Creating a New Productive Work Environment

Christina Clark, Managing Principal, Cresa
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Christina Clark, Managing Principal, Cresa

Christina Clark, Managing Principal, Cresa

How can office design and floor plans impact company culture and what new trends are arising?

While real estate itself doesn’t create a company’s culture or its success, it can certainly have significant influence. Typically, following human capital and in some cases technology, real estate is a company’s second or third largest expense. The greatest challenge is that real estate is inherently inflexible. Leases and their associated commitments are fixed, as is office design—whether it’s the number of offices or a slide. Designing your office is an opportunity to create a space to match your company’s values and reinforce its culture, while also adhering to your budget.

  Data, coupled with smart design, will lead to the most productive work environment and value for expense  

Data should inform your office and workplace strategy throughout the decision-making process; it will help manage personal bias and assumptions. Whether measuring the utilization of your current amenities and shared spaces, or exploring the difference between current and future commute patterns, data empowers executives to know the facts prior to deciding. Additionally, sharing those results with your employees will lead to employee buy-in and excitement for the new space.

How does big data help executives identify workspace needs and cut costs?

When configuring an office space, every square foot matters. Careful consideration must be given to how a space can be used to engage employees while also spending smartly. For instance, data from desk sensors or badge scans may reveal that employees spend much less time at their desks than executives realize. This data will also shed light on the utilization of conference rooms and collaboration areas, revealing which spaces to reconsider and in which to invest.

A critical factor in any type of real estate project (as with any project) is communication: survey your employees, let them know you are undertaking data collection initiatives, and be sure to communicate with them so they understand that monitoring is not correlated to their work performance. There will always be some worried about “big brother,” however the majority will appreciate being involved in shaping the decision and elimination of waste.

Studies have shown that today’s workforce values amenities—such as coffee bars, lounges, and quiet rooms—over additional personal space. Often, data reveals “neighborhooding” (where employees are assigned to a floor or section based on what team they are on) or “hot-desking” to be a better option than each employee having their own desk. As a result, these approaches—especially “neighborhooding”— are a rising trend within many companies, versus assigned individual desks.

For example, an automotive sales team at an advertising firm might have 15 team members and their designated neighborhood has 10 desks along with a conference room and a lounge. Often the team may work remote or at a client site, however, even if all 15 employees are in the office, they can huddle together in a conference room or opt to work more comfortably in the lounge. A neighborhood provides the team a sense of place to go to work, the opportunity to build relationships and collaborate, and proximity to their manager. In the meantime, the company has saved on the capital in both fewer desks and a smaller amount of leased space.

Why are “office perks” a strain on company budget?

Before investing in any office perks, it’s important to determine what amenities will prove most valuable to your employees while also enhancing the company’s culture. Again, back to communication—ask your employees. Too often, leadership is tempted to be trendy or to keep up with this or that new tech company—opting for slides or beer drafts instead of taking the time to discover what their employees truly want. Millennials are aging and starting to focus on lifestyle and sustainable perks, for example, mobile doctors coming to your office or educational advancement opportunities. Many employees value family leave, stock and retirement options, and satellite locations closer to their homes.

Many companies anticipate growth and opt for larger spaces than they require, but extra space and empty desks are costly in more ways than one. In addition to being expensive, unused space drains the energy from a workspace and can erode employee morale. Additionally, having a significant excess amount of space can lead to subleasing and now you have found yourself in the business of real estate. This detracts from your business and is often a venture that does not break even. Conversely, the energy of being somewhat squished as a company expands into new space is exciting and can raise employee commitment. Bottom-line: careful how much space you bank for later. I recommend having 15-20 percent extra space for growth and team adjacencies, but often find anything over 40 percent to be a potentially expensive “bargain” unless it’s very short term.

Preplanning is critical in determining how much space, what type of space, and which amenities will lead to a well-utilized and flexible work environment. Data, coupled with smart design, will lead to the most productive work environment and value for expense.

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