Please Rotate Your Device
Recently I had the opportunity to visit a Fortune 1,000 company's flagship new office - an open office design. Almost completey open concept.
It was with an existing office tenant client of mine and it was led by the interior designer who completed the space. The designer has been retained by my client so this was a field trip to see what we could do.
The facilities manager for the Fortune 500 company repeated a few key phrases throughout the tour.
"We want to get people to collaborate"
"The goal is to get people away from being at their desk all day"
"Sitting is the new smoking"
Certainly this has been a trending topic....
My client was impressed. It certainly was more inspiring than the conventional offices-on-the-perimeter premises that they are currently living in.
But something strange happened while we were on tour.
I noticed that nothing the facilities manager was talking about was actually happening. About 90% of the meeting rooms were just sitting there empty.
The last I checked, a tenant owes rent on every square foot, regardless of whether it gets used or not.
I asked some questions about where they came from and where they are now. The previous location was 30,000 square feet, 165 employees, 34 offices and 7 meeting rooms.
This location is 37,000 square feet, 165 employees, 0 offices and 41 meeting rooms. Hmmm.
I did not ask how much they are paying in rent, but I suspect it is about $35 per square foot per annum. So they are paying probably $250,000 per year extra for this environment. It was a 10 year lease, so we are looking at about a $2.5 million in total.
The facility manager mentioned a few times that the entire space is completely wireless. Great. Why do I not see any laptops though? I did not ask if everyone received a new computer as part of the move - most likely not. If they had, perhaps the company would have provided laptops for everyone, which would have worked well with this work environment. Desktops still provide the best value for workers at their desks in terms of performance and price. I did not see anyone with their computer tower in a meeting room or area.
Remember the days when one monitor was enough? Every single work station in this space had dual monitors. Some workers had two applications open in each monitor. Sound familiar? Laptops are great for coffee shops but most workers need to access multiple programs at once to efficiently get their work done. Sitting on a couch with a laptop or iPad just does not offer the same level of functionality.
The easiest way to speak with a co-worker is to dial their extension, not look up their cell phone number. Clients and suppliers have no idea when a worker is working from a collaborative space or from their desks - by default everyone will call you at your desk.
For this reason people feel the obligation to be at their desk to be accessible. Most people would also rather deal with calls as they come in instead of coming back from a meeting room and having to listen to voicemails and try to reach people back. This company is in financial services (mostly equipment leasing) and most of their employees spend a great deal of time on the phone every day.
Compounding this issue is the fact that one third of their workforce is a call center. Those are workers that absolutely must be at their desks.
Since companies organize people by department, there is already an organic level of collaboration within each department. Why would a few people need to get together in a breakout room if they are around each other every hour of the work day?
This company envisioned all of these meetings to be held to create innovation at the company and did not think about the micro innovation - the brief encounters in which problems are solved already by clustering people together.
As much as companies strive to foster a collaborative work environment, the truth is that most of the work to be done is straight forward and does not require a team. It is simply head-down, grind-it-out-before-I-leave-here-at-5pm type of work.
But nobody talks about that.
Nobody wants to promote their company as the sit at your desk with your head down all day company. As most of the employees at this company are customer service reps, they are simply dealing with the problems that come up with their individual clients and are too busy with those fires to be meeting with colleagues in a lounge.
With changes in technology and workplace culture many people have the freedom to spend some time working from home. This is particularly true for the sales team who is normally in the field anyway, and anyone else who has to visit a supplier or client and will piggy back that into a half day from home.
It appeared from the eye test that about 20% of the workforce was not at their desks (but also not in the meeting rooms).
One of the reasons why companies move to an open workplace environment is to save money. A workstation obviously takes up less room than an office. In fact, I would argue that an open concept workplace as a way to save money in rent is where most real estate projects start. Then the "collaborative work environment" label is attached to it as a way of getting buy in from employees.
You may have noticed previously that this company actually went up in size. You also may have noticed that they created the same number of rooms (34 offices + 7 meeting spaces = 0 offices + 41 work spaces). Most of their meeting spaces are larger than offices.
If they kept the same cubicle sizes and the same number of meeting areas, the increase in the square footage is equated to the extra area required for the size of the meeting rooms versus the offices. At least the offices were utilized!
Let's go one step further and think about the worst-case scenario in which 100% of the employees are in the office and 100% of the employees at a given time need to be in a meeting.
165 employees/41 meeting rooms = 4 people per room.
The smallest of rooms was large enough to accommodate 4 people. Isn't that kind of like a bank branch having enough money in the vault to cover the scenario of every client coming in and withdrawing all their money all at the same time?
So basically the company built 585% more meeting rooms than their previous office space, are paying $2.5 million more over the lease for this luxury and nobody is using them.
Do not get me wrong...it was a beautiful work environment and that matters. People want to love their workplace. I am sure that when meetings are held people look forward to them. We just are not quite there yet in the workplace culture for all companies and there should have been a few more questions asked and answered, which would have led to the company searching for 30,000 square feet and not 37,000. Besides, there is a lot of evidence that the open office environment does create more talking, but not about work stuff.
While this company may have received expert commercial lease advice for their lease, what is costing them was poor planning and execution on their workplace strategy and design.