Research insights

PhD thesis on Corporate Real Estate agility and decision-making

Howard Cooke’s PhD thesis reveals whether the stated primary shift of increasing Corporate Real Estate (CRE) agility was evident during the Great Recession and individual decision-makers preferences when making disposal choices.

The research comprised two separate strands. Firstly, an examination of the behaviour of the top 350 companies on the London Stock Exchange through the period 2007 to 2014. Evidence of a dynamic alignment capability in CRE portfolios was missing, with links between CRE metrics and the performance of the firm limited. The second strand identified the variables that individuals’ consider when making CRE decisions. Many CRE alignment models identify maximising shareholder wealth as the sole driver of CRE decisions. This research found a diverse range of variables are considered, including financial stakeholders and risk reduction.

Link to thesis:

Links to related papers:

PhD thesis on workers’ fit with activity-based work environments

Jan Gerard Hoendervanger’s PhD thesis revealed individual differences explaining mixed outcomes of activity-based work (ABW) environments. These work environments, providing workers with a variety of non-assigned work settings, seem heading to become the new normal in the post-COVID-19 world of work. Yet, research has shown mixed results, which call the effectiveness of the concept into question. To find clues for the optimization of ABW practice, the research project was designed to examine how workers’ jobs, tasks, behaviors, psychological needs, and demographic characteristics may be related to their perceived fit.

Two survey-based studies revealed relevant workers’ attributes, which were further examined in experience-sampling field studies and a virtual reality experiment. From the findings, a clear profile arises of workers who best fit with ABW environments, i.e.: high task variety, job autonomy, external and internal mobility, social interaction, and need for relatedness; low need for privacy; few high-complexity tasks, many non-individual tasks; appropriately using open and closed work settings; frequently switching between work settings; relatively young age. Furthermore, lack of privacy for high-concentration work, due to the highly prevalent use of open work settings, appeared to be the single-most important issue in current ABW practice. The ABW concept is clearly not a one-size-fits-all solution and requires careful implementation to provide the right mix of work settings, and to stimulate workers to use them in accordance with their varying and changing needs.

Link to thesis:

Links to related papers:

PhD thesis on work privacy fit

Poor work privacy represents a frequently reported issue in open office environments, yet relatively little is known about its consequences. In addition, prior research has limitations including weak operationalisations and measures of privacy. Therefore, Clara Weber developed in her thesis a new work privacy measure and examined the adverse effects of poor work privacy on workers’ well-being. The roles of coping appraisal and contextual factors in this relationship were explored to inform future preventative steps.

Study 1 (n = 30) qualitatively explored different scenarios of poor work privacy in an open-plan office context for the development of a new measure of privacy fit. Three dimensions of poor work privacy have been identified: acoustical and visual stimulation, interruptions, and confidentiality.

Study 2 quantitatively tested (2.A n = 195) and confirmed (2.B n = 109) the factor structure of the new privacy fit measure in two open-plan office worker samples. Four dimensions were identified: conversation confidentiality, task confidentiality, visual/acoustical stimulation, and interruptions. The measure concluded with 12 items, good model fit, reliability, and construct validity.

Study 3 (n = 220) employed the newly developed measure and quantitatively examined stress-related consequences of poor privacy fit in an open-plan office worker sample. Poor privacy fit was associated with dissatisfaction, stress, and fatigue. Coping appraisal was found to mediate these relationships.

Study 4 (n = 61) quantitatively demonstrated in a longitudinal study that a move to an activity-based office influenced workers’ privacy fit, coping appraisal, and stress-related outcomes (satisfaction, stress, and fatigue).

Study 5 (n = 22) qualitatively explored contextual factors in the activity-based office that support or hinder privacy fit. Four factors were identified: the physical environment (e.g. variety of settings) and the social environment (e.g. social norms), the job (e.g. role conflict), and the self (e.g. self-awareness).

This thesis developed a new measure of work privacy and confirmed that privacy fit has an impact on workers’ well-being. The thesis demonstrated the methodological benefit of considering individuals’ appraisal, and the importance of contextual factors in privacy regulation.”

Link to thesis:

Forthcoming papers:

PhD thesis about energy-efficient office renovations

Minyoung Kwon’s PhD thesis suggests user-focused design principles for energy-efficient office renovations. The goal of this is to improve the quality and comfort of workspaces without compromising on energy-saving goals. Due to increasing sustainability requirements, new ways of working and changing office user preferences, there is a growing need for office renovations that not only deal with the energy performance and the replacement of building facilities, but also the occupants’ health and well-being. This research demonstrates the relationship between design factors, indoor climate and user satisfaction, without neglecting the fundamental goal of office renovation: reducing the energy demand, upgrading facilities, and improving building performance.

First, the most influential design factors on thermal, visual, and psychological satisfaction are suggested in the design principles. Next, the values of predicted user satisfaction and energy demand can be evaluated by following the flow chart, to find the optimal renovation plan. In this step renovation alternatives are suggested in terms of office variants to create a balance between user satisfaction and energy efficiency. Last, if design limitations occur, the degree of personal control should be included to increase user satisfaction. The comprehensive design principles can help architects, designers, and facility managers to make design decisions in an early stage of office renovations.

Link to thesis:

Link to related papers:

PhD thesis about workplace performance 

Chiara Tagliaro’s PhD thesis proposes a framework of key performance indicators (KPIs) to support decision-making processes in the design, management, and use of next-generation workplaces. Through case study analysis, the main workplace users are identified in the following stakeholder’s groups: Company owner, President, and CEO; Financial administration; Corporate Real Estate Management; Human Resources Management; Facility Management; Engineering and space planning; Information Technology; Executives and managers; Employees; Consultants, collaborators, and interns; and Customers and visitors.

Thanks to a Delphi process participated by all these users, both well-established and newly created indicators are elaborated into a holistic framework, covering (i) financial/organizational, (ii) environmental/spatial, and (iii) social impacts of the workplace. The resulting 33 KPIs include a wide range of complementary areas: environmental quality, building operation and management, space usage, business effectiveness, costs, value/return/yield, productivity/ways of working, user attitude, and staff characteristics. In conclusion, the proposed framework allows for continuous monitoring of workplace performance from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Link to thesis:

Link to related papers/books:

PhD thesis about knowledge sharing and networking in business centers

Minou Weijs-Perrée’s PhD thesis identifies business center concepts analyzes the influence of characteristics of these business center concepts on networking and knowledge sharing behavior between users of business centers. Four types of business center concepts are distinguished, namely regular business centers, serviced offices, coworking offices and incubators. In addition, the results of this thesis showed positive relationships between spaces, namely a canteen, event space, lounge room and meeting space, and the perceived frequency that people from different organizations socially interact. Also, a negative relationship was found between a cellular office and sharing tacit knowledge. In addition, people who work in an open-plan office have more face-to-face interactions in a meeting space compared to people working in other office concepts. These results will help real estate owners/developers to make well informed decisions about the type of business centers that they want to develop or invest in and to respond optimally to the needs and preferences of the users in terms of knowledge sharing and networking.

Link to thesis:

Link to papers:

PhD thesis about activity-based offices

Maral Babapour’s PhD thesis examines why some Activity-based Flexible Offices (AFOs) work while others do not, based on five qualitative case studies conducted in Sweden. The thesis concludes that AFOs work provided (i) they match individuals’ personal circumstances and work-related preconditions; (ii) they facilitate shared use of spaces through well-designed rules, workspaces and instruments; (iii) individuals’ appropriation processes reach a stable phase where mismatches are resolved and a fruitful symbiosis is achieved; and (iv) the organisations’ processes of adopting AFOs is successful during the planning and the post-relocation routinising stages, leading to a collective sense of ownership among employees. 

Link to thesis:

Link to papers:

TWR2018 challenges and learning points – by Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek

During the first TWR conference in 2018, all delegates wrote down challenges/learning point and contributions of the papers that were presented at the end of the paper sessions. Analyses of all these notes, gives a clear summary of the challenges that the workplace research field still has to face. TWR intends to take up these challenges with the network and present relevant studies at TWR2020 in Weimar (call for papers will be sent in June 2019).

Challenges/learning points for workplace research

A first challenge for the field is to provide more input for evidence based design. Several researchers wrote down that, despite our best attempts, the evidence base is still relatively limited, particularly for papers with objective measures. Workplace research is still fragmented – the reason why the TWR network was created – and in some subareas in a nascent state. Clearly, more evidence is needed to support business cases of end-users for investing in workplace quality. Additionally, it was identified that we need to increase awareness of users to how buildings affect them and discover how to deal with personal differences.

A second challenge is the need to perform more meta analyses. Communication between different groups and sciences is challenging. Can we combine the many case studies on workplace concepts into a meta-analysis? How can we deal with the difficulty in extracting important information from individual papers and the fact that different papers have different definitions for office types and employee outcomes (e.g. health, productivity). There is no consistency in how databases are set up. In the least it is important that all papers clearly describe the type of office they studied. Perhaps the field is also ready to start working towards more coherence in methods and adopting each others’ list of measures, to be able to create valid and tested scales like in other more developed research fields (e.g. psychology). Another relevant question posed was whether we have access to the right journals once we start seeking outside our own discipline. What happens if we start comparing experimental results with contextual real-life situations and find conflicting evidence? How can we combine quantitative and qualitative methodologies for a contextual and comprehensive understanding?

Third challenge is the need for more holistic models. It is a challenge to work with holistic models, while at the same time containing the amount of variables to measure limited (especially in surveys). For example, gender, age, job character, personality and the social work environment are powerful predictions that should be controlled for, and more and more control variables are being identified. It appears that personalities might even be more important than generations, which is focused on in practice now. If all measures meet requirements for rigorous analysis, such models can be important in identifying the most relevant variables to include in future research and in decision making in practice.

Several detailed methodological challenges were posed as well, regarding how to study people, place and how to deal with data:

And last, some specific research gaps were written down, such as individual differences in the necessary balance between concentration and communication, studying mood and reasons for certain behavior, how to manage paradoxical emotions, territoriality and the role of emotions in the workplace. And also, how to change habits and how to manage the process of change (user participation, user engagement).

Contributions at TWR2018

Logically, not all challenges above were addressed fully at TWR 2018. But steps were made and important knowledge and experiences was shared across disciplines. Regarding methodological challenges, we saw interesting studies in Tampere where some were able to use very large datasets, showed findings of extensive literature reviews to increase confidence relative to individual studies and/or used multivelel modelling to test both individual-level and building-level characteristics in one analysis. We saw some very rigorous analyses and promising research tools such as space syntax, stated choice modelling and technology/apps to measure space or personal preferences and behaviour. And we also saw the value of qualitative approaches to study tacit topics more in depth and interesting combinations of methods.

Regarding building design, some contributions and new insights were that open plans make people sit less, but that this was the only positive thing found about them in a literature review. It was claimed that the office is never finished (work in progress) and that buildings are predictions and predictions can be wrong. Also, it again became clear that different kinds of work require different kinds of spaces and awareness needs to be built to set the right standards.

Regarding the study of people in their environment, studies at TWR2018 showed the importance of psychology on productivity and employee satisfaction. The perception of workplace quality is very important, especially regarding aspects such as control and territoriality. We also saw interesting behavioral studies regarding group behaviour and differences between rational and emotional behaviour.

To be continued at TWR2020 in Germany.

Blog on TWR2018 – by Nigel Oseland