​Workplace Strategy 2.0


"A fluid workplace has both the power to support the business and the flexibility to provision alternatives, as business needs change."

By Fran Ferrone, Director of Workplace Innovation, ManciniDuffy

“Plastics” was the single word suggested as a career path to a young Benjamin Braddock anxious about his future in Mike Nichols’ immortal 1967 film, “The Graduate.” Plastics did indeed have a good run. However, as business models now disrupt at least once a decade and the average life span of a company has decreased from 75 years (a half century ago) to 15 years today, it’s become increasingly difficult to predict the future let alone plan for it. Yet as end users and service providers, we are tasked with future-proofing the workplace in order to continue to support business in a meaningful way.

In thinking of the future of the workplace, “fluid” is the word that comes to mind. Fluid does not mean weak; plastics begin as fluid and become strong and pliable. A fluid workplace has both the power to support the business and the flexibility to provision (multiple) alternatives, as business needs change.  It follows then, that as workplace professionals we should seek to develop Fluid (or Flexible) Workplace Strategies instead of Alternative Workplace Strategies.  

Take this a step further and the notion of fluidity calls even strategy – defined in terms of traditional planning – into question. Plans can sometimes get in the way. Former IBM head, Lou Gerstner, defines strategy as “the creative leap that allows you to make major decisions that involve major risks . . . not a tool to execute projects based on precedents.”  While Gerstner often comes under fire for creating the superstar CEO, his achievement in pulling IBM from the brink in 1993 warrants some attention to his counsel. The connection to workplace strategy is that it is not reasonable to expect creative and innovative new solutions if our planning process is based largely on past information and experience. Rather, the planning process needs to be constantly assimilating current information from diverse perspectives and continuously experimenting so that our workplace decisions are both timely and relevant.  

A few ideas on how we can do this:

BALANCE ENOUGH OF THIS

WITH MORE OF THIS

  • Financial history
  • Data mining from multiple sources
  • Benchmarking
  • Real time, on site observations
  • Programming
  • Regular feedback from the troops

 


"...it is incumbent upon us as end users and service providers to convince senior management to begin the planning process early enough to do the research and development necessary to build that dream house."


"Experimentation can lead us to a more inclusive process."

Real Time Data

First, we can take better advantage of available and current information streams. Good decisions are based on a combination of real time and historical data, and include both qualitative metrics indicative of culture and engagement as well as quantitative reports on building and operational costs. Yet findings of a recent survey of 44 senior real estate executives sponsored by the Strategy and Portfolio Planning Committee of CoreNet Global’s New York chapter indicate that plenty of valuable information is still being left on the table. Results revealed that although 88% of respondents said that their company’s technology strategy was linked to key performance indicators—such as the attraction, retention and productivity of top talent—only 36% used technology to track metrics like employee turnover and downtime—metrics that  keep our finger on the pulse and ensure we are well-informed enough to stay fluid.   

Time to Experiment

Next, workplace strategy needs to be fluid; a continuing process of discovery rather than a project triggered by disruptive business events—like the lease expirations, acquisition and consolidations—that currently prompt clients to jump into planning mode. Presently, when such an event occurs, the client turns to design professionals for current research and trends to help articulate the firm’s vision. The expectation is often like that of building a dream house, where all the ills of the past must be cured at the same time the wish list for the future is fulfilled. This is just not realistic. While designers do a splendid job of discovery, ideation and creation, it’s impracticable to think that all this can be accomplished within a three month project schedule with no time for observation and analysis—let alone experimentation—to see if current trends are a good fit. Because it’s hard to get it right the first time, it is incumbent upon us as end users and service providers to convince senior management to begin the planning process early enough to do the research and development necessary to build that dream house. And the more day-to-day (vs. event-driven) experimentation that can occur, the easier the planning process becomes.   

Partners vs. Commodities

Lastly, experimentation can lead us to a more inclusive process. As workplace-making has become increasingly complex over the decades, the planning process has largely remained a linear, hierarchical, “I’ll call you when I need you” affair. This approach has turned expertise into a commodity. Called to respond, subject experts are further restricted by a bidding process that keeps them at arms’ length from the client when what’s really needed is a round table approach. Because the bidding process continues, the only way to achieve mutually beneficial results for both clients and service providers is to find a better method of testing for expertise, ethics and compatibility. One way to do this is to create an experimentation line item in the capital or project budget that allows payment for necessary exploratory services. As a result, significant supplier opportunity costs are taken off the table, allowing clients to work with suppliers as partners to develop potential scenarios through a series of pilots. This is not about mock ups, but proactive planning that builds a continuity that can create fluidity.  Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) has been a good start but it’s still an event-driven process. We have yet to create a mutually beneficial and ethical means of breaking down the walls between client and supplier long before the advent of a contract. In doing so we will create an opportunity for innovation to incubate and flow.     

Fran Ferrone helps clients prepare for, communicate and manage change by aligning company culture with strategic business goals. During her 25-year career she has worked with Fortune 500 companies in the US and abroad building high-performance workplace management service teams. She holds a BA in Speech from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and a degree in Interior Design from Parsons in New York. Currently, Ms. Ferrone leads the workplace strategy practice for Mancini•Duffy, an architectural and interiors firm based in New York City, and writes a monthly column for The National Real Estate Investor