Designing your business space involves more than soothing colors, attractive furniture and feng shui. Aesthetics are important, but making sure your workplace environment is efficient, effective and promotes productivity is paramount. And, of course, technology is the key to success in both aesthetics and functionality.
To learn more about how design, planning and facility management can work together to create a flawless environment—and what workplace trends are on the horizon—we sat down with NELSON Information Services Managing Director Sara Steinbauer.
How have workplace designs and space utilization evolved over the past decade?
So much has changed in the past ten years! When we first began providing CAFM services more than a decade ago, our clients were predominantly concerned with tracking space for financial allocation purposes. Workplace design was more static then—cubicle farms with one person assigned to one space, and that person actually showed up every day. Then, with the financial crisis, we had to quickly change how we supported our clients. We developed new strategies to capture, analyze and design new workplaces, based on actual utilization and the new “mobile” workforce. And our primary focus was to quickly reduce space and costs.
Now, there is another shift toward designing and supporting workplaces that boost performance and attract/retain top talent—this part of the evolution has been the most fun for us. Our practice has become very agile and creative—constantly developing new ways to capture and visualize information that is most valuable to our designers, planners and clients. It is incredibly rewarding to see the information we manage being used every day to support great working environments.
What are some of the primary challenges businesses face today? What do you find when clients come to you?
Many know they are investing a lot of money into technology and data collection, but not getting the results they thought they would. They know they’re constantly recreating information and don't know how to get their arms around it. We focus, first and foremost, on making sure businesses feel confident about the information they need through better alignment of their people, processes and tools. Technology and data solutions should be designed to work for our clients, not the other way around.
Sometimes an organization invests in a system, and they expect that system is going to magically make a difference. It takes a lot to learn how to use something new—to change your processes. A lot of times we’ll come in to reset, to show businesses how to use a tool in a way that’s incredibly valuable to their organization.
Where does the facilities manager fit in when it comes to implementing and changing these processes?
They have always played a big role, but it has typically been a very quiet one. No one thinks about all that goes into managing a high-performing facility and workplace until there is a problem. Additionally, the role is changing significantly and different skillsets are required. A new generation of Facility Managers is emerging--they are technically-savvy and information driven. Facility Managers have not been a typical client of ours until more recently and they are introducing a whole new dimension into how we think about designing, managing and measuring workplace and facility performance.
One Facility Manager we’re currently working with has a great vision for making investments in solutions that will improve the workplace, but he needs help developing the business case to convince the C-suite to make the required investment. Now that facilities managers are being invited into the spotlight, they’re having to learn how to speak with the C-suite to communicate the value of a high-performing building environment and proactively managed facility, and how that benefits the organization and impacts the bottom line.
It comes down to the dollars—and sometimes it's hard to get those numbers—but FMs know they need to be measuring and demonstrating performance improvements that are data-based. We are working with our clients to capture this information better, and build strong business cases to get the support they need to deliver higher performing buildings and workplaces.
Could you explain how the iOffice IWMS fits in with your process?
What really attracted us to iOffice is its ease of use. iOffice is designed for the whole organization to use, not just the more technical employees. They’re focused on the outcomes and performances of their clients. This not only makes it a great solution for our clients, but it also makes it a great solution for our own teammates to easily access and use throughout the lifecycle of our workplace services process.
What is the recipe for successful technology integration within the workplace?
Your relationships with the owners of systems throughout your organization determines your success—HR, finance and all the other groups with systems that you want to integrate. I’ve been known to show up with donuts and cookies to break the ice and start developing these vital relationships. It’s important to understand each other's systems, what information needs to be shared, who's taking ownership for what data and who’s accountable for keeping it up-to-date.
You have to constantly communicate to make sure the data is flowing properly, that it's being managed as planned. You have to continuously look for ways to improve and enhance, identify the gaps and work together. If you silo yourself, there’s redundancy in data entry and it’s not going to work effectively.
There's so much emphasis on gathering the data, but then departments don't want to share it because they're afraid that once someone else opens it up, there's going to be problems. And there could be. But if you have good relationships, you should be able to work through those and support higher performing organizations.
It’s also important to bring quantitative and qualitative data together because data is not going to tell you the whole story. For example, data may show your telepresence room is regularly overbooked and you may think you need to invest in a second telepresence room. But if you talk to those using the room, you may find they prefer it because it has more comfortable chairs. So all you really need is another conference room with better chairs. I talked about relationships earlier from a behind-the-scenes systems perspective, but you also need to build great relationships with your employees. Share the data with them, too, and validate it to develop the best solutions possible.
What do you see on the horizon? What, in your opinion, are the next big trends?
I’d like to think it is more than a trend—attracting and retaining top talent is one of the biggest priorities for organizations, and the critical role workplace and the employee experience plays in the equation is becoming a major focus.
Clients are looking for partners that can advise them throughout the lifecycle of their workspace. We are developing solutions to monitor the environments post-implementation. Is the design having the planned impact? Are they coming in less or more often to the physical workplace, and for how long? How are they moving throughout the space during the day and connecting with those not on-site? Are the oxygen levels, HVAC and lighting levels and automation working as planned? We survey and talk to the employees to get their feedback. Then we make iterative adjustments in response to the ever-changing and dynamic work environments. Again, it’s all about gathering, integrating and using data to better service employees.
Are you effectively managing data and using your space to its full potential? Discover how in our free guide, 4 Ways Innovative Leaders Stay Ahead of the Technology Curve.