The Ecosystem Approach To Workplace Strategy

A major misconception about office workplace strategy is that it’s just about physical space. Too often, companies are caught up in the latest trends or images of modern offices and look to implement similar design concepts without thinking through how the space is going to empower their teams and their businesses. Workplace strategy is so much more than that. It’s about business, people, culture, technology and, importantly, creating lasting value for everyone involved.

Many workspace “norms” were conceptualized at a time when we weren’t constantly being inundated with new information from our phones, laptops, email, social media and everything in between. While technology and connectivity are ultimately beneficial for companies, they do raise a number of complex challenges from both a human and space perspective. The aim of the office is to create a space where people derive more value from being together than apart. At the same time, research suggests that a third of employees have learned a new skill that did not previously exist within the last three years. So what does that mean for space?

Before landing on a new office design, the key to transformative change for the better starts with strategy and using companies’ individual data to help inform space decisions. After collecting data to understand how people work, the goals of the business and how technology is going to impact them, only then can we put pen to paper.

There is an onus on businesses to deliver spaces that create workplace ecosystems that function for the way we work today while also being conscious of tomorrow, to create lasting value for both the employee (retention) and the bottom line (cost). This emphasis on the future makes data-based analysis and a strong cultural vision crucial to building a workplace that can adapt as the company evolves.

This is still a fairly new approach for businesses across the U.S. economy. But the fact that workplace strategy is a rapidly ascendant field shows that more companies see the benefit of thinking about how their people, places and technologies create a thriving ecosystem.

A key component of this ecosystem is technology, from booking meeting rooms and monitoring temperature to employee engagement software and HR analytics. Companies are continuing to invest significant capital and time into ensuring these are embedded in strategy. As with architectural design, there is no ‘cut and paste’ solution for a successful strategy. Rather, it needs to align with the values of the company, its goals and the employees who are vital to its success.

One common misstep is stereotyping employees by generation and deriving answers around their work preferences from that alone. Things are rarely that simple. I often see experienced professionals enjoying working on a laptop in an informal space and younger employees with a strong need for quiet, solo spaces. It’s often more of a function of personality, preference, cognitive diversity, the degree of introversion versus extroversion or simply the task at hand. The same could be said for making space assumptions based on job function or role alone. Collecting correct data through a robust workplace study helps simplify some of these complexities and brings to light truths that many employers might not have known.

There are economic realities to current trends in workplace strategy that many employers find attractive: improved utilization rates or reduced square footage through better allocation of solo spaces, reduced travel budgets through faster and more extensive video conferencing technology and reduced printing costs through increasingly paperless digital technology. By thinking of the office as an ecosystem, companies can also drive productivity and efficiency while at the same time having happier, healthier and more engaged employees.

Charlotte Timms
Colliers International
71 South Wacker Drive, Suite 3700
Chicago, IL 60606

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