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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Talking heads From: Journal of Corporate Real Estate, Volume 10, Issue 4
Interview with Franklin Becker(PhD, Professor and Chair, Department Design and Environmental Analysis, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA)by Debbie Read
Of necessity, I am going to give very brief answers to these questions. They are good, but answering them in any depth would entail writing a book (done!).
What is the relationship between corporate real estate strategy and human resource strategy?
For organizations that plan, design, and manage their physical facilities well, there are many strong connections to HR and organizational development issues and goals: a great facility can help attract and retain staff; can motivate them and increase job satisfaction; can help build teamwork and collaboration; can signal changes in culture and key corporate values.
What role can the corporate real estate strategy play in attracting and retaining employees?
Where facilities are located, and how they are designed and managed, can be important factors, along obviously with such things as the nature of the work itself, compensation, and management, in making work with one company more attractive than another.
The facility design conveys corporate values, organizational assumptions (e.g. how individuals are expected to work, and to relate to other units, for example) and can just plain make coming to and being at work a more enjoyable experience. Companies like Nike, for example, see their corporate campus as an important element in attracting and retaining staff.
How can the corporate real estate solution impact on organizational culture?
It conveys through how space is allocated (where are departments located and who gets what space) how individuals and functions are valued. By where people are expected to interact (in an office, in a café, in a conference room) and how formal or informal the furniture and its arrangements, cultural values about status and communication.
In fact, the entire facility is a form of nonverbal language, silently but often vigorously sending environmental messages about such things as what and who counts and what and who does not; about how formal or informal people are expected to be with each other.
At what stage of a head office relocation project should the office occupiers be involved? What techniques should be adopted to enhance engagement with the process?
Change management starts the minute the project does. Face-to-face communication one-on-one or in small groups is the most effective way of engaging people. Town Hall meetings, project newsletters, e-mail notices, survey, and so on can be useful … but they do not engage people nor give them the sense that their concerns are being heard.
How can space be used to enhance the health and wellbeing of employees?
Health and the environment take myriad forms. To name just a few: ergonomic chairs, daylighting, personal control over temperature, opportunity to find places to concentrate and to communicate, good air quality.
How can the space solutions provided enhance organizational performance?
Facilities that help attract and retain desired employees, and enable them to work productively, are enhance performance. They do not guarantee it, but they make it more likely.
What metrics can be used to measure the impact of the office environment on occupier performance?
Employee job satisfaction surveys; turnover rates (when related to specific buildings and even parts of buildings); attraction rates (yield of people who are offered positions who take them, again related to specific buildings or areas within buildings); number of cross-unit committees, projects, proposals (when the design is intended to foster such outcomes); requests for transfer (in to or out of a particular building); work-related complaints (health); depending on the nature of the work, output and quality (number of errors, need to rework).
The key is that the organization should have such performance metrics in place already, and then analyze them in relation to, for example, buildings housing similar functions but of very different design; or before and after a major renovation or the move from an old to a new building.
Sadly, most organizations do not measure performance routinely, and so then flounder when they try to measure it in relation to a new building or major renovation or new strategy for managing, using and allocating space.
When providing space solutions how can the optimum balance between collaboration and concentration be achieved?
Many organizations today use some form of “activity-based planning,” which typically involves creating a wide variety of spaces designed to support specific functions, activities or experiences (e.g. space for quiet and concentration; for team meetings; for informal brainstorming. It is not a matter of choosing open or closed offices. The key is the overall workscape, not the individual elements that comprise it. Closed office in conjunction with team spaces, informal break areas, and so on can provide a good balance in theory; as can open offices in combination with closed offices where one can go when quiet or concentration is desired or required. Space and design is never the whole answer, or the whole problem. The nature of the information technology, management styles, the specific work processes, the size of teams and departments, etc. all have to be considered.
What impact do the changing demographics have on future office provision?
The biggest challenge is creating workspaces that attract and retain, and allow to be productive, people of very different ages, with different experiences and expectations. Companies are going to have to develop and entertain work strategies like part-time work for older workers, and consider how aging affects lighting requirements. Most critically, companies are going to have to figure out how to develop the “deep smarts” older and more experienced workers have (and will take with them as they retire) in their younger employees faster; and how to have younger and more technically skilled and competent employees help their older counterparts understand and productively use the new technology with which they are completely comfortable. Enhancing informal learning/teaching will be key.
Interaction in the workplace appears to be the “added value” component of the modern office environment – do you agree?
Depending on the nature of the work, “interaction” is not an added value, it is a critical value. Innovation cannot occur without it. Teamwork cannot occur without it. Interaction and communication are simply two sides of the same coin.
What kinds of office space offer most productive forms of interaction?
I cannot really answer this question. It depends on the nature of the work, the particular organizational culture, worker demographics … and most importantly, the type of interaction. One of the great problems in this field is that terms are used incredibly generally: communication, interaction, innovation. Before one can talk about what space supports “communication” best, one must first define in detail what kind of communication, for what purposes, etc.
What will be the purpose of the office in five years time? And how will it look and feel like?
Its purpose will be much like it is today: to provide a location where people come together both to socialize and to work, to share information, to gossip, to learn, to be seen, to develop shared goals, expectations, and values. I think it will look much the same as it does today … the difference is not so much in a fundamental look and feel, as it will be in more options – more choice and diversity – about where, when, and how people use the space.
What are the main components of a creative and productive office environment?
Creating an integrated workplace strategy where physical design, information technologies, organizational culture, work processes, and worker demographics are aligned and reflect a dynamic harmony.
How can organizations retain “Organizational connectivity” when office workers are working flexibly – away from the office?
They need to imaginatively use a combination of face time and virtual connectivity. The amount of routine face time may decline with distributed work, but it needs to be carefully planned along less frequent but longer periods of being together. I liken this to what happens when children grow up and leave home. They do not disappear from the family. They talk by phone and e-mail frequently, and get together much less often but then for several days or even weeks at a time. The less frequent but longer “chunks” of time complement and support the much shorter and more frequent electronic communication.