Walk first, run second

“The test fit will change?!” squeaked Bob, pen poised over his notepad. “Why?!” I had a bit of an ‘er…’ moment before replying “Well, it’s, um, just a test fit” trying hard to not infer anything negative, like surprise. “We have yet to engage with the business.”

It turns out that Bob was used to using the test fit to define his final proposal, fixing very early on what he would be delivering. The old process ran with this and simply absorbed any issues that arose.

So what is/is not a test fit?

  • A test fit makes sure the building you like will actually fit the needs and requirements of the business and local compliance.
  • That’s it.

To explain, let’s roll back the process a bit…

  • Your organisation will have standards and target metrics.
  • You will have a space budget, or space calculator, containing those standards, the space they require and other essential add-ons like team storage, circulation, etc*
  • On preferred buildings, the space budget is planned into the space, using your standards and initial visioning sessions as a guide to create the test fit.

Test fits will not show the final construction layout of the ‘executive suite’, where leadership have to agree a layout that supports their new ‘unassigned desk’ status. There are many revisions yet to come on this area alone, particularly in countries where hierarchy is culturally important.

Test fits may not have the shower/ping-pong table/bike racks that all your end users are pushing for – and which you are able to supply.

Test fits don’t take into account the looming occupation study outcome, how that data might impact the business case and your standards.

Test fits don’t know if the budget approval will include costs for HVAC changes, or if the landlord/compliance will let you move fire curtains, or if negotiations with the business mean more desks and less construction, or the other way around.

Test fits identify the road you will be travelling on. They do not show the destination, the story arc, the curves in the road or all the characters you will meet.

‘Wait!’ cried Bilbo, running after the somewhat end-game fixated dwarves, ‘I have the concept design plans!’

 


* Because you want to avoid mis-calculating the space needed and end up seeking a space based on NUA instead of NIA. (RICS download for terminology buster)

 

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Turn the Beef Around

An example of how a change in workplace strategy benefits people, place and budget and can be quite different to people’s perceptions.

A long time ago in a galaxy campus far, far away….we broke the mould.

In a rather traditional company I had managed to influence a director to take a calculated risk and adopt agile working. Not long after moving day,  a letter was published in the internal newsletter:Picture6

I notice Team X has got a new office that is different from everyone else’s. As the company goals include cost reduction and our values include equality for all staff, please can you explain the costs, how this office compares to the rest on campus and  what consultation took place? *

These are some  everyday misunderstandings about what is needed to adopt a new workplace strategy.  Designing a different type of workplace does not have to be expensive, time-consuming, or unfair.

  • Costs can be mitigated by clever design and by getting your collaboration groove on with other workstreams.
  • Programmes can incorporate engagement requirements  (yes, they can). You might need to support hard-core construction PMs through a learning curve.
  • Quality can be maintained, you’re going to have some criticals that must be achieved, but the rest, as they say, is gravy.

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*This is paraphrased verbiage of an actual though rather more challenging letter. The response covered the below:

  • The Director took active ownership of leading the change and achieved Board-level buy-in.
  • The staff engagement model was thorough, well framed and end-to-end.
  • The project cost 15% less than a traditional project.
  • The SqM PP met the campus standard.
  • The space was future-proofed for the next three years while maintaining standard quality for existing staff.
  • Homeworkers chose to come into the office just to enjoy using the space.

A year later:

  • Reduction of churn requests from 50 per year, down to two.
  • The annual staff survey saw an 11% increase in workplace satisfaction.
  • The project was the gateway to changing workplace strategy at an organisational level.

 

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Regarding Headcount…

This article shares why identifying headcount is not as straightforward as it seems and how a good workplace strategy requires repeated investigation.

Headcount forecasts require approval before they can be considered viable, however formal headcount requests can be refused. Often, the realities of headcount do not reflect the official line. So when is headcount, not headcount?

1. Contractors, InternsStealth growth

These can be overlooked (or excluded) in headcount forecasting as they can be linked to projected CapEx projects or have approved OpEx budgets re-calibrated during the year to create headcount not considered in, or possibly struck from, the annual round up.

2. Remote Staff

Usually included in headcount, though excluded from real estate calculations. Why provide additional SqM for staff that are never in, right? Not if they need to/chose to come into the office on a frequent basis. Even remote staff need human contact some times.

3. When approval for 1x headcount in Country A might be switched to 2x headcount in Country B. Or not. They are not quite sure.

Fortunately I have found this to have minimal impact. If necessary, your strategy should allow for flexibility in this area.

4. Project Duration

When projects can span 18 months or more, you need to re-visit headcount, preferably every six months to ensure the strategy and project remains fit for purpose. It is easy to draw a line under the headcount at the start of the project and then move in to a space operating at or near capacity. This is not strategic. It does require a project process to be flexible, responsive and open to change.

All this impacts your workplace strategy. If you follow the Finance approved headcount without question, the headcount is likely to be incorrect. The outcome of this assumption is  that the space you create will reach its peak sooner than your strategy intended, with associated knock-on to cost, effectiveness, wellbeing and business impact.

 

More Than Meets the Eye

A short piece on when people are more than their CV, how a simple engagement direction has made some people very proud, and how going the extra mile benefits the project.

At one interview the curveball questions at the wrap-up was: ‘Does your sewing machine have a name?’

We’re all long enough in the tooth to understand that the dreaded ‘Hobbies and Interests’ section of the CV gives people a glimpse behind the professional mask, though when was the last time you actually used those hobbies at work? Or asked your employees to share those skills…and they actually agreed to give up their free time?

So this comes back to two of my favourite subjects: 1) engagement and 2) delivering a quality space on time and on budget.

Engagement:

These images were taken by employees. Their roles had nothing to do with photography, graphics or artwork.  I run a photography competition on live projects. The competition is only open to end users at the affected site; the short list is created with Brand influence before being shared across the site for peer-voting. The winning image is installed with the staff member’s name embedded in the image for all to see.

Their skills, their office, their pride and recognition. No matter how many projects we roll this out on, it’s a humbling and uplifting experience.

 

Delivering on Budget

I object to paying 70 Euro for a single, simple cushion. There, I said it. So when the budget is (once again) directed towards infrastructure and the FF&E budget is cut, there is only so much I am willing to sacrifice. The cuts need to still provide an effective, appropriate solution from Day 1.  In my view, one does not simply walk into Mordor install bleacher seats without something soft to sit on.

Which is how I found myself sewing 22 identical cushions, all with inset zips (without a zip foot on the sewing machine) for a project. Would I do it again? Ask me in a few months. It gave me a whole new respect for professional machinists.

milan cushions

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Plan B

Encouraging flexibility in creatures of habit (the end user).

When we start messing with people’s work spaces, we start messing with their heads. There’s no other way around it, and it has to be acknowledged.

This is why workplace is about people, not spaces.

Spaces are easy. People are not; they are the sum of their own experiences and chemical wiring which is different to yours.

Each and every one of us has preferences that meet our own personal interpretation of pleasure, be it comfort, risk, safety, adrenaline, exposure, shelter, luxury or parsimony. If you find a good coffee place (good being subjective to your preferences) you go there the next day. If it is shut on the third day, you feel let down, right? Pleasure rituals are formed hard and fast.

I am often asked how, in a shared office environment, to stop people using the same space (desk / sofa / nook) each day. The answer is: you do not. You are not going to stop people creating preferences. Should you care if Bob repeatedly sits at the same desk? No more than you should care if he decided to wear his Christmas socks in June. Does it affect his productivity and required levels of engagement to deliver his role? Possibly, it depends on the set up, or position, of the desk….and how he’s made.

Engagement sessions at the start of the project may not reveal Bob’s singular preferences. But that’s ok. And the reason that’s OK is because not only are you going to be actively listening to everything your focus group discussions raise, including reading between the lines, you’re also going to be creating a wide variety of space types, with a variety of furniture, providing choice to cater for the broad, magnificent specimen that is office-bound humanity in as many guises as is viable.

But Bob’s going to set up home in a specific location which will then become ‘his’. How is that fair?

sheldon's spot

Plan ‘A’ – not always available (source:edition.cnn.com)

Now I’m going to assume that Bob’s just a creature of habit, that he’s a pretty easy going, if a little oblivious, guy with a perfectly understandable aversion to mornings. He likes his morning routine: it’s easy and he doesn’t have to think (we’ve all been there).

What does matter, and needs to be discussed openly, without identifying Bob, in a pre-move workshop is: What happens if you come in and someone has taken your favourite spot? The answer: Always have a Plan B. In a first come, first served environment jut because you like a particular space does not mean it is yours and yours alone. You have a choice of spaces, many of which are going to replicate your preferred spot in some form. Are you going to be mean and deliberately target Bob’s seat? Well that’s an interesting proposal Mr/s Workshop Delegate. Group, what are your views on that? Does it tie in with company culture?

To help identify Plan B’s, and support Bob in his quest for the perfect spot, the first day of a new, shared working environment should be more about trying out different spots, having a series of stand-up ‘space introduction’ sessions where you learn about how to meet an individual’s practical necessities, as well as the fun cool things. And Day 1 of the new office should start on the following day.

So when I walked into the office to find my new boss sitting at ‘my’ desk (the perfect desk, the flyby* desk, the ‘back against the wall’ desk) on his first day the voice in my head was shocked and horrified. So I just sat next to him and got on with some work.

 


*Flyby: People walk past it before they notice it, or you, are there.

Ditching the Decs

A bit of fun for Christmas…and how we can give people some joy while saving the business money!

Gather round, Brethren, it’s been a while but the time has come to talk of matters of importance.

Hallowe’en is over. Retailers have turned to glitter, soppy (yet wonderful) adverts are on TV, and they have unleashed merry hell on the eardrums via the seemingly non-stop playing of Slade*. A track, that has, I’m convinced, been played continuously since 1973, the only thing that saves us is the January to November mute button. However, I digress….

In workplaces across the land talk has turned to Christmas.

If you thought how people use their desks is fascinating, just watch them negotiate the office decoration ritual. It’s a wonderful dance of people trying to recreate their personal tastes and usually trying not to trample those of others.

Fairy lights incite debates leading to a rota so carefully orchestrated between glowing pulse, static or psychosis inducing flash that it brings back memories of student flat shares, right down to the anonymous rule breaker who changes the setting with gleeful, mischievous abandon (we know who you are). You learn to love the dancing polar bear that plays one solitary, single, repetitive Christmas tune in faux jazz – while threatening to permanently remove its batteries with a spoon in an appropriately mock stern manner.

People stand on chairs on desks (no, really, I have seen this) to hang decorations from the ceiling. Decoration-making competitions result in a plethora of Santa’s Grottys (sic) and paper chain decorations festooning the motion sensors for lighting and security alarms. One interesting Christmas, blocking the fire route in an office containing over 2000 people, a real tree, about 5ft high, was discovered next to untended lit candles (“Because they are scented and we wanted to know what they smelled like.”) We never could figure out how they got the tree into the building…

It’s not that I have anything against Christmas, quite the contrary.  As a joyful consumer of all things Christmassy, I’m a sucker for it. But not between January and October**. And it is in those months that I have the longest, most drawn out debates about Christmas decorations with end users. Usually because decorations are to be found everywhere in the workplace. Dismembered limbs of fake trees are squirrelled away under different desks; scrawny tinsel and dangling ornaments are in plastic bags in storage units, in pedestals, in wardrobes, on wardrobes. Evverywhherre….

And there is always that one person who leaves their desk decorated all year round. Are they a Seasonal Buyer? Has their own particular interpretation of Christmas joy reached such disturbing levels colleagues are afraid to discuss 24/7 Christmas? Or are they simply too lazy to put them away each year?

And it all has to be moved with them when a space is churned.

“So,” say I to pretty much every department in a business, “this wardrobe…the one solely used for Christmas decorations…do we really need to relocate it?”

“It’s multi-use” they say, using my own language against me “When it is winter the decorations are up so releasing the wardrobes for coats.”

“And how often do you need to access it…?” Say I labouring the point with a thousand yard stare.

It lead me to conduct a study on how much it cost the business to store these increasingly ragged departmental decorations, very few of which tend to be bought with business funds. The maths worked as follows:

  • Cost of a new, fake, 6ft tree with lights and decorations, including square metre costs for one month duration in London’s West End: c.£320***
  • Cost of a new storage unit to store decorations, including square metre costs for 12 months office floor space in central London: £2000 PA.

Outcome: It costs less to buy new decorations each year than it does to store them. Ditch the decs. Keep Christmas fiends happy with new stuff, keep the grinches happy with ritualised seasonal destruction.

Merry Christmas!

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*I’m sorry, I can’t link to that track. I just…can’t. Have this one instead. Or possibly this one. Or my personal favourite.

** Yes, January to October. Love Christmas, loathe Christmas shopping crowds. The gifts are bought (and this year wrapped) in October. It leaves more time for eggnog and hobnobbing.

***Allowing for a luxury, pre-lit LED tree at £100 and average quality decorations at £50. Inc VAT. Excl D&I. E&OE.

What’s it All About, Alfie?

Where I aim to make the language of work space, and fork force, trends more accessible.

Daily I talk about subjects that cause many a furrowed brow. Subjects like Incubators, Accelerators, Millennials, touchdown, free address, five generations….  These are subjects that work space obsessed folk such as myself trip merrily off our tongues without a moments thought, we all instantly know what the other person is talking about.

When it comes tquestiono bringing new, far-reaching concepts to an organisation, this is not often the case; in communicating work space change we are divided by a common language.

In these interesting global times it is increasingly important to talk openly about the human element of doing business. Employees are a cost, the buildings they inhabit, a cost. Inefficiencies in both are being sought out, and addressed, as businesses position themselves to survive – preferably thrive – in these turbulent times.

Though how can you talk about work space, and work force, change if the consultant is using words that do not mean anything to you? For example, one of the buzzwords of our time is ‘generations’; significantly, the five generations. This is a massive subject; more of which in future posts.

A quick search for ‘What are the five generations’ resulted in several HR reports on motivation and management, an excellent intro piece by a mechanics site and the ever reliable Forbes.com. Not much about their impact on the work space itself.

This, and the educational journey I walk with many people, have led to the tongue in cheek Tag called ‘What’s it All About, Alfie?’ where I aim to make the language of work space, and fork force, trends more accessible.