The next workplace:
why CEOs are paying attention
Designing a modern workplace
Office space frequently ranks as the largest item on a company’s balance sheet and the third-largest cost on its profit and loss statement, yet many companies remain out of step with modern work patterns. It’s time to stop providing work space designed to conform with office standards set in the 1980s.
That was a key theme sounded by the speakers on “The next workplace: why CEOs are paying attention” panel Thursday at the Forum. Moderated by Mark Gibson, Leader, Americas Construction and Real Estate Advisory Services, Ernst & Young, the panel featured Clark S. Davis, Senior Consultant, HOK Group; Nancy Altobello, Americas Vice Chair, People, Ernst & Young; Christian Bigsby, SVP — Worldwide Real Estate & Facilities, GlaxoSmithKline; and Jim Keane, Chief Operating Officer, Steelcase Inc.
Bigsby noted that most offices dedicate 85% of their real estate asset to the individual, but only 35% of work activity is isolated as more employees work in a team environment. “We’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the space and not focusing on what the people are actually doing in their daily activities,” he said.
Altobello said that Ernst & Young is trying to change its work space to reflect the firm’s new culture, which emphasizes teaming. At the same time, she added, “no two workers work the same way, and they may not be doing the same thing throughout the day.”
Davis said that work space goes a long way toward reflecting corporate culture, sending a signal to current and potential employees about whether the organization is open and transparent or hierarchical and closed. He added that in the modern workplace many employees are, at any time, “carrying the tools we need to work anywhere in the world.” The office is no longer the place to go “because that’s where the tools are.”
While organizations may be limited in their options for refurbishing existing work space, the panelists agreed that companies moving into a new office or consolidating existing space need to view it as an opportunity for change.
Keane noted that Steelcase recently consolidated two offices at its corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. “In the corporate headquarters, we had a cafeteria in the basement that no one used,” he said. “Employees would go downstairs, buy their lunch and take it back to their desks.” Instead of just moving employee workstations into that space, Steelcase decided to turn the basement into an open environment that now serves as a hub of activity for the new office.
While this new design may have cost more, Keane added that it was more expensive “to have all that space that nobody used.”
Clark S. Davis