Workplace Solutions

Steven Bernstein
Agile working solutions are driven by real estate cost reduction, but workplace focus should be on people and business objectives.

Although US businesses have not embraced the agile working model as readily as their counterparts in Europe, collaborative working environments are gaining momentum. Today, many US firms are exploring flexible workplace strategies as a way to lower operating costs while providing an environment that supports a modern workforce.

Agile working has traditionally meant shared workstations and the removal of physical barriers (such as dedicated offices and cubicle partitioning) as a strategy for reduced operating costs. However the advantages of this type of working environment go beyond the financial and include a range of 'soft benefits' — increased collaboration, faster decision-making, stronger working relationships, sustainability and employee wellness. Agile working supports both the employer and employees by providing a healthier and more cost-effective working environment.

The most significant impacts of this model are realized when the agile strategy is part of an overall plan for real estate portfolio optimization.

The most significant impacts of this model are realized when the agile strategy is part of an overall plan for real estate portfolio optimization. A common misconception is that the focus should be on reducing square footage and therefore minimizing operating costs. However, Faithful+Gould has found that it’s vital to first align the real estate plan with the organization’s values, strategic goals, culture and methods of working.

Reducing square footage provides a major hard benefit to an organization’s financial goals, but there is a ‘tipping point’ where downsizing space and simply removing cost from the business is more likely to erode the soft benefits, unless there is a structured approach to the reinvestment of the cost savings. Every organization has its own tipping point and this should be identified as part of an exploration of workspace, technology, human resources and working practices.

The solution has been beneficial across a wide range of sectors involving commercial office space, including pharma, financial institutions, technology companies, government agencies and law firms. However it’s likely to falter when there is a lack of directive leading the change from the top, or when key functions such as facilities, human resources, technology, and the workplace program are not aligned.

The aim is not only to save costs, but also to create more productive, healthier and engaging workplaces.

Based on our experience in helping clients transform millions of square feet of office space, we are now able to demonstrate the range of optimum square footage per head in an agile working environment. We work with our clients, exploring their individual needs and using benchmarking cost data to find the best strategies and solutions. The aim is not only to save costs, but also to create more productive, healthier and engaging workplaces.

A main tenet of the agile working solution is about freedom of choice of workspaces. The key is to provide more types of spaces for concentrated work, collaboration, private conversations and informal collisions. The tipping point occurs when functionality is sacrificed in the quest to reduce operating expenses.

To provide the right mix of spaces, special consideration should be given to the functions the business needs to perform. The type of agile working space that best supports a business will vary, and often requires an adjustment to the way work is performed. This is where a business transformation program becomes a key component in helping the business adjust to new ways of working.

Changing the workforce mindset and behaviours is always more challenging than constructing a physical space that encourages collaboration. Educating employees to use the tools within an improved workplace provides value and drives early adoption. Continuing productivity with minimal downtime becomes a key factor of the change. A structured training and transition plan, emphasising the benefits and mitigating any barriers, is key to maximizing program success. These programs should harness employees’ ideas and empower them to feel a sense of ownership in the project. Our team may also devise pilot areas to allow workers to test the new equipment and spaces, and provide constructive feedback.

Continuing productivity with minimal downtime becomes a key factor of the change.

Faithful+Gould has successfully used this model in our own organization. By moving to agile working in most of our Americas locations, we have so far achieved a 42 percent footprint reduction (with room for growth over the course of the lease) and a 52 percent saving in rent, as well as operating expense savings. In addition, we have achieved our aim of a cultural shift at these locations, with employee feedback indicating improved cross-team relationships and greater collaboration.

Our specialist Workplace Solutions services operate globally and our client portfolio includes both private and public sector organizations. We’ve helped clients measure the difference between cost reduction and value erosion, leading a wide variety of agile working, relocation and change management programs, supporting clients throughout the Americas, UK, Europe, Africa and Asia.