Introducing: Continual Workplace Evolution

Workplaces and physical spaces are typically developed with a project-based approach: a linear process including stages such as the development of the brief, design development, fit-out and move-in. In practice, a work environment typically has a lifecycle of 5 to 10 years, during which it remains more or less unchanged. However, during this time, the organisation and its employees’ needs can change dramatically – growth, changing working habits, reorganisation etc. Furthermore, learnings gained through the adoption of the new work environment can and should be acted on to ensure maximum performance. These challenges can be addressed with workplace evolution.

Stop worrying about projects
By applying the concept of evolution to the development of work environments, you can break the chains of a one-time, project-based approach and empower any organisation to use space smarter. It’s simple: by continually monitoring the current performance of an organisation’s workplace and continually identifying and implementing improvement opportunities, you can continually evolve the workplace and make it better. This approach has two main advantages. Firstly, the workplace can dynamically adapt to its user’s changing needs. Secondly, learnings about how well the workplace is supporting its users can be acted on to optimise their experience.

Imagine you have access to the data you need
Those who work in the field of workplace strategy all know the problem of having to work with unreliable data. Seemingly simple questions are often surprisingly difficult to answer: What was the current headcount again? How should I know how many people we are in 4 years? Strategists make do with what they can get and eventually someone makes the call to freeze the best guess. The underlying challenge is change. Headcounts, project teams and forecasts are inherently dynamic. And although that is a good thing (no one wants a static organisation), it’s a real pain for workplace strategists. In result, workplaces are commonly oversized to address the uncertainty. Although such decisions are comprehensible, they present a real business problem. Oversized footprints equal wasted money. The solution is to embrace change and implement systems that allow you to flexibly adapt to change. For example, when one org-unit grows, another may shrink. Shifting requirements can often be addressed with micro improvements that cumulatively result in better-performing portfolios. With workplace costs often being the third or second largest expense category in the knowledge sector, businesses can utilise workplace evolution to develop a competitive advantage.

One size fits all approaches fits no one
The second area of optimisation addresses the challenge of predicting user behaviour. We evaluate user needs and develop a workplace concept that best supports those needs. But let’s be honest, workplace configurations are often developed based on trends – cubicle farms, office urbanism, activity-based-working – you name it. Each trend proposes a specific mix of space types which is then rolled out as a standard across an organisation’s portfolio. However, this approach has a fundamental flaw: it relies on our ability to predict how users will use different space types. Again, the business pain is simple: space modules are purchased, and some will not deliver the expected value. Furthermore, the workplace may not be as beneficial to the productivity and well-being of the users as it could be.

Why do we try to tackle the beast of developing a new workplace so bluntly? With an evolutionary approach, we can act iteratively and precise: evaluate the current performance, identify improvement opportunities, implement micro improvements, evaluate the effect and repeat. With each iteration, we learn what works and what doesn’t: systematically collecting data to create a better-performing workplace experience. And again, there is a clear business case: a better workplace experience increases productivity and well-being, with the latter having a positive effect on both recruitment and employee retention.

Embrace your new mindset, you’ll love the results
Making predictions for your future workplace is extremely difficult at best. Trying to create the perfect workplace in one shot is like finding a needle in a haystack, with one try – guaranteed to fail. Instead, we all should embrace an evolutionary approach with which we can flexibly adapt to change and systematically and measurably learn from workplace improvements. The potential business value of cost optimisation and experience optimisation is enormous.