turned around to me and said to me, if it’s not within your control, stop stressing about it. If you can’t make a change to the way it’s going to come out, don’t waste energy stressing about it. And that stuck with me for life because we all face multiple situations during the normal day where you go, oh and you go, well actually I’m in it. I can’t change it. I might as well just be passive and not get worked out and waste energy on something that’s not worth changing.

H – Yeah, oh I love that. I mean, such wise words cause we can’t control everything in our lives. So when you can just… you’ll recognize that and let it go. Oh, wow. What a beautiful thing to have been gifted and to be ever then according to your–

A – Yes, yup.

H – Well, thank you Annelie. It’s been great sharing our show with you tonight. Thank you for your experience and all the words that you’ve had on how to create amazing workplace design to improve engagement and productivity within a workplace. I know that I’m going to put them in the notes. You’ve got a really good link to it’s eBook on how to do this all with a little bit more detailed that we’ve talked about tonight. And I know that we… XCM has such a giving company and a sharing company, so generous and I’m sure if anyone wanted to know some more information that they could just contact you by their… Is that right?

A – Oh, absolutely. For us really, at the end of the day, it’s about making that positive impact. I mean, we say we create thriving workspaces and that’s what we’re ultimately all about. Absolutely, welcome to have anyone join in the conversation.

H – Yeah. Well, I know as I said, from being there, that you do create thriving workspaces and you create award winning ones, which everyone would have a look at when they go to your website. Thank you, thank you everybody. If you do have any questions, please put them in the comments on this Facebook live post and we will go back to them and answer anything, even if you’re coming in a little later to watch. I will be editing this video with all the transcription and posting it again. So if that’s a bit helpful, you will have that as a resource if you’d like to share it with your teams. But thank you Annelie, have a wonderful night and I look forward to sharing a… Not just a digital wine with you, but a real one with you at some stage. Cheers.

A – Thank you very much for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

About Annelie Xenofontos:

​Annelie is a critical thinker, problem solver and challenger of norms. Inspired by change and motivated by challenges, she brings a fresh approach to every design project at Axiom. With over 20 years of design industry experience, Annelie is a creative and strategic thinker who leads the Axiom team in the design of workspaces which fulfill client aspirations and ideals. Each project represents a new opportunity for Annelie to challenge clients – in a good way.

A key part of her process is to listen, prompt and question to provide surprising and innovative solutions. According to Annelie “Businesses are finally recognising that the wellness of their most valued asset, their people, needs to be curated and nurtured.” Designing inspirational spaces is based on understanding the needs of the people within them. A keen observer of people, Annelie recognises the potential to improve the daily quality of someone’s work life through a well-conceived workspace. Her attention to detail and intense focus have successfully delivered award winning spaces for Axiom’s clients. This desire to push boundaries and ignite change is characteristic of Annelie both with Axiom and in her time away from work. An enthusiastic car racer, her drive for success is infectious.

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