Workplace Strategy Goal #2 - Effectiveness
Third in a series of articles about workplace strategy, this picks up with the second of four topics that cover most every issue or goal that surrounds workplace strategy:
Effectiveness - refers to the performance of the workforce - do they have what they need to be as productive - to add as much value - as possible.
Efficiency - using space, capital or any other asset as wisely as possible; and Agility, the notion of "future-proofing" the workplace to easily adapt to change - will be covered in a later article.
Alignment - insuring that the workplace reflects the unique context of a given organization - was described in the second article.
It seems obvious to say that work environments should support the work being performed in them, as well as the larger objectives of the organization. But in practice, we have typically focused on optimizing "supply" or the management of space, rather than satisfying "demand" - the goals of the business and the needs of the users of the space.
This is not to fault real estate and facilities managers. Their mandate has been the efficient management of tangible assets; their mantra: faster, better, cheaper. But efficiency - without balancing it with effectiveness - can fail to support the broad diversity and change most organizations are now experiencing.
So how can we strike the "right" balance between efficiency and effectiveness?
We suggest that employees' performance will be enhanced when the work environments in which they do individual and group activities are designed to specifically support those activities. Again, this is probably a fairly obvious statement, but how we get there can be challenged by a number of very legitimate trade-offs - so we'll talk about designing for effectiveness, and how we can manage some of the trade-offs.
Planning for a range of functions
Many design organizations have developed very effective tools for profiling work practices. They involve investigating what kinds of activities are happening - like how a given employee spends their time in tasks from administrative to supervisory to answering complex e-mails - to better understand what range of activities are taking place and what tools or resources are needed during each activity.
They also probe the amount of time a worker spends alone vs. with other team members or traveling; and delve into when, where and how communication happens - are meetings scheduled and predictable, unscheduled and highly erratic or some of both? Are workers project-oriented, and their activities depend on which phase of a given project they're in? As the picture emerges of how this worker functions on the job, they compare data to be able to assemble similar work styles into groups.
In a previous role, I worked on a project where we interviewed a cross-section of staff in each category and were able to identify eight categories of job functions that shared many similar characteristics. Knowing how these eight worked as individuals and groups, or as members of cross-functional teams, and how their activities might change over the life of a project made it possible to model typical environments for each of these job functions.
The opportunities for efficiency came from finding what was common to different groups - getting to only eight different worker types, for example - and having that become the basis for what was standardized, while the differences could be addressed with what we considered manageable levels of customization necessary to make people more effective.
In the above situation, we developed eight new workstation designs that were all the same size (8'-0" x 8'-0"), but varied slightly in "division" - how high the panels where and how fully they enclosed the worker; in "surface" - how much and how deep the worksurfaces were and how they were arranged; and in "storage" - how much and what kind of storage did they need at their fingertips vs. close by.
For example, the folks doing programming for new software had the highest panels and were placed in the quieter areas of the floor, since they spent a great deal of their time in heavy concentration. They had surfaces big enough to hold multiple monitors, which lined their station so they could have a colleague sit next to them and view their monitor. They still had manuals - so needed shelves - but not much in the way of filing space.
Those differences I mentioned were made easier to manage by using stackable panel add-ons, mobile surfaces, and having both a bookcase and a file cabinet in our "kit-of-parts". Other companies have made other trade-offs - using only one height of panel, for example, to limit the variations they would need to manage. Another company, on the other hand, might give each worker the same set of components, but allow each of them to configure their work space in any way they choose.
We also spent a lot of time understanding the range of group spaces each kind of worker needed. Instead of using a "one-size-fits-all" approach to assigning conference rooms, for example, we assigned types and quantities based on usage patterns. So teams of certain types of workers got two or three conference rooms, while others got one or none, because they needed project rooms they could assign to their teams, or because they didn't meet frequently enough to need one of their own.
In the next article of this series we will continue our study of Efficiency, discussing other examples of the balancing act between these workplace goals. Please stay tuned to the Corenet Global, NYC website for the next article in this series.