Commentary: Designed to Evolve, Built to Last

May 1, 2006
By Philip Thomas
Leveraging organizational intelligence is key to creating a more agile, productive workforce.
The 21st century has initiated a change in our economy that is far removed from the one that existed during the turn of the last century. Our ever-increasing global environment is shaping the world in which we work, but more than that, it is shaping the evolution of business through its influence on the workplace— hence the need to create human-centered environments that will meet the challenge of a constantly changing business climate; increasing demand for competitive advantages and economic, environmental and social benefits.

The shape of facilities in the future is not totally clear, as corporate officials are still learning from their experience in the ever-changing landscape of the knowledge economy, and it seems that this learning process is not going to cease; change is, and will remain, a constant factor.

However, it is clear that the workplace must become a laboratory for human innovation. The workplace services and settings are extensions and components of the work itself—allowing users to interact dynamically, not passively, with the work process—requiring a change in the approach on how we strategize, budget, program, plan, design, build, track, report and evaluate the facility. Organizations must better understand the influential variables that impact the workplace, research the financial cost of those influences on the bottom line, and continue to recognize the close inter- relationship between people, process and technology.

Workplace Agility
Facilities have been traditionally viewed as a sinkhole for revenues that should be rightly assigned to the core business. This commonly-held opinion is changing as more organizations recognize work and workplace have been redefined today due to the evolution of innovation; the rise of human capitalization; the new focus on what creative people want; the emerging definition of work- place agility; the impact of sustainability in business and its effect on employee retention; recruitment and productivity; and the challenges and opportunities of the age of real time connectivity.

Workplace agility has emerged as the single-highest priority that underpins workplace services and infrastructure in the new business environment of the knowledge economy. What is required to meet this challenge is more than an adaptable work environment and user-controlled applications. It requires a workplace that is constantly transforming, adjusting, and responding to enhanced organizational learning and shifts in customer demands and expectations, including shifts in the volatile marketplace.

This radical departure from the concept of a predetermined, standardized and stationary envelope of work to workplace services and settings that are extensions and active components of the work process, has impacted facility service providers as well as the business output of the facility.

Influences: Identifying Organizational Intelligence
To truly create effective solutions for facility managers, we need to understand what influences and impacts an evolving organization. There are many factors that impact people, process and technology, which are in essence the workplace DNA.1 Some of the influences to consider, which directly affect the workplace include:

  • Work redefined: Work has to be redefined as we have moved from the industrial to the knowledge economy— depicting work as a more collaborative and creative effort. The knowledge economy predicated by the work ethics and style of the dotcom era has truly changed the way we communicate, how creatively we carry out our tasks, as well as influence where and how we work.
  • Evolution of innovation: The culture and connectivity of the Internet has changed the way ideas are collected, communicated and combined—leading to an innovation that is not based on products but on process and service, with new considerations for delivery and experience. Investors are recognizing that these innovative solutions can power growth and reduce cost—leading to more shareholder value.
  • Sustainability: Sustainable design is the conception and realization of ecological, economic and ethically-responsible expression as a part of the evolving matrix of nature.2 Green product design is only part of the issue of sustainability. Sustainability also involves combining the wellbeing of the planet with combined growth and human development; meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Built to Last: The Agile Workplace
Since early 2000, many companies have identified the need for an adaptive workplace as well as the need to leverage organizational intelligence in the workplace to be more effective. Taking the first steps to integrate activities that have a direct impact on delivering business strategies in departments such as human resource, information technology and real estate, will increasingly become more critical for employees to achieve strategic success.

Working environments are crucibles for innovation, and the facility does play a key role in facilitating the process. It is important for an organization to ensure that their business strategies are initiated in the workplace, as studies have shown that "business as usual" (BAU) will certainly result in stalled initiatives, management indifference and possible lost opportunities, leading to failure in meeting continued growth.3

The challenge now is determining how to create a facility—a workplace where change is a constant, ensuring that the facility supports the business strategies of a dynamic organization, while recognizing that working environments are crucial for sustainable innovation. This concept requires a better understanding of the cost of change; at the end of the day, this ongoing strategy costs money—despite what some advocates say.

The other reality is that when a company commits capital there is an expected return. Therefore, the argument for change in the workplace for change's sake—taken in isolation— is not sufficient. Naturally, there will always be a tendency to shoot down change with the age-old argument that it has to be cost effective.

Workplace costs (facilities and IT infrastructure costs) represent 15 percent to 20 percent of revenue for a typical enterprise. Workplace transformation initiatives have produced savings of 10 percent to 20 percent or more as compared to BAU costs.4

The facts are undeniable; organizations have found that workplace transformation in the facility, combined with workplace management, can dramatically boost productivity 4.4 times when combined with a reexamination of work processes and reward for performance. In other words, there is an undeniable link between workplace productivity and work processes, and workplace management.

It is clear that the workplace must be able to foster and support an environment for human innovation. Workplace services and settings are components of the work itself and they interact dynamically, not passively, with the work process—adding organizational agility and resilience to gain greater productivity or a competitive advantage in the market place.

It is obvious that company officials have to understand the various business strategies of the organization and how to integrate best practices to create adaptable and functionally-built environments that enable greater productivity. The strategies and implementation process have to ensure the capital and operational cost attributed to the facility is not detrimental to the agility, economic success, or environmental sustainability of the workplace DNA.

It is urgent that agile workplace management becomes a core competency of any organization and is incorporated into its strategy, planning and design. Workplace management must encompass a commitment to synthesizing what is learned on a daily basis while assisting organizations to catalyze change and strategically position the facility to incorporate a proactive alternative to the traditional methods of long-range planning.

Philip Thomas is a Vancouver-based strategic facility consultant. His strengths are in the identification and assessment of facility risks within the context of industry and client business objectives—with evaluation, recommendation and implementation of solutions to address those risks.

1  Philip Thomas——People,   Process and Technology Comprise the DNA of the   Workplace
2  Richard Florida—The Creative Class—Basic   Books—Perseus Books Group 2002
3  M. Bell—The Workplace: Creating the Business   Case for Change—Research Note—Gartner and   Associates. July 2002
4  M. Bell—The Workplace: Creating the Business   Case for Change—Research Note—Gartner and   Associates. ­July 2002

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