“My weight is always perfect for my height — which varies” – Sylvia, by Nicole Hollander
It is difficult to consistently meet objectives when one or more factors are changing over time.
This is the place many workplace strategists find themselves when trying to design flexible workspace for an agile workforce.
In our last article, we looked at how user experience data helps determine success or failure in workplace design using the recent open office controversy as an illustration. Without stretching the technology metaphor too far, the emergence of flexible workspace is similar to another computing precedent the conversion to cloud computing. But unlike open office, understanding this transformation offers space planners significant economies and unexpected returns.
In the early days of enterprise computing, system performance was based on dedicated resources. Host computers were configured for single, discrete applications like invoicing, payroll or sales.
This resulted in costly over-builds and under-utilized facilities.
Companies like Google, Amazon and Salesforce disrupted enterprise computing when they determined shared infrastructure and resources across multiple applications would predictably service variable demand while maximizing utilization. Cloud computing became a reality.
Sound familiar? It should.
Dedicated workplace design based on individual departmental profiles creates similar issues with facility utilization. Flexible workplace is a relatively new concept in commercial real estate that follows similar principles as cloud computing: shared, unassigned workspace ensures supply for variable demand while increasing utilization.
Given the apparent similarities, what can we learn from cloud computing that will improve opportunity for successful transformation to Flexible Workplace?
Elastic Supply Meets Agile Demand
Workplace design used to be based on a number of measurable constants.
All employees were full time and worked the same business hours in the same place with the same colleagues. With few exceptions, all employees were expected to spend most of the business day in their office or cubicle.
From a demand profile, occupancy would predictably go from 0% to 100% in less than an hour in the morning and back to zero at the end of the day. The few shared facilities, mostly meeting rooms, were simple to forecast based on ratios derived from the uniform demand profile.
Today, each of these factors has become variable, with volatility increasing over time.
Employees are mobile and untethered to a specific space or location. Communications, applications and data, even work product, has become accessible from anywhere.
The new phenomenon of agile workforce means talent and skills can be applied on-demand. The ability to attract and retain talent depends on the ability to design space that meets these changing requirements.
Proliferation of New Space Types Adds New Dimension
Variable demand on workspace is exacerbated by the increase in the types of space designed into today’s workplace.
Employees who are digital natives now demand greater choice in order to better match work flow, increase collaboration and maintain work-life balance. Departments are giving way to cross-functional success teams, e.g.: product management, application development or customer response.
Size of shared space is decreasing as remote employees meet virtually across regions and team size shrinks in response. New types of space are introduced for wellness, privacy and amenities.
Flexible Workplace Brings Unexpected Benefit
Cloud computing was originally about cost control. Shared facilities meant shared cost across multiple entities.
While this was an early driver, unexpected benefits soon began to present themselves. Simplified management, load balancing, decreased maintenance, improved access and cross-platform interoperability soon eclipsed cost reduction as a business driver.
Although not planned, increased flexibility meant innovation was easier to test and implement.
When workplace strategists transform space into a shared facility, they are in effect optimizing their space for new process and experiences that bring top line benefits.
Management and maintenance become much simpler, employee productivity and engagement increases. New amenities may present themselves that make the workplace more responsive to employee needs, decreasing absenteeism and improving retention.
A good example of new innovation may be workplace policy management.
Space planners are able to ‘program’ their space to respond to changing demand maybe by opening new spaces in a different wing or floor once occupancy thresholds are exceeded thereby influencing employee behaviour (where they go to get a seat) along policy guidelines.
Employees may now be able to self-select and self-manage their private and team spaces and report on satisfaction in real time. Collaborative or meeting spaces may be assigned just-in-time instead of weeks in advance, enabling fluid team assimilation and dissemination across sites, cities, even global regions.
Space may be dynamically assigned from day-to-day, reducing maintenance and energy costs, as occupancy is mapped non-disruptively around facility management projects or repairs that can now be managed during the day.
The key is data.
Cloud computing became viable when engineers were able to rapidly recognize and respond to changes in demand by increasing processing power, storage or bandwidth.
Workplace digitization provides the means to better understand ambient changes in space/time based on response to changing business demand from employees.
Without data, facilities must be over-built to create sufficient buffer to respond to peak occupancy without affecting business continuity. With data, tolerances become much more precise, and new options present themselves for peak management; saving costs and improving outcomes.
In the beginning, Flexible Workspace is driven by shared economies, but the destination embraces change in a way that forms a flexible foundation for innovation in facility management and employee experience. The result is that the enterprise can now flex significant muscle in workplace performance and effectiveness.