If the first workplace revolution was dramatically visible, the new one is flying under the radar. Yet there are a lot of changes afoot.
“You have to add them up to realize what’s happening,” says Christine Barber, Gensler’s director of research. Six of these changes have particular impact, she adds. “They represent a major reframing of what the workplace is and does.”
Here are some real-life examples of this “quiet” revolution in action. They reveal how companies are addressing the new conditions of global business and how they are leveraging work, work styles, and the workplace to gain and maintain competitive advantage.
Number crunching and the bottom line underlie today’s push for change. There’s a greater willingness to consider the planning horizon of an organization’s workplace needs. “What’s the opportunity cost and cost of change in ‘whole-life’ terms?” asks Hugh Mulcahey, Gensler London's director of consulting. “Public agencies can look out 30 years; fast-growing companies have a much shorter planning horizon. Seeing the difference is critical to exploring options.”
Studies can shed light on how people use the workspace. “Until they see the data, companies don’t realize how much work habits have changed. Their real estate is underutilized—20% to 30% is typical,” says Gensler's Gervais Tompkin, a workplace leader in San Francisco.
Organizations today scrutinize work styles across the board, crafting solutions for each specific group. For AP’s new workplace, Gensler consolidated the broadcast and print groups within custom-tailored work settings. The result is a merged news organization with no media boundaries. Each cluster matches the specific needs of each reporter group.
Other companies take a broader approach. A large retail bank has rolled out branded centers where employees can drop in, use a cubicle, and enjoy communal “associate hubs” with coffee and flat-screen TVs. “They serve people who’ve opted for mobility,” says Jim Follett, a Gensler founder and organizational growth pioneer. “They can go to a hub office closer to home.”
While workplace mobility is at an all-time high, few companies agree on what it really means. “Work is happening everywhere, in a multitude of settings,” says Tom Vecchione, a workplace leader at Gensler New York. “Companies are focused on getting the best results.” That means that supporting spaces are getting as much design attention as individual workspace.
“If I’m a mobile worker, it’s my time and energy that matter,” Vecchione maintains. “So time and energy are altering the workplace in the same way that cars gave rise to roadside diners and McDonald’s. We need to look at those revolutions in food, retail and transportation as models.”
When work settings are truly designed around mobility, “the payoffs can be enormous,” adds Gervais Tompkin. “If a company full embraces mobile work, it drives how it mentors and shares knowledge and how it collaborates. Both the cost and the carbon footprint per employee are lower, even as performance soars.”
A company's brand standards need to be global, so why not its workplace standards? This becomes imperative as organizations merge and expand. Work settings that vary too greatly from city to city can be inefficient to run and detrimental to a company's culture. "Yet there are real differences in how people work across geographic regions and ethnic cultures," says Tompkin. "To deal with that, you need a looser and more flexible approach to standards."
When one technology company, active in 140 countries, set out to create a coherent global culture, it sought that flexibility. "Instead of strict mandates, Gensler developed a guideline document for the company that gives each region a flavor of what it needs to do, with an emphasis on certain types of spaces."
Tompkin and his team based their recommendations on a "camera study" of the work settings. Instead of providing a layout and specifications, they used photos to "convey the essence of the space in question-the ideas behind it and how they're realized," he says. The strategy left lots of room for interpretation based on local preferences.
Europe is an important test bed for workplace innovation, according to Gary Wheeler, who leads Gensler’s workplace practice in London.
“Europeans are more willing to experiment with the work setting,” he says. “They provide multiple places where people can work—heads-down caves, conferencing commons, pin-up areas and more. People aren’t tied to their desks. There’s more flexibility and adaptability."
Some useful new models have emerged from Europe’s public sector, adds Hugh Mulcahey. “They’re willing to change, because real estate and travel are so expensive. With longer horizons, they’re very conscious of sustainability.”
These organizations are looking beyond the workplace to rethink their buildings and settings. “Access to regional transit and a rich mix of uses is as important to their workforce as having a healthy and sustainable building,” he says.
“Place making is back in the corporate vocabulary,” says Tom Vecchione. Perhaps the most tangible sign of the workplace revolution’s next phase is a renewed belief that work’s settings should be inspiring, above all else.
“When people are engaged by their work, there’s a confidence and camaraderie that let them feel they can do anything,” he says. “Companies that acknowledge this and design for it can accelerate that engagement.”
The upside of that greater commitment is huge. A recent Corporate Leadership Council survey of 50,000 office workers found that when people are engaged by what they do, they make, on average, a 57% gain in discretionary effort (they’re willing to do more on their own initiative), a 20% gain in personal performance (the effort pays off) and an 80% drop in their desire to change jobs (they’re happier).
“Work patterns have changed, but the office is still a critical component,” says Christine Barber. “It’s the cultural glue that holds the organization together.”
John Parman—Gensler Firmwide Communications
Sherman Takata (Gensler—San Francisco): page 1
Ben Tremper: page 2
Michael Moran: page 3
Andrew Bordwin: pages 4 and 7
Owen Raggett (Gensler—London): page 5
Hufton & Crow: page 6
*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.
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