Sunday, November 2, 2008

Alternative Workplace Strategies

In previous posts to this blog I have mentioned the growing importance of Alternative Workplace Strategies (AWS). While not every organization will be a good candidate for aggressive AWS promotion, many are. Any business that is mainly consultative or application based has opportunities to utilize AWS to its advantage – but it is not without its challenges.

One of the most obvious benefits is reducing the real estate footprint, and therefore, a major cost component (usually the second highest behind labor). Easy to say, not always easy to do. Aside from the costs and hurdles associated with transitioning to a AWS profile, stranded lease commitments being one example, there is also the need to establish new routines, revise policies, and hard wire new ways of doing business into the system.

Despite these issues, however, Alternative Workplace Strategies are becoming more common. There are a couple of reasons for this shift. First, younger generations of workers understand that there are fewer of them than older generations that are now exiting the work force. The laws of supply and demand are in effect, and they are using them as leverage. AWS and Corporate Social Responsibility rank 1-2 when Gen X and Y workers are asked how they decide between competing job opportunities. Secondly, the continuing shift to an information and service based economy in tandem with the growing sophistication of remote access technologies is increasing the proportion of the work force which can actually do its work outside of the traditional office.

Not surprisingly, one area of current interest in the AWS community is developing metrics that prove the performance of the system with objective data. Some standards are beginning to emerge, such as

  • Days worked at home
  • Home/remote office configuration
  • Cost of deployment
  • Productivity measurement
  • Reduced space and occupancy costs
  • Worker’s Comp claims (risk management)

When designing and implementing alternative strategies, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Design incentives that are driven by AWS metrics
  • Technology must be able to monitor performance
  • Remote workers should be willing to give up dedicated office space
Importantly, think about the personality and character traits that enable a worker to be successful working remotely from other associates and supervision. Working from home or other remote sites may require a different personal “wiring diagram” for employees than more traditional arrangements. At the same time, socialization among staff will always be important. AWS programs require that you be more intentional about creating these opportunities.

One of the largest and best known global CRE service firms operating in the Los Angeles market is a prime example of successfully implemented AWS strategies. They have several hundred staff members working in the metropolitan area, yet their real estate footprint is only 10,000 sq. ft. Think about the competitive advantage that represents the next time you are tempted to dismiss AWS as just another business fad.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Ken’s viewpoint and want to underscore the cultural change aspects. Our most successful customers have made the transition to AWS using best practices related to Change Management. Ken mentioned “Remote workers should be willing to give up dedicated office space.” This is not a minor change in working practice. The AWS space in the office must be the best space available, offering amenities not previously found. Our customers have created gathering places with televisions, espresso machines and a coffee house atmosphere to encourage adoption. An AWS employee gains in several ways – ability to avoid the commute and work from home when appropriate, ability to collaborate effectively with colleagues when in the office, and great space in which to work when in the office. All of this must be supported by the tools to allow finding colleagues, reserving a workspace, etc.

    Secondly, as Ken mentioned, not all employees are well suited for the transition to tele-commuting. One of our customers requires that new staff be on board in a traditional work environment for six months, then pass a personality profile which examines suitability for the low socialization of the home office, then finally IT visits the home to ensure a suitable work environment is available and functional. Through their effective AWS program, this customer has increased headcount without increasing real estate square footage.