The Chief Workplace Officer: An Agent for Change

Posted by Deborah Wilder on 25/06/2018

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Bridging the gap between people, place and process…

CWO diagram

Think of modern offices and it may conjure up images of Google, Facebook and Skype...

Such examples sparked a change in the way we think about workplace design – but the philosophy has developed far beyond just creating “fun” places to work. Instead, we have seen the birth of the “employee experience era”, epitomised by workplaces that place people at the very centre – and more recently by the growing significance of the “Chief Workplace Officer”.

What Is A Chief Workplace Officer | Stoddart Review | Workplace Champion

Airbnb introduced the role of "Global Head of Employee Experience" in 2015 - with the aim of "supporting the entire employee journey from recruiting through alumni and everything in between".

Pictured: Airbnb HQ, San Francisco

The super connector

Roles exist within many businesses that positively affect an office’s built and human environment, including Facilities, Human Resources, Communications, Marketing and IT. Yet these departments rarely have enough time or headspace to solely think about the relationship between the office environment and people’s productivity and wellbeing.

The solution? A new role that amalgamates various people-based responsibilities from different sections of a business, with the ultimate aim of overseeing and facilitating the office experience. First suggested by The Stoddart Review, arguably the new role should act as “an interface between people, place and process” and “a super-connector who knows the right people to run to, and who is able to match the right people to the right opportunities”.

There are various interpretations of this role, including Chief Happiness Officer (CHO), Office Curator (OC), Chief Workplace Champion (CWC) and Chief People and Facilities Officer (CPFO). Whatever you call it, it entails a single individual who can act as an agent for change – to generally make the workplace a better place to be.

This requires a specific skillset, which includes strengths in leadership, collaboration, innovation, creativity and curiosity. With this in mind, ideally the CWO or CHO will be someone at board level, or an individual that has the authority to implement change – hence the prefix of “Chief”.

What Is A Chief Workplace Officer | Stoddart Review | Workplace Champion

The CWO should possess a specific set of skills, including strength in leadership and appropriate levels of access and influence.

Pictured: RedRock, Bristol

Championing office re-design

The CWO becomes important in terms of office re-design because this is a key phase in a company’s history when the opportunity to create change should be embraced. A new office is a significant investment that is intended to positively affect the experience of employees and in turn enhance wellbeing and productivity for many years to come. Therefore, the role requires someone who can dedicate their time, passion and expertise.

From our point of view, by having a point of contact and authority who prioritises employee experience, an office design company can ensure their project matches the specific needs of a company. This is inclusive of its unique culture, brand, and individual employee requirements.

Regardless of the size of an office, a CWO figure can collaborate with an office design firm at every step of the research, design and fit-out process. Equally, once works are complete, the individual can continue to review whether the new space is working – a task that other departments simply wouldn’t have the time or resource to do.

What Is A Chief Workplace Officer | Stoddart Review | Workplace Champion

The "employee experience era" has inspired other trends, including Resimercial design ("the feel of home" in the office).

Pictured: Wild & Wolf, Bath

We’re excited.

The role of Chief Workplace Officer reflects a key philosophy here at Interaction; that people should be placed back at the centre of workplace design. So often we hear that the office is preventing people from doing their jobs effectively. By creating workplaces specifically for the unique culture and people within a business, success becomes far more obtainable – especially as a CWO can help to decide and communicate what a company really wants and needs to be able to achieve its true potential.

We’re passionate about workplaces that enhance wellbeing – that’s why we’ve closely followed the rise of Resimercial design this year, where workplaces enhance the work-life balance. Trends such as these prove that the relationship between office design and wellbeing has come a long way in recent years. We’re excited to see further developments, such as the CWO, that will continue to have a positive impact on the way we see (and use) the workplace.

Here’s a thought; what would your first move as CWO be? 

Curious to know more about how a workplace impacts the happiness or wellbeing of its employees? Explore another of our insights: "Workplace wellbeing: a bottom line concern".