Shaping Modern Workplaces: A Strategic Dialogue with Gemma, Head of HR & Employee Engagement

by | 15 Jan 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, Human Resources (HR) is assuming a more strategic role, particularly in influencing real estate decisions for workplaces. Beyond the traditional functions of hiring, training, and employee well-being, HR is actively involved in shaping the physical environment where employees work, influencing the design and functionality of office spaces. To gain deeper insights into this transformation, we engage in a strategic dialogue with Gemma Cottrell, Head of HR & Employee Engagement at Spica.

Gemma provides a brief overview of her role, focusing on collaborating with business leaders to understand desired results and creating workspaces and cultures that attract top talent. She emphasizes the pivotal role HR plays in fostering engagement and affiliation within high-performing teams.

Q: Can you provide a brief overview of your role as Head of HR & Employee Engagement and how it has evolved over time?

Gemma: My role is focused on working alongside business leaders to understand the desired results they are striving for. Then working together with them & their senior team to create a workspace and culture that makes people want to join the company.

1.Understanding the Employee Experience 

One of the key drivers behind HR’s involvement in real estate decisions is the focus on enhancing the employee experience. Modern workplaces are more than just buildings; they are dynamic environments that can significantly impact productivity, collaboration, and employee satisfaction. HR professionals are keenly aware that a well-designed workspace can contribute to a positive employee experience, fostering creativity, innovation, and a sense of community. 

According to the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), technology must be a consideration within people strategy, and practitioners should work closely with other functions as they begin to use new technologies to understand the associated risks and opportunities. 

Q: How do you see the role of HR evolving in the context of the modern workplace?

Gemma: There will always be core HR functionality, from basic reporting and administration to recruitment, performance management & development. Overarching all of this is the need to attract a diverse mix of people capable of forming these high-performing teams in order to remain competitive and achieve greater customer success. Stable and high performing teams need to be engaged and feel an affiliation to the Company and a valued part of its success – the role of HR is pivotal to ensuring this.

2. Flexible Work Arrangements 

The rise of flexible work arrangements, including remote work and hybrid models, has prompted HR to re-evaluate the traditional office setup. As employees seek greater flexibility in where and how they work, HR is instrumental in determining the optimal mix of physical and virtual workspaces. This involves considering factors such as team collaboration, individual focus, and employee well-being. 

Q: With the rise of flexible work arrangements, how has the traditional office setup been re-evaluated?

Gemma: It’s been crucial to review the benefits of both office and remote working. Like many companies, we are listening to our people and what they want and adapting to suit. It’s been necessary to ensure the office is an effective and appealing place to be. Our company culture plays a big part in this; we have a hybrid approach and many team members that work primarily remotely. However, we still enjoy a collaborative and social team environment with weekly and monthly time face to face in our new office space and regular social events. We work hard as a team, but we make time for fun and relaxation too.

3. Data-Driven Decision Making 

HR is increasingly leveraging data to inform real estate decisions. By analysing employee preferences, usage patterns, and the impact of various workspace configurations, HR professionals can make data-driven recommendations to leadership. This approach ensures that real estate investments align with the organization’s strategic goals and the evolving needs of its workforce. 

Q: What challenges have you faced in aligning the physical workplace with the company’s culture, values, and the needs of the workforce?

Gemma: Like all companies, understanding how our team work, frequency of visits to the office, levels of occupancy, and the facilities needed when in the workplace have been vital in creating a solution that works.

4. Creating Inclusive and Diverse Spaces 

Diversity and inclusion are central to HR’s mission, and this extends to the physical workspace. HR plays a pivotal role in creating office environments that are inclusive and accommodate the diverse needs of employees. This involves considering accessibility, ergonomic design, and facilities that support employees of all backgrounds and abilities. 

Q: How does HR contribute to creating office environments that are inclusive and accommodate the diverse needs of employees?

Gemma: For me its just about listening and responding regularly to the changing needs of the team and adapting to align as closely as possible. 

In conclusion, HR’s involvement in real estate decisions is a testament to its evolving role in the strategic direction of organizations. By actively shaping the physical workplace, HR professionals contribute to creating environments that support employee well-being, collaboration, and organizational success in the rapidly changing world of work. As we continue to navigate the future of work, the partnership between HR and real estate decision-making will be pivotal in building workplaces that empower and inspire the workforce. 

We extend our sincere thanks to Gemma Cottrell, Head of HR & Employee Engagement at Spica, for providing enlightening insights into the evolving landscape of HR’s strategic role in shaping modern workplaces.