The workplace move: An impetus for change

Relocations an ideal time to introduce innovative ideas
Thursday, December 20, 2018
By Meredith Thatcher and Lisa Chillingworth Watson

There are few opportunities for organizations as great as the one where it can begin anew in fresh, new premises. Whether moving only two floors below, down the street or clear across town, a move can be a favourable impetus for change. Consider when a person moves residences — all that promise of purging to support an improved order to the new house, and the new ways to enjoy and experience one’s surroundings. A business move has similar benefits, but most importantly, it is a means to set new direction, and to try new things across an entire workforce.

Years of experience as workplace strategists suggests that there is no opportunity greater than an organization’s physical move as an impetus to create positive change. It is a blank canvas for CEOs and executives wishing to introduce innovative ideas and new ways of working, such as a flexible work environment. While this type of environment can be introduced at any time in an organization’s lifecycle and in its existing locale, such a change is far more effective when the impetus is a move.

A move is most often preceded with both excitement and anxiety. A well-planned and well-executed strategy that includes clear move objectives and change management will help manage both of these emotions.

When looking to establish a flexible work environment in the new location, there are several core activities that are necessary for success. They include: engaging stakeholder representation across the organization, surveying employee preferences and suitability for work-at-home/remote co-working options, profiling functional roles, defining technological infrastructure and support, determining optimal utilization and employee experience within the new space, training leaders on managing a remote workforce and managing change, re-writing applicable policies, and — not often considered, but highly relevant — understanding the impact on the organization’s corporate social responsibility or triple bottom-line targets.

Given the comprehensive nature of introducing a flexible environment across an organization, consider starting with a pilot group of employees to test the model through a variety of scenarios. This will undoubtedly inform the broader enterprise solution — well before the complexity of the big move. Having an experienced workplace strategist on the core team to help lead these critical activities can be a key success factor.

What follows are 10 steps to success to help guide organizations through their workplace move:

1. Think about the future

For most organizations, the cost of people is about 90 per cent of the annual expenditures and workplace is about six per cent. The workplace strategy cannot just be about the space, and must take the business strategy and workforce into account. The first step is to get into the right mindset of leveraging the workplace to drive the strategy.

2. Understand workplace strategy

A workplace strategy is a clearly documented vision of the organizational strategy, what work it will be doing, how it will be doing it and who will be doing it. It becomes the accountability document for both the organization and the design team. It’s not possible to write a workplace strategy without knowing the organization. It is important to become educated on how to translate organizational transformation into a physical representation. Read articles about it, join groups such as Workplace Evolutionaries, and attend conferences such as WORKTECH and World Workplace. A workplace strategist needs to be able to bring all the elements of business together and develop the roadmap.

3. Ensure organizational alignment

It’s important to understand an organization’s culture, market forces, market share. Is there an executive sponsor? It is very hard to do any transformation pushing up. An executive has to be on board, and be active and visible.

4. Develop the strategy

The strategy and business needs have to be developed, socialized, and bought into. A move of any kind is a large investment. A simultaneous and effective workplace transformation increases an investment by tenfold. It takes a backbone of steel and a heart of gold to get through this phase. A high-level roadmap including timeline should be part of the strategy.

5. Build the team

Who is on the team — and when they join the team — will be essential inputs to the plan. A designer and/or architect, engineers, IT/AV and security specialists will be needed to enable both the workplace and the workforce, and the workplace strategist will need to continue to drive the intended outcomes.

When selecting a designer think about what’s important to the organization — it is trends, brand and culture, evidence-based design, mobility, productivity and efficiency, speed to market, wellness? These are all good goals, but what is relevant to the organization in question?

6. Consider the data

Data will be needed to support the strategy, but more importantly, it’s important to consider the Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom pyramid. Data is just that — raw data. Consolidating it provides structured information. Analyzing it provides knowledge, and putting it in context helps inform wise decisions. Don’t get stuck in the ‘data’ trap.

7. Determining the cost

There are four sections to any move project budget: hard costs, soft costs, Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E), and tenant costs.

  • Hard costs are all construction costs.
  • Soft costs are all the consultants required and usually somewhere in the neighbourhood of eight to 12 per cent of the hard costs.
  • FF&E should include estimates for all furniture, fixtures and appliances (excluding IT equipment).
  • Tenant costs are often the hardest to determine. Consultants can help with 1-3, but tenant costs are often out of their responsibility. Tenant costs include such things as IT, AV, security, move costs, art, branding, change management, reinstatement of current premises, sound masking, signage, music systems, outdoor spaces, etc.

8. Determining the ideal occupant experience

Knowing an organization’s culture will help with this, but remember that its occupants are 90 per cent of its expenditures. If the workplace doesn’t work for occupants, they won’t be working for that organization. Decide what is important in terms of amenities, health and wellness, social context, corporate social responsibility, and flexibility through mobility.

9. Engaging employees and managing change

A robust change management program will likely be required. Everyone goes through the stages of change, from ignoring, to frustration, to testing, to adapting and adopting. The earlier employees can be engaged, and the more authentic an organization’s communications and the more continuous its executive sponsor’s visibility, the more successful the project will be. Do not underestimate the time, effort and commitment required to do this right.

10. Implementing the strategy

If an organization gets the strategy right, and it has an active and visible sponsor, this part will be complex, perhaps hectic, but straightforward. Just be careful that a focus on meeting schedules and budgets doesn’t derail the strategy. Guiding principles are useful to evaluate every change, challenge or issue during all phases of the project.

For most individuals — and workers, by extension — there are few experiences in life that represent as momentous a change as a physical move. With leadership, an organization will be in a most favourable position to harness the significance of this experience, establish the optimal work environment, and drive better long-term results.

Meredith Thatcher is CEO of Thatcher Workplace Consulting, specialists in customizing workplace and change management strategies to align the work, worker and workplace of the future. Meredith and her team provide strategic, sustainable and practical real estate portfolio and workplace solutions designed to meet organizational needs and bottom-line objectives.

Lisa Chillingworth Watson is CEO of The Feasibility Formula™, a boutique firm specializing in workplace strategy, business lifecycle and transformation. Lisa holds a Ph.D. in Management and Business Administration, a Masters degree in Project Management and the Prosci® certification as a change management practitioner.

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