Location, Location, Location

(By Mary Beth Di Figlia, AIA)

The corporate headquarters, the airport, our client’s conference room, the local coffee shop…where we work is truly dependent of what we are required to do on that day and with whom.  So how effective are even the most cutting edge corporate workplaces if 40, 50, even 60% are vacant on any given day?  How much of the cost to own or lease, light, heat/cool, secure, insure and maintain goes underused or wasted?

How do we reconcile the location, sizing, and design of the physical workplace in light of the reality of our virtual world of work?

The most challenging part of rethinking this equation is specific to quantity and location.  Most companies and their design professionals have yet to truly account for the expanding remote (or virtual) workforce.  According to the 2009 CoreNet Global Dallas Summit survey of 300 Corporate Real Estate executives, Alternative Work Strategies (AWS) is a mainstream concept with more than 50% of the respondents able to perform their jobs remotely. Accounting for AWS in sizing and locating physical corporate space is challenging and requires us to rethink cost, space, and performance metrics.  Having access to people where and when you need to meet with them is not a problem to be solved simply by real estate anymore. While it may be considered heresy in some circles, dare we “design less space”?  An exploration of virtual and location based work in terms of value to the individual worker, the business and/or organization and impact to the environment should help guide us toward an answer. Considering new space typologies and a different mix of workspace is imperative.  For companies that can and have embraced Alternative Workplace Strategies such as satellite offices and drop in centers, right sizing is still an elusive target.  They often find that they can serve many more employees with fewer individual workstations than expected.  Not surprisingly, the most utilized spaces in these evolved places of work have been the collaborative and face to face meeting areas.

While it may be considered heresy in some circles, dare we “design less space”?  An exploration of virtual and location based work in terms of value to the individual worker, the business and/or organization and impact to the environment should help guide us toward an answer.

By focusing on work process and taking more advantage of technology, we collectively need to find ways and places to encourage coworkers to come together for the in-person meetings that promote and sustain professional social bonds, and harness the importance of positive corporate culture. This may imply that the traditional notion of assigned workplaces needs to be challenged, altered, or abandoned altogether.  I believe this will be more important than ever if work continues to be more distributed. Successful Programs such as iWork, We work, My Work, Open Work, ROWE, were developed with a great deal of employee input and focus on employee performance metrics not linked to physical presence.

Let’s face it, technology assisting in the collaborative work process is at the core of our work now and into the future. This means that architects and designers have to respond quickly with new ideas and honest perspectives to improve the design and utilization of next generation work environments.  Blurring the lines between here and there, sustaining our cities and urban areas in choosing a location, reinforcing corporate culture and branding, engaging social networks within the company as well as the larger community must all be part of the equation to bring value and credibility to the proposed solutions.

One approach may be to follow the thinking presented in Mathew May’s compelling book, In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing and evolve the workplace by reducing it to its most essential and valuable elements and characteristics.  In doing so, we may find a place for work that we can’t live without!

What do you think?

3 Responses to “Location, Location, Location”
  1. Really good line of thinking here. Love the idea of the workplace evolving “to its most essential and valuable elements and characteristics.” (I’m wondering if creative firms would include their ping pong area in that class – ha!) I think by giving freedom to individual employees as far as their workspace/arrangement (i.e. home office) and focusing on the venue with regards to the team as a whole, companies will have happier employees and save money in the process.

  2. Phil Montero says:

    Great post! This is something that is long overdue. Clearly the modern workplace has changed. We truly work in The Anywhere Office – yet as you point out – our work structures and offices basically remain the same. The move for many companies to embrace virtual offices (the physical kind) and space they use “as needed” is a step in the right direction.

    The rise of more co-working locations also shows the change that is taking place.

    With real estate being one of the biggest financial drains on most organizations I’ve always been surprised that so few have taken bold steps to truly embrace a change in workspace.

  3. Steve Lee says:

    Given that real estate is often in the top 4 cost elements of organisations one would think that initiatives that could improve the return on the investment would be common place. However, whlst we talk in terms of real estate, the real issue is assisting the corporations leadership and the corporations people in changing the perception of alternative working, if we do this successfully the rest of the project i.e. technology and real estate is a doddle. The danger seems to be that for every good story then here appears to be numerous bad ones….and we all know that the bad story ravels far better than the good one.

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