Workplace Strategy – The 10 Commandments of Estate Rationalisation

Richard Morris
It is widely recognised that two of the biggest costs for any organisation are its property and employees.

It is therefore unsurprising that both public and private sector organisations have identified these as opportunities to generate cost savings. Indeed cost reduction is often cited as the primary driver for estate rationalisation programmes and whilst this may be true, it only tells part of the story. If an estates review is undertaken in conjunction with a workplace strategy implementation that leads to agile working being adopted, other benefits can be achieved including an improved environment, increased workforce flexibility and improvements in business performance.

However, in the clamour to realise the savings this is often only partially recognised, so all too often the end result of the rationalisation is less space leading to reduced costs but delivered at the expense of employee satisfaction. In an attempt to combat this we have put together a list of ten key factors which should be fundamental parts of an estate rationalisation programme leading to the successful planning, designing and implementation of flexible working.

1. Take stock

Take the opportunity to fully understand and determine how the existing organisation is functioning; high level studies and employee engagement should allow a clear picture to emerge.

2. Visible and accountable senior buy-in

Senior level support of the programme is fundamental for employee engagement, after all 'do as I do' is a much easier message to sell than 'do as I say'. If employees can see that the CEO or FD are actively involved, provide senior sponsorship, and are happy to invest time throughout the process (not just at the start) then it is much easier to keep staff engaged.

3. Infrastructure

The existing infrastructure can be both an enabler and constraint on the extent to which new ways of working can be adopted. The ability of IT and telephony to support working in a variety of locations is well understood. However, environmental factors such as fresh air provision, heating and cooling, the ability of upper floors to support increased floor loading, the means of escape and even the capacity of toilet provision also need to be properly considered within any proposed design solution.

4. Vision

Establishing a clear vision of the future workplace at the outset creates the benchmark against which the results can be measured. The process should seek representations from across the organisation at all levels and should not be confined to the vision of the CEO or Leadership Team (although their input is clearly important). Typically this can be achieved through workshop sessions or by utilising an online survey.

The team should collectively agree and establish some objectives including required workspace productivity levels, the specific use and allocation of space, the communications to be used through to general principles around employee satisfaction.

5. Communication

Once the clear image of the future has been established, the next step is to make sure that the messages are effectively communicated in a structured and timely manner, which if properly managed should ensure employee involvement and commitment. The language used in these communications is just as important as the message itself and must be managed effectively.

For example, whilst the decision to rationalise space may be based on sound financial evidence, communicating this as the key driver is likely to increase resistance.  In our experience putting people first and focusing on the benefits to the employees is the preferable approach to delivering effective communications.

6. Culture change, employee journey

Providing meaningful employee engagement and allowing them to take an active role and influence the workplace strategy is possibly the single most important aspect of workplace change. 

Effective engagement will help ensure that the change is enduring rather just being endured. Similarly, if steps are not taken to help employees use the new space in the way it was intended, we often find that old work styles are continued in new space and thereby diminish the ability to maximise potential benefits to the organisation and employees alike.

7. One size doesn’t fit all

When developing the workplace solution it is important to provide solutions particular to each stakeholder group. The base solution (open plan space) can be common but the specific needs of each team should be accommodated. So, for example, a HR or legal team may require more enclosed space for private meetings and calls, whereas research and project teams may need large tables to review large scale plans and for ad-hoc meetings. 

It is also important to develop options that address the type and extent of change required based upon the established business objectives and emerging findings from the take stock phase. Besides space design, the changes are likely to include ICT and technology and its use, employee behaviours through to process standardisation and simplification.

8. Build flexibility into the solution

Organisations are constantly evolving and it helps to take a flexible approach to space utilisation in order to accommodate changes in the way that work is delivered in the short, medium and longer term.

9. Successful Transition Period

The process of implementation will be physical and emotional for employees and should be gradual. The prerequisite for success is keeping the employees engaged and supported throughout the entire process. Employees seeing both instant and emerging benefits are likely to respond to change in a more favourable way which will support the change programme as it progresses.

10. Review, feedback, continually improve

Once the implementation phase is finished and everyone is in their new location it shouldn’t mean that the project is complete. To make the most of the opportunities that an estates rationalisation project can deliver, it is important to periodically review usage and check to see if further improvements have the potential to deliver still greater benefit. This is often best undertaken by introducing a system which invites review and feedback from users so that the solution can be optimised.