High Performance Workplaces
Every executive wants more productive people - does redesigning their workplace help? New web-based tools help you anticipate productivity improvements before construction begins.

(First in a two-part series on workplace innovation)

Co-authors: David Sykes, CoreNet Global member & Managing Director, Remington Partners (private equity) Cambridge, MA
R. J. Brennan, MSC, LEED® AP, Vice President Programs, CoreNet Global, Chicago Chapter & Director, Strategic Workplace, IA Interior Architects, Chicago, IL

Design is an iterative process that involves generating and testing alternatives against a wide array of requirements & constraints. - Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Laureate

The world of work is always changing. Today the watchword is globalization, which drives demand for more productivity. Add growing interest in "sustainable" or "green" (LEED®*) design and you have a set of pressures that compel real estate executives, planners, architects and builders to deliver higher performance workplaces that are smarter and yield predictable return on investment.

A streamlined programming process helps. Frederick Taylor proved 100 years ago that redesigned workplaces revolutionize productivity. Now as CEOs strive to increase knowledge worker productivity, they need objective analysis to justify staffing, calculate R.O.I., and rationalize construction of new workplaces.

Conventional methods for gathering requirements are slow and do not deliver real insight. But several web-based approaches can quickly crystallize the requirements within the workplace. Integrating these approaches into the "discovery" phase of a real estate project requires an enhanced workplace strategy including:

  • buy-in from top management whose support and active participation is essential when changing how and where people work;

  • "thin slice" research methods (Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink), that give fast, meaningful insight into the behavior of knowledge workers;

  • early, strategic procurement decision-making to leverage manufacturers' experience and sharing of R&D;

  • a modular, "kit of parts" approach to assembling work environments that allows testing of concepts like "ISOPodsĒ" to balance teamwork and privacy.

Many techniques used by workplace strategists come from manufacturing where they were implemented during the '80s and '90s. These include: rapid prototyping, continuous improvement, strategic procurement and thin slicing. Chrysler's PT Cruiser, Herman Miller's Aeron Chair, and Motorola's RAZR are a few of the recent breakthrough products based on them. In real estate projects, these techniques quickly deliver accurate, insightful information, thereby accelerating the development of high-performance workplaces.

The seven habits of highly effective workplaces

Workplace strategists are responding to seven priorities:

  1. Increase productivity - everybody talks about enabling teamwork; can you predict how work environments will support the impat of smart design, distance work, teaming spaces, natural lighting and such?

  2. Reduce time to market - can smarter planning, design and construction increase speed and improve quality?

  3. Reduce square feet - individuals' workspaces are growing smaller while employee demands are increasing. Do people actually work better in "cockpits"?

  4. Accommodate new requirements for privacy and security mandated by Sarbanes Oxley, Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and GLBA.

  5. Reconcile conflicting needs of aging, globally distributed workers - can they collaborate across expanding boundaries?

  6. Accommodate changing infrastructure - technology constantly changes - can you stay flexible while reducing operating costs?

  7. Achieve LEED®* certification - does "green" mean higher cost? Or is it another "tool" in the work environment tool belt that can yield higher productivity and increased employee satisfaction?

Three new methods

For two decades, manufacturers have used tech-based processes to simultaneously improve productivity, quality and time to market. These include: just in time, strategic procurement, thin slicing, total quality management, continuous improvement, and rapid-prototyping. Several of these methods have been adapted to workplace strategy.

1. Web-based knowledge worker surveys

Occupant surveys are now routinely web-based which saves time and money. One good example is the U.S. General Services Administration's new occupant survey.

Occupant surveys vary in their ability to predict productivity. To predict this accurately, you need a "thin slice" method focused on knowledge workers' behavior. This is useful for planning high performance workplaces where productivity growth is required. The behavioral method used by IA Interior Architects is known as WS/OSĒ (Workstyle Occupant Survey).

Test the findings with conventional methods including focus groups and interviews that involve rapid prototyping and iterative testing. People benefit from physical prototypes because most do not separate actual requirements from their current circumstance until they experience an alternative. During a pilot phase, you gain most insight by focusing on behavior, not attitudes.

2. Web-based testing of individual & group productivity

This method, known as ΔPI™ or Delta Productivity Index™ is an outgrowth of behavioral economics and tests individuals' performance of standard knowledge tasks in modified workplaces. It was developed by two Cornell University graduates, Lewis & Sykes, who in 1983 used it to analyze workplace productivity for Apple Computer in a widely reported study.

ΔPI™ measures the performance of actual workers assigned to "test groups" (using proposed workplace improvements) or "control groups" (without the improvements). The difference between these groups is a statistical measure of productivity change. The approach has been used in field and laboratory settings by companies like Herman Miller and Fidelity Investments.

3. Web-based measurement of organizational productivity

Three years ago, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Xerox and others formed the Information Work Productivity Council (IWPC) to develop a standard, web-based model rooted in classical economics for measuring how various workplace innovations impact organizational productivity. Organizational productivity differs from individual or group productivity and there is presently no accepted accounting method for measuring it.

The IWPC is mid-way in developing this so it is not available to real estate professionals. But it will eventually be very useful for planning high performance workplaces. The IWPC is biased toward IT and tech infrastructure, but their focus on standardized, web-based survey methods will make their method valuable to finance-oriented executives.

A case in point: Herman Miller's Marketplace

The work environment is a living, breathing thing, an integrated system - it's constantly evolving. - R. J. Brennan

Two of these methods were used recently by Herman Miller, which prides itself on shattering workplace paradigms. The 100-year-old company literally invented the office cubicle in the 1960's, and in the 1990's revolutionized office seating with their phenomenally successful Aeron Chair.

Conventional methods would have killed both of these product programs. To stay ahead of the pack, Herman Miller needed to develop its own "thin slicing" approaches for gaining insight into the behavior of knowledge workers. They continue to help the company anticipate changes that will yield higher performance workplaces.

When it came to developing workplace concepts for their 100,000 square foot Marketplace, Herman Miller worked with workplace strategists, architects and builders to adapt "thin-slicing" research methods from the manufacturing world. The successful result aligned nine business units and consolidated four leases in one innovative, constantly adapting structure.

The company's goals for the Marketplace sound familiar:

  • deliver a high quality, creative work environment that people enjoy;

  • improve workplace productivity by enabling better teamwork and collaboration;

  • reduce the time from planning to move-in by one third;

  • cut the total cost by one third;

  • enable a high degree of flexibility and continuous change;

  • achieve LEED® certification.

To accomplish these goals, a complete reorganization of the programming process was essential. And active involvement by senior management was key to achieving proactive change management. IA Interior Architects strategic workplace programming process (now SmartSpace™) compressed all phases and relied upon behavioral research, iterative testing of a "kit of parts," and a user-driven continuous adaptation program to support changing business requirements.

Two of the methods mentioned above were used in the Marketplace: web-based surveys focused on the behavior of knowledge workers (coupled with focus groups and interviews), and iterative testing of prototyped workplace concepts.

The Marketplace project was completed ahead of schedule, on budget, and at significantly reduced cost. Furthermore, it is a dynamic workplace that has yielded many of the work force productivity improvements envisioned by management while simultaneously preserving the need for continuous change and experimentation.

*LEED® means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED Green Building Rating System® is a trademark of the U.S. Green Building Council, a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high performance, sustainable buildings.


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