November 6, 2008

Smart designs squeeze more from less space

  • Reworking your office space can save money, boost employee performance and attract more young workers.



    With the current turmoil in the global financial markets, companies are experiencing increased pressure to save money wherever possible. Real estate and facilities costs are often the target for budget cuts and are now being considered critical areas for continued cost reduction — as much as 30 percent in some cases.

    Other factors are also combining with the financial pressures to create a perfect storm for workplace issues. With the baby boomers beginning to retire, analysts are predicting a shortage of tens of millions of knowledge workers over the next 10 years. This demographic shift is driving a change in work styles as younger employees demand an office environment that provides choice and flexibility while workers of all ages strive to seamlessly balance work, life and play.

    As leases come due, many companies — both large and small — may be tempted to generate savings by simply reducing the amount of space rented. But unless this approach is a part of a carefully developed strategy to maximize resources, it could potentially create negative issues such as higher turnover and reduced productivity.

    So what is a company to do? There are a lot of design solutions in the marketplace and it seems even more programs that herald new thinking about workplace effectiveness. How does a company determine which of these many options is the right one?

    Simply said, the best approach is smart space design that is driven by core business objectives. Applying both short- and long-term solutions to using space efficiently and effectively will generate the highest returns.

    By beginning with a comprehensive study of existing conditions measured against future goals, an accurate picture of your company’s situation and opportunities can be defined. Once done, correct strategies for planning, programs and implementation will emerge.

    Workplace seminar
    Join Callison on Nov. 13 for a two-hour workshop to discover how to save up to 30 percent on real estate costs while repositioning your workplace to be more inspiring and competitive. A hands-on case study will demonstrate practical workplace solutions. Attendees can submit a workplace challenge in advance. The event starts at 8:30 a.m. at Callison’s offices: 1420 Fifth Ave., Suite 2400, Seattle. RSVP and submit your challenge before Nov. 11 to

    We have found several constants in the challenges our clients face:

    • The need to save money in both the short and long term.

    • The need to attract and retain the brightest talent in the marketplace.

    • The need to provide a variety of collaboration and individual environments to support the work styles preferred by Generation X and Millennial workers.

    The good news is that many of the solutions for addressing these needs can actually enable savings in real estate costs. For example, mobile worker programs can significantly reduce the number of workstations needed for a workgroup. Studies of several companies have identified 25 percent to 50 percent of the workstations being unoccupied at any given moment.

    A flexible combination of both individual and collaborative workspaces can effectively accommodate various projects and work styles while boosting productivity. At the same time, the overall need for real estate is reduced, allowing for cost savings or an increase in staff without the need for additional space.

    Another approach to effective space planning is to create a universal plan that is similar across the organization, whether within the same facility or across several different properties. The benefits of this are numerous. As work functions change and move from space to space, there is an ease with which staff can move in and adapt to the “new” environment. As the workforce continues to evolve, the spaces can remain flexible to welcome those work styles.

    The “plan,” as well as office furniture and workstations, need to be designed with an eye toward flexibility over the potential 10-plus years of the plan’s useful life. An increased awareness in sustainability demands that we should be throwing away less and re-using more but doing so effectively.

    Big picture solutions

    In addition to design and program solutions, a number of high-level approaches can be applied. Partnerships with local organizations and vendors to enhance the quality and efficiency of the work environment by providing such services as day care, foodservice and conferencing facilities will allow you to provide these amenities using “other people’s money.”

    To remain competitive, companies need to ensure a continuity of talent over the long term. Take the opportunity to create educational programs for students as young as elementary school age to inspire interest in your fields of study. Your competitiveness tomorrow may hinge on your ability to do this well today.

    Successful implementation

    Once you have program and design solutions finished, how can you effectively implement them? There is often resistance on the part of executives and some workers to what they see as wholesale change. This resistance can create roadblocks to success and sometimes to implementation as well.

    Once defined, design and program solutions can predict much success for companies, but only if they have buy-in from across the organization. You must create change management tools and communication tools to effectively create buy-in and to communicate the plan to the entire organization so it knows what’s coming and can manage well during the change. These processes need to be appropriate to the needs of the organization.

    Faced with the immediate demand to find new ways to decrease costs, managers have many tools at their disposal to leverage those savings for many years to come. Programs and design solutions can be implemented that will allow you to save money today and, if done correctly, to continue to realize savings over decades.

    Tasked with saving money, you can also help your company attract and retain employees, increase productivity and ensure a high-quality workforce will be there for a long, long time. Never before has it been so critical to avoid the temptation to fall short of the opportunity. Leverage, save and aggressively position for the future.

    Andrea Vanecko, IIDA, is a principal at Callison. Vanecko is partnering with multiple major corporations to change the way companies look at their workplace, and to develop innovative design solutions that accommodate the next generations of workers. Anthony Desnick, AIA, is an associate principal at Callison. Desnick has spent more than 30 years helping clients maximize the effectiveness of their businesses. He has consulted with a variety of industry-leading companies, yielding results in organizational growth and clarity.

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