Why do a workplace strategy – June 18, 2004

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.

Age in the Workplace

Age in the Workplace

Future’s Ramblings –  Issue 4 –  September 27, 2004

With my upcoming birthday, I dedicated this Future’s Ramblings to age and the workplace. Beginning with

three trends to be aware of:

1. There is a coming job boom, or more accurately a shortage of talent. Demographers and analysts predict that by 2008 we will see a shortage of workers across all sectors of employment in Australia. Sadly, importing more Americans like myself will not help, the US has no spares. The labor shortfall in the US is estimated at 6.6% in the year 2010, growing to 13% by 2020. That would be over 10 million jobs going unfilled! Under normal economic expansion of 2.5% per year the working population won’t grow fast enough to meet employment demands.

2. We have a healthy aging population. The average life expectancy is 80.7 years, mostly due to modern medicine and healthier lifestyles. We live almost 10% longer than in previous generations. Can our economy, with the shortages predicted, sustain a continuing drain of up to 10% of the population leaving the workforce?

3. There are major changes coming in employment contracts that offer non-traditional kinds of work and working arrangements that are tailored to what many older workers are looking for. At this time in the US there is a re-definintion of the legal status of employees and their relationship to employing organizations. There are changes underway to give “self employed persons” equal status with “employees” in the eyes of the tax office and social security. This will dramatically change the look of the office as we know it.

Del Webbs annual baby boomer report found that only 13 % of 44 – 55 year olds they questioned do not plan to continue working once they leave their current career. Consequently, waiting around for people like me to go off into our “twilight years” of retirement will be a much longer wait than it has in the past. GREAT NEWS  I may continue to work till I am 80! As a result, what we are seeing in today’s workplace will continue and there will be several generations working together, this can create challenges beyond what music should be played at the company Christmas party. Understanding how people of different generations view the world, how they make decisions and their expectations of work will help us to blend people of varying ages in a way that is beneficial to the companies we work for.

Sociologist break generational groups down into what they call cohorts. These cohorts are members of a generation who are linked through shared life experiences in their formative years. As each new cohort matures, it is influenced by what sociologist call generational markers. These markers are events, which have an impact on all members of the generation in one way or another. Cohorts are not just shaped by one common life experience they are also influenced by a host of events that over time shape their collective values and attitudes.

Following is the most common breakdown of the generations with some of their key characteristics. The Geyer HR department was sensitive enough not to share your ages with me; however, they confirm we have all four generations listed below at Geyer.

Matures – born prior to 1946. The event that marks this generation is World war II. These people grew up in extended families, all the relatives lived on the same block or in the same apartment building. Their connection to family was strong, and they heard a constant message about values from this tight connection to their family, and the media. Bing Crosby, Marvel Comics, “Father knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” define this generation. These are people who believe in hard work, sacrifice for the common good and respect for authority. These themes have shaped the way matures look at work and their expectations for how others should work.

Baby Boom – born 1946 to 1964. A key event that marks the Baby Boom is the assassination of JFK. These are the offspring of the Matures, their formative years were shaped by economic expansion, rock – n –roll, the proliferation of television and moving to the suburbs. They lived with their nuclear family, the rest of the relatives were miles away so there was not the immediate passing on of values seen previously. Boomers grew up with a sense that their security was taken care of, leaving them the time for sex and drugs and rock and roll, civil rights. Media for the boomers was Mad Magazine “Threes Company” and the Grateful Dead. Despite this generation running amuck in the 60s the vast majority have returned to values

like loyalty, hard work, hope, prosperity, helping others and achieving world peace. Boomers believe in the system.

Generation X – 1965 to 1980. Events marking GenX are the resignation of Richard Nixon, Vietnam, corporate downsizing, AIDS. Media that defines this generation is “Sesame Street” They have grown up with technology, learned their ABC’s by age 4, and stand in front of the microwave impatiently waiting for food to cook in three minutes when it used to take 45 in a traditional oven. Their values about life and work is a ‘Reality Bites’ attitude. This is a generation of latchkey kids that learned to fend for themselves by age 12. The institutions that they were taught to believe in have betrayed them: they witnessed their parents laid off from jobs they had devoted their lives to, their national leaders are constantly challenged, personal relationships are complicated by AIDS. Consequently, this generation is self-reliant and personally focused. They have a different set of attitudes about work, they want a balanced life and do not want to pay dues.  They want to be home for their kids, run a marathon or play soccer. They don’t live to work , they work to live. Generation X brings skepticism to the table, they are used to problem solving and look for ways to use resourses to their best advantage. They have learned to fend for themselves.

Millenials or Echo Boomers – 1981 to 1991. Events marking this generation are the Oklahoma City bombing in the US, the collapse of Enron. One in four comes from a single parent family. They are the product of a society that has once again seen tremendous economic expansion and the explosion of technological convenience. Millennials have matured in a world where shortcuts and manipulation of rules and situational ethics reigns. They have grown up seeing adults attempt to use the system to their advantage and have seen organizations large and small lobby within government to push legislation that will produce the outcome they desire.  As a result, they are said to have a lack of critical thinking skills because they have not been held accountable for their actions. The media that defines this generation is “SouthPark” and “Beavis & Butthead” They have mixed messages about what is right and wrong, good and bad. They have an expectation that they should work, but on their own terms.

So what do we do with this information. I leave you with three tips for getting along with your co workers from other generations

1. Once a person has been programmed with certain values, most become uncomfortable with changing their core beliefs about work and society. The more you know about the shared life experience of other ages, the more you can understand their expectations, values and fears.

2. Manage according to values and attitudes, Delegate the outcome instead of the individual task. Unless they are a Millenial where critical thinking is not a strong suit so delegating by task is best.

3. Provide opportunity to grow on their terms, and with their priorities. Taylor your messages to what they value.

Work Related Stress – August 31, 2004

Work related Stress

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 3 –  August 31, 2004

According to the University Press 2003, Life and work research, more Australians than ever indicate they are unhappy at work, with extended work hours being one of the factors contributing to this phenomenon. One of the reasons for this unhappiness is that people feel they need to work too hard. I am sure it would come as no surprise to the Westpac team that was here all night last night, that research indicates a third of full time employees worked 49 hours per week, it was 43.4 hours in late 1990. Having worked that many hours in a weekend, a 49 hour work week to the Westpac team would be a holiday! In the event you are unable to spot our stressed colleagues here are the signs: absenteeism, high or increased accident rates, poor or reduced work output and poor interpersonal relations in the workplace.

There is a culture developing of working longer hours, according to Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian at the University of Iowa, work has become the ‘new religion’. Work is now seen as an end in itself and not a means to an end. The issue here is that people are not just working longer hours because their company dictates; they are doing so because it is a culture that they have bought into. Workers are internalizing their corporation’s business objectives, which is a good thing for business but not such a good thing for people. Especially when something goes pear shaped at work and they have nothing else in their lives to feel good about.

The consequences for human health, as well as the hidden costs for business of poor moral, lack of motivation, absenteeism and lower productivity are something to take notice of. In Australia the increased work hours have not brought greater profits or productivity gains, what they have done is contributed to the level of work related stress in Australia. Stress related disorders in Australia added to direct management costs estimated at 5% of the GDP, that is $20 billion per annum! Stress is now the second highest cause of disability for all employees.  The total cost of workers’ compensation claims in Australia for stress-related conditions is estimated at more than $200 million each year.

In a very indirect way we as designers have contributed to this by blurring the lines between work and home. We have encouraged our clients to provide accommodations that satisfy employee’s physical, psychological and emotional needs. By providing childcare, meal service and health clubs within work places we have enabled people to choose to overwork. We have set up work environments so people never have to go home. We call it personal empowerment, fulfillment and individual choice, but it could also be called loss of control and job insecurity.

In the UK organizations are expected to treat stress as seriously as safety. Sydney psychologist Grant Brecht says more companies are introducing systems to help employees cope during difficult times, “Companies who don’t set up for those sorts of things are not likely to sustain productivity in the future. For corporations serious attempts to reduce stress and improve performance require a dual focus. Attention to work process and management and the physical design of the workplace can help reduce stress. A recent Fortune 500 survey indicated Sense of purpose, inspiring leadership and knock out facilities as key criteria in attracting employees to a company. (It is interesting to note that these are the same three attributes that are the defining characteristics of a cult.) If work is really the new religion, and knock out facilities are a key contributor, then what kind of workspace helps reduce stress?

Ordinary workplace activity, such as the phone ringing, background noise and team conflicts contribute to physical and emotional illness. Therefore, environments where workers can get away, those that offer a higher degree of diversity to allow choice and flexibility will help. Solutions that allow privacy are also important, the human brain goes through a warm up whenever we engage in a new task; this can take up to 10 minutes. Minor distractions have the potential to derail this warm up. Large open work areas and heavy open office environments that provide little or no escape hatches result in higher stress levels in the workplace.

As we navigate the future for our clients it will be important to make them aware of the price their organization may pay for not acknowledging the human element, and understand the role the workplace plays in that. Organizations that recognize the value of their employees, and understand that an investment in their quality of life is an investment in their company will fare far better in the future.

The Creative Class – July 23, 2004

The Creative Class

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 2 – July 23, 2004

Back in March Gary Hamel gave a one hour talk at the CoreNet Global Summit in Chicago (Hamel is a respected Professor of management, and founder of Strategos consulting) His talk was about the importance of creative work and creative workers. Hamel is on a mission to educate business leaders about why innovation is so important, what it is, and why it is so difficult. Hamel is not the only one talking about the importance of innovation in the future. Nancy K Napier (Professor of International business and Executive director of the Global Business Consortium at BoiseStateUniversity) says the most important challenge facing corporations is finding ways to tap into and nurture creativity – by individuals and groups – as a competitive resource. Lynne Waldera (president and chief executive officer of InMomentium Inc) says that the only source of sustainable competitive differentiation is innovation.

It is interesting to find so many business leaders talking about creativity and innovation. Even though these comments are in the context of big- picture business strategies rather than the work environment (and we know that it is corporate culture and day to day management practice that determines the degree of innovation and openness to change in any organization) there is no doubt, that fostering innovation in the workplace is a trend being talked about.

If we buy the argument that the most important value add in the future will come from the creative class – those whose skill set is more intuitive, who develop new ways of thinking about problems and applying knowledge, and often borrow ideas from one discipline area to apply to another. How do we provide environments that nurture and promote innovation? This kind of work requires a different kind of workplace, a different kind of success measure, and a different kind of management.

Creative work is much more collaborative, something we have known and have provided for in the workplaces we design for some time. It is also not manageable or controllable the way an assembly line is, you don’t order creative people to develop three great ideas by noon. You don’t tell this type of worker when and where to do their work. This is why so many successful companies of the last decade have set up games rooms, provided workout facilities, and kept the lights on for 24 hours a day. Because creativity cannot be scheduled, managed, or planned. It happens when it happens. The type of work environment that responds to this is one that provides choices in where and how one works. The environment sends a message of personal control and power to its users, and is a step toward “high performance”.

Creative workers are also mobile. Surveys and studies have shown that in any given day 20 to 40% of the worker population doesn’t go to their corporate designated workplace to work. The average office utilization in large organizations today is hardly ever as high as 50%, most people don’t come into their assigned space in the morning and sit in that one place all day. So where is everybody? They’re in someone else’s office, in a conference room, in the cafeteria, at the coffee machine, or standing in the hall.

It is no wonder that the typical office building is empty so much of the time,

Since creative workers don’t work in the office, and can’t be managed, should tear down the office buildings and make parks? Most of us prefer to have a roof over our heads and a pleasant, well – designed space to work in. What it means is we should re-examine the way we use workplaces, and what kinds of spaces we really need. We need to ask the most basic question of all: What is an office for? Why go to the office? Usually the answer to that for the “creative class” is to meet people. If that is what “the office” means to creative thinkers, then we might design it as a meeting place, or a collection of meeting places – of all sizes and styles – to accommodate a much wider variety of types of meetings? Maybe it is more like a town hall or conference centre.  Or perhaps it is more like an artist studio on the individual level and an artist collective or community at the organizational level?

The era we are now entering is one in which individual and collective creativity, more than routine effort, is the driver of economic success. While recognizing that some repetitive, routine effort remains necessary to ensure economic efficiency and a foundation of social stability (that’s why we keep the office buildings) it is now imperative that we take a fresh look at the core assumptions on which our workplaces are based. We must directly challenge those assumptions and the organizational practices that derive from them if we are to create vital organizations and healthy social environments that nurture the human spirit and contribute to the quality of life.