DEGW Roundtable

Yesterday I was at a roundtable in NY hosted by DEGW that describes itself as "a strategic business consultancy," that is to say they "make complex issues simple. Our people help clients to capitalize on a vital dynamic; the relationship between people and the design of physical place to enhance organisational performance. "

The topic was "Preparing People for the New Workspace". As the organizers said: "in implementing a workplace strategy, preparing a new workplace for people is half the challenge. The other half, or maybe more than half (!), is preparing people for the new workplace. "

Bank of America, Microsoft, HP, and GSK all fielded a speaker to talk about their methods of implementing new programs. All four were either promoting different ways of working (like mobility), implementing new technologies or moving people into different types of space. The programs they were talking about had "achieved 'status quo' status in their organizations and are being implemented on an industrial level."

HP's, Chris Hood who leads Hewlett Packard efforts to design integrated workplace solutions together in support of the shifting workplace paradigm, was adamant that 'change management programs' don't work. He was forceful on the point that pilots, trials, and small experiments don't give you any experience of what operating a program on an 'industrial scale' would turn out like. The HP effort is focused on "designing to make sure performance is efficient." As he said "The greenest building you build is the one you don't build. If you can continue to downsize the amount you operate in, that's the best thing you can do for the environment. We put a lot of emphasis on that."

Microsoft on the other hand has a heavily engineered, lockstepped, change management program to prepare their people to move into any new workplace. It has a number of components including staff and manager training for working differently, helping people navigate the 'change curve', and monitoring performance as they do so. They have a whole methodology and toolkit to support this.

Gita Katbamna Head of Change Management, Worldwide Real Estate, GSK (GlaxoSmithkline) also has a full on change management program but not at all in the same way as Microsoft. Theirs is not 'programatic' but rather adaptive and flexible to local conditions and cultures within an overall framework. She talked about the value in have deep and broad stakeholder engagement in any effort – without which, in her view, attempts to change would founder.

Wendy Waite, Bank of America, presented a very slick outline of the Bank's 'My Work' program. This is less of an attempt at performance improvement related to space usage and more to do with retention and productivity of staff. You can look at a short video on the program that's on the public website. The Bank provides several incentives to their 'associates' to join the program including $1000 to buy equipment to set up, coaching for employees and managers in working in this new way, and ongoing training as the technologies and skills for mobile working change.

Far from making this complex issue simple the roundtable served to highlight that mobile working, new designs of collaborative office space, new technologies, and new employee/employer expectations make this complex issue very complex. There is not a best way to approach it and no simple answers. The speakers also left a lot of questions unanswered – although they are all making valiant attempts to answer them in their organizations.

The unanswered questions included: How do you measure knowledge worker productivity? How do you determine what the business value of the space is and monitoring adding value to this? How do you handle manager reluctance to believe that a worker not at his/her desk in the office is not working? How do you help employees navigate career progression if they are not 'visible' in the office? How do you foster any cultural change that is required to engender the sense of neighborhood and community required for collaborative yet remote from eah other working?

I did pick up a number of ideas and thoughts to work with:

  1. Decouple space use from management style. (You can't know people are working even if they are physically present in the office).
  2. Provide incentives to give up space
  3. Map the impacts of space reduction on work performance and space use
  4. Provide 'space use' training to managers and staff
  5. Have a clear and communicable business driver for any space and work change effort
  6. Be aware and supportive of different workstyles and preference i.e. don't try to mandate a specific one size approach

And, as always, meeting people working in the same field and meeting similar challenges was a useful and fun experience.