Why Do A Workplace Strategy?

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 1 – June 18, 2004

Recently we were asked by a prospective client (Optus) to help them explain to the senior leadership of their organization why they needed a workplace strategy. It is a question many of our clients ask, and also one that continues to be asked by our own people at Geyer. Since taking over as the Leader of Futures I am determined to provide a simple answer to this question and one that we all feel passionate about communicating to our clients.

When considering the need for a workplace strategy, it‘s critical to understand that workplaces and the workforce in general are changing radically in response to demographic, socio- political and economic factors. The very nature of work; what it is, how it is accomplished, and the tools people use to get their work done is changing. As a result, we need very different places and spaces in which to work and we also need a new way of defining it. To help develop our ability to define this new “grammar of work”, we need vastly different methods and approaches than the ones in common use today in the architectural and interior design fields.

I would suggest the new grammar involves workplace strategy, as an overarching idea. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a workplace strategy let alone a good one, most of our competition and our clients simply ask their people to extrapolate their current environment, roles, relationships and work process into the future. This approach misses the opportunity for companies to use their space as a business tool. We should be asking bigger questions about workforce planning and strategy. For instance, what if a company’s workforce makes a fundamental shift in the type of work they do? Like MBF diversifying from a company that helps clients insure their physical health to one that also looks after their financial well being? How about a company that has a work force of 40% part time employees, or 40% of their workforce in New Delhi? Or what if, and this happened to me, a company suggests you eliminate properties for their headquarters that are in tall buildings because they fear terrorism. This suggestion was made by The Boeing Company before September 11; they eventually did selected a high rise building a block away from The Sears Tower in Chicago. Six months later we were evacuating our site office, and the floors of the headquarters that were occupied, for fear that the SearsTower would be the next target. Fortunately, no one died, or even got hurt in this instance, what did happen is we could not access our place of employment for two days, further losses of productivity occurred through the emotional impact of this experience in the days to come.  When you consider the lost man hours and the effects this kind of occurrence has on a business, it can be quite sobering. I have a confession to make here, when the Boeing executives made the tall building comment we laughed and said that it would never happen.

We may not be able to help our clients position themselves for the next SARS outbreak, terrorist attack, or major power outage, but we can help them to understand that their accommodation is more than a place to sit. We should encourage them to consider the ways they can leverage their environment to support organizational or cultural change. Plant the seed of flexibility within the workplace, so it is able to address future needs we have not even imagined. We can ask about the types of behaviors they would want to encouraged and then design the space, which has been influencing human behavior throughout history, to encourage the desired behaviors. Finally, we can use the space we design to inspire people to do their best, to improve whatever it is that they do, and bring joy to their life. We here at Geyer can do all of this and more, we just need to ask the right questions to appropriately define the problems our clients face. Helping our clients define their problems and consider holistic potential solutions is workplace strategy.

Consequently, when a client asks why do I need a workplace strategy?  I think of all of the opportunities they could miss out on by not asking a few well guided questions. I think of the relatively low cost of paying someone like Future Environments to take the time to ask those questions, clarify the need,  and challenge how design can support their strategies, compared to the costs of not using every tool they have as a business to excel. If I consider the cost of mistakes and miscommunication. Understand that the pace of change we are now experiencing is going to increase, making companies that provide their workers with workplaces that support enhanced productivity, increase personal satisfaction, and foster creativity will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive. When I think of all of this, I conclude that as a leader of any business YOU WOULD BE FOOLISH NOT TO DO A WORKPLACE STRATEGY!

If we collectively convince our clients of this, then ultimately each of us will have opportunities to broadening our scope of experience and client base.

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