Measuring knowledge worker productivity is situational

Is your CRE team facing mounting pressure to create workplaces that better support employees and how they want and need to work? As if the demand to reduce property costs was not enough, CRE organizations are increasingly tasked with meeting additional goals like these:

  • Attracting talent in an increasingly competitive climate
  • Supporting employee health and wellbeing
  • Increasing collaboration, seen as the key to driving the innovation companies need to be successful in the knowledge economy
  • Improving knowledge worker productivity, which is essential for improving competitiveness and profitability

Corporations are worried by reports of slowing productivity growth, and rightfully so. That’s why even CRE teams are tasked with doing their part to remediate this growing problem. However, organizations are struggling to figure out how to measure the effectiveness of the work they do to improve knowledge worker productivity in particular.

Why measuring knowledge worker productivity is such an elusive target

Knowledge workers are those who “think for a living,” making productivity challenging to measure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, measuring employee productivity means calculating “output per hour” of work. This formula is problematic for measuring knowledge worker productivity, because:

  • Outputs are intangible and difficult to define
  • Results are often based on team output rather than individual
  • Companies are not necessarily tracking hours for salaried employees
  • Time spent working is increasingly blurred as a mobile workforce integrates their professional and personal lives

Measuring knowledge worker productivity is situational, since outputs and how to calculate them varies widely across an organization. That makes coming up with broadly applicable KPIs very difficult or even impossible. So how can CRE teams measure the effectiveness of programs designed to influence knowledge worker productivity?

The 6 factors that correlate with knowledge worker productivity

Workplace strategy consulting firm Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) partnered with the Center for Evidence Based Management to undertake extensive research to address the dilemma of how to measure knowledge worker productivity.

They studied the world’s major academic databases with rigorous, high-quality evidence from peer-reviewed research, and (not surprisingly) came to the conclusion that there is no valid universal measurement that can be applied to knowledge worker productivity. However, they did come up with an interesting and useful alternative: a set of 6 strong correlations that relate to knowledge worker productivity at the team level. That means, when these 6 factors exist within knowledge worker teams, or a workplace in general, there is a high statistical correlation with high levels of productivity.

These factors provide the framework to measure the results of workplace transformations designed to improve knowledge worker productivity: measure the levels of these 6 factors before and after program implementation.

However, there is even more value to be gained from understanding these 6 factors. CRE teams can use them as a guide for designing and implementing better workplaces that help meet other goals, like supporting employee wellbeing and attracting talent.

Here are AWA’s 6 factors that correlate to high levels of knowledge worker productivity, and how CRE can create workplaces to better support them.

Social cohesion

In the knowledge economy, each person is an asset bringing their own particular expertise, experiences and ideas to the table. The sharing of all that knowledge among team members is what drives high levels of output, which translates to commercial success for the firm. Social cohesion is the “glue” that fuses high performing teams and leads to knowledge worker productivity. When people feel comfortable with others and valued within the group, they are happy to share their ideas. And possibly more importantly, they feel more comfortable both sharing and accepting criticism.

So how can workplace design impact social cohesion? Two ways: by implementing agile “neighborhoods” where the right combination of people and teams are co-located, and by provided spaces designed to encouraging mingling and collaboration among these people.


Perceived supervisory support

The research shows that employees place a high value on how supported they feel by their supervisors. That support influences not only knowledge worker productivity, but their job satisfaction and retention. Employees expect managers to be available to the team to facilitate discussion and cooperation, set a positive tone, and proactively manage workload issues.

Here’s another area where workplace design can have a great impact on knowledge worker productivity. Agile work environments encourage managers to work alongside their teams, making it easier for them to guide interactions and decisions and facilitate problem resolution.


Information sharing

Being productive means using the most efficient means possible to achieve results. In an organizational team, achieving high levels of knowledge worker productivity means understanding the resources available and what each person brings to the team. When teams do a good job with information sharing, everyone knows how and from whom to get information and assistance. That cuts down on “reinventing the wheel” every time a problem comes up or information is needed.

Promoting information sharing means breaking down the traditional “knowledge is power” value, which can cause people to keep what they know to themselves for their own use. Instead, teams should promote a culture of “knowledge generosity” by valuing those who freely share their expertise with others.

That goal is much easier to accomplish in an open office setting, where team members can readily witness workers (especially leaders) willingly sharing ideas and information.

Goal clarity

Knowledge worker productivity is highly correlated with workers being emotionally engaged with the work they do. That engagement often comes from teams having a common understanding of the underlying goals behind their work. That understanding helps them to empathize with team and organizational goals, develop a high level of commitment and willingness to go “above and beyond” to help achieve those goals.

It’s essential for the organization as a whole, as well as managers at every level, to clearly communicate goals to team members. At the team level, managers need to be mindful of helping individual workers understand how what they do helps both the team and the company to be successful.

While this is certainly a cultural issue to be addressed with change management programs, workplace can also have an impact. That’s because managers working in a modern “neighborhood” environment have more opportunities to interact with employees and provide clarity about goals.

External outreach

In the words of AWA, this is about getting people out of the “cocoon of their own world and that of their team.” To gather information and generate ideas that improve knowledge worker productivity, people need to expose themselves to more diverse views outside their own team, and even outside the organization. This practice fuels creative thought and more and better ideas.

CRE can have a huge impact on external outreach (and knowledge worker productivity) with workplace design and agile working. When people are no longer assigned to the same seat each day, they are exposed to different people as they move around throughout the week, and even the day, to work in different spaces.

Also, workplaces designed to promote movement for the benefit of employee health can also increase external outreach. For example, when people are encouraged to walk around to use shared services, or take the stairs to the next floor, or walk to a neighboring building, they have more opportunities for conversations and sharing information.



Employees want to be able to rely on their colleagues, and knowledge worker productivity depends on it. They want to believe in others’ knowledge and skills, know that the expertise they share will be used responsibly, and trust that others will act in their best interest (or at least not against it). They are much more willing to invest their energy and contribute their best work when they have that trust.

Trust is a problem CRE professionals are intimately familiar with. Getting business teams to provide information, when they are not sure you will use it in their best interest, has always been a challenge. So how do you gain trust? First, build relationships by involving teams in information gathering and regularly asking them about their needs and plans. Secondly, by providing value in the form of reliable information.

That’s why CRE teams need technology in place that provides concrete evidence about how space is being used, and by whom. Presenting this knowledge along with your strategic plans shows your business teams that you understand their needs and have their best interest in mind.

When you’ve gained the trust of the business teams you support, you improve more than the productivity of the CRE team. It becomes faster and easier to implement workplace transformation strategies like agile working, which serve to reduce property costs, improve workplace culture, attract talent, and boost knowledge worker productivity and your company’s bottom line.