Beyond agile working: the six factors of knowledge worker productivity

flexible workingWhilst the world has focussed heavily on the asset productivity of offices over the last 30 years, reducing the cost of offices per head, often using agile working as a tool for achieving this, it’s becoming clear that the mobility afforded by the latest technology products can be used to aid Knowledge Worker productivity. Knowledge work plays an increasingly large part in the economic fortunes of developing countries. Indeed the vast majority of people working in AWA’s client organisations are Knowledge Workers. Over the last 30 years we’ve seen a gradual shift from manufacturing to service and now to knowledge based industries. Knowledge Workers are broadly speaking ‘people who think for a living’. Whilst the concept of ‘productivity’ in manufacturing and service industries is well understood it is barely understood at all for knowledge based sectors.

Given its significance to the developed economies we decided it deserved greater focus. So in early 2014 The Research Group within our Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN) undertook an extensive study involving a review of over 800 academic research papers to answer two key questions:

What is known from the world’s academic research about the measurement of Knowledge Worker Productivity?
What is known in the world’s academic research about the factors associated with Knowledge Worker Productivity?
The study was undertaken in partnership with The Centre for Evidence Based Management (CEBMa) a global network of academics that teach and practice ‘Evidence Based Management’ in some of the worlds most respected universities. We partnered with CEBMa because we liked their extremely robust process and their objectivity. We wanted to make sure the results of the study were not skewed in anyway and stood the challenge of academic rigour. Click here to find out more about CEBMa.

Whilst our sponsors BP, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Old Mutual, The British Council, Allied Bakeries, Telereal Trillium and AllSteel were invited to contribute to the setting of the research questions, they had no other influence on the findings, so nobody could point the finger and say the research played to a particular commercial interest. The mix of representatives from sponsors was interesting too involving HR Directors, Chief Operating Officers, Global Heads of Real Estate and Real Estate Directors. This eclectic group later proved to be a valuable resource in the interpretation stage of the programme.

First off CEBMa used its highly scientific ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment’ methodology to undertake a review of the world’s most credible academic databases. The REA methodology involves identifying relevant studies, reviewing their contents, filtering for relevance to research questions, grading the research (for instance a randomised trial conducted in a scientific manner scores higher than an expert opinion) and clustering the studies in relation to specific topic areas.

What emerged was an enormous amount of information and knowledge, answers to the research questions and a deep understanding of the world of Knowledge Work and 6 factors that are proven to be associated with Knowledge Worker Productivity.

We believe that when the leaders of worlds Knowledge businesses understand these factors they will have a profound impact on the design of organisations, culture, leadership competences and workplace infrastructure in the future. The findings provide new ‘design requirements’ for everything associated with the organisation. Intriguingly, the 6 factors are all about organisational effectiveness and culture…(not design, technology or agile working) but once they are understood they change everything about the provision of everything and put everything into a single context.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be revealing the knowledge and results that came from the research and exploring what they mean to each discipline in the business and how quite simply the research findings change everything.


Andrew MawsonAndrew Mawson is the owner of Advanced Workplace Associates