Perspective with Sam Sahni

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Sam Sahni is Workplace Strategy and Change Management Leader at Morgan Lovell. His LinkedIn title goes on to say ‘helping you make most of physical workspace through evidence led design’. Pretty much sums up the challenge in this sector, we’d say.

The industry is brisling with ideas on what the best workplace should look like, perhaps like never before, the flourish of ideas, definitions and principles seems endless. This workplace revolution is only beginning to scratch the surface of the UK knowledge sector. We asked Sam about his perspective on the future of the workplace.

What are some of the big things that have changed in the workplace in recent years? Technology has had one of the biggest impacts on the agile nature of the office. This has allowed new ways of working so colleagues can collaborate more effectively. Historically, the hours of 9-5 were the norm but this is changing dramatically thanks to technology, showing a clear trend towards a more flexible way of working.

Do most clients have staff working remotely? Many of our clients at Morgan Lovell have employees who work ‘out of the office’ . Research shows that almost 40% of the global workforce now works remotely.

What has driven this? Often, the client’s belief in what they should be doing, as well as the increased real estate costs.

You don’t necessarily think this is a good thing? We believe that work is a collaborative event and that a good workplace bonds people together. The workplace can often be seen as an extension of the client’s brand and culture.

Does every organisation believe in these guiding principles? Unfortunately many don’t, but when there are a lot of organisations that are each building a dynamic workplace culture, it’s important to bear in mind.

Morgan Lovell Superdrug Offices
Superdrug Offices

What’s your advice? We believe businesses should consider ‘The power of the place’ and, as such, create a buzz. Our research into staff motivations shows that some employees really struggle to motivate themselves and therefore, are not engaged. In order to succeed in supporting and developing a high performing workforce, businesses need to create a culture that engages employees and importantly, provide a workplace where they want to be.

How does this compare to other industries? In general, the sport and entertainment sectors are experiencing a decline in numbers. This is partly to do with the ability to engage without being at a live performance. What the industry is focusing on is the brand, creating a community and, importantly, finding ways to engage with the fans.

Are you saying companies should treat employees like fans? Yes. The key question is ‘do you believe in the brand?’ At Morgan Lovell, we call it a ‘Destination Workplace’. Incorporating a Destination Workplace does not only mean giving people autonomy and letting them get on with the job. Companies also need to provide memorable moments, staff need to understand how they fit into the bigger picture and, crucially, the environment must be somewhere they WANT to be, not NEED to be.

Isn’t there a danger of being gimmicky? There is, and this is something we at Morgan Lovell strive to work against. When done in the right way, a workplace can be designed to encourage interaction in a natural and positive way. If a business genuinely cares about employee wellbeing, they shouldn’t just think about cycle racks but also the quality and healthiness of their food.  Therefore, companies need to reinforce the strength of the brand through the environment they provide.

But isn’t every organisation different? Yes, no one organisation is the same. Our approach is a space utilisation and workplace study before we start. Part of this is to understand the culture of the business, identify different work styles and monitor movement at regular intervals. This builds a picture of what the client’s current work patterns are and its drivers, which helps to create a space that suits them.

Do you believe we should be focusing on productivity in the workplace? Productivity has been a common theme in recent years; however, my question is how many knowledge-based businesses can define what productivity is and, more importantly, how can it be measured? My prediction is that in the next three to five years, productivity will not be discussed.

What can be used as a measure of success? I believe that it is a feeling rather than a measurement, because it means different things to different people. Retention of staff, for example, is a common measure of success but healthy businesses also need a degree of staff turnover to remain at the optimum – what is the right level?

How important is flexibility in the workplace? This is something very close to my heart. Flexibility is fundamental in the design education sector and, increasingly, clients are starting to understand that there are some similarities drawn from this sector on how the corporate workplace should be designed. No organisation stands still – they employ new people or downsize. I see it as a ‘Lego approach’ – the ability to change an environment as head count and requirements change. The form filling way of design has long gone, with many companies now prioritising bespoke furnishings, for example, as their objective.

Do you think we could learn from the retail sector by focusing on the ‘experience?’ Absolutely. A recent client is Superdrug. They set out to treat their staff as clients. They understand the basic principle that if they create something fresh and different, they are more likely to have a happy workforce.

Morgan Lovell
Superdrug Offices