There are many reasons why the shift to Alternative Workplace Solutions (AWS) continues to develop momentum, not the least of which is a confluence of environmental factors. We are simultaneously experiencing fundamental shifts in different dimensions, each of which in its own right would have caused change. The fact that a significant generational change in the workforce is occurring at the same time as near-cataclysmic economic change presents unique challenges and opportunities. Organizations all over the world are adapting to these realities. How well they do may determine their eventual success or failure.
Clearly there is no “one size fits all” workplace solution. Each organization must understand itself at a deep level and engage in a thoughtful exercise to determine the optimal solution given its unique set of circumstances. This is not to be under appreciated. Too many companies lean too heavily on outsiders. They may be subject matter experts in design, workplace strategies and the like, but they are not subject matter experts in you. Only you can fill that role. Using outside consultants correctly will be an essential part of successful workplace transition, using them incorrectly will be part of failure.
The Scale and Speed of Workplace Change
A common theme I hear is that the speed of life in general and business in particular has increased to the point it is difficult to keep up with. Don’t expect that to change - ever. The rate of technological change will continue to increase. As it does its implications to workplace and personal technology will increase, including the increasing merge of the two dimensions.
Technology changes and continuing globalization will continue to drive new workplace strategies. Already we see organizations spreading their global reach while at the same time reducing their footprint. Both of these strategies influence the workplace in fundamental ways requiring increased attention to corporate and societal culture. Making culture transition a key part of your change management process is a critical step in promoting acceptance.
We hear and see a lot about alternative workplace solutions in technology companies. Often these are characterized as being more open, less private, having higher collaborative qualities and leveraging technology. All well and good. But not every company fits that profile. In these cases it is especially crucial that FM practice leaders focus on the details of business processes, communication systems, naturally occurring culture shifts, and how these can be managed and leveraged. Not all alternative workplace solutions will result in dramatic “new world” makeovers of space, but all of them will result in multi-dimensional change which must first be anticipated, channeled, and finally implemented with great care. Alternative workplace projects are not to be taken lightly.
A Growing Tension Between Real Estate and Technology Change
While real estate and technology are often supportive strategies to each other, they have much different life cycles, and both represent large investments. Real estate decisions typically have life cycles measured in decades while technology changes every three to five years. This fact alone sets up ongoing tension as the two evolve over their separate time lines but must be managed in tandem with each other.
When either approaches a point of change then the tension between the two increases. A real estate strategy to increase density and collaboration (often characteristics of alternative workplace projects) is likely to require increased technology investment. A real estate strategy decision may allow downsizing or redeployment of space but depends upon technology for successful implementation. The risk of fast moving technology changes obsoleting real estate strategy is real, making integrated planning between the two functions more important now than ever before. Increasing real estate agility through portfolio balance helps to dampen investment risk, with the benefits of easing and speeding investment decisions. One way of increasing agility is to increase the ratio and vary the life of lease space in the portfolio, but this too comes with a set of compromises that must be balanced and accommodated.
At the bottom line alternative workplace solutions are an increasingly important tool in the FM/CRE toolkit. But they must be customized to each unique set of circumstances, environment and culture to be successful. They must anticipate and support the nuances of your organization and are thus more likely to succeed when implemented by those who best know the organization, its goals, challenges and culture.