A Pivotal Shift: Scalable Workplaces

This article has been modified for publication with permission from its original author, Kay Sargent. It’s the final installment in a 3-part series on the changing work environment.

Timing is everything. Power lies in the realization of the pivotal shift that is profoundly affecting the present and defining the future. The current global financial crisis has forced just such a moment, prompting accelerated change and promising huge opportunities for those who recognize them.

By necessity, the workplace will be re-thought, reconfigured, and rebuilt to achieve greater functionality and profitability. Smart companies and corporate real estate (CRE) decision makers who understand the implications for their portfolio, workforce, and bottom line will need to plan tactically and leverage opportunities for a bright future well ahead of the curve.

NetApp Interior Concept c/o IA

What about planning and the CRE team?

To make informed decisions that minimize loss and maximize profits, a company’s leadership team needs to know where it stands and have a firm grasp of organizational goals and targets; identify opportunities and obstacles; allow for maneuverability without penalty; and chart a course with an appropriate contingency plan for swift action and execution when an opportunity presents itself. Carefully considered and appropriately vetted tactical plans will allow companies to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. According to Jane Kuehn, senior project manager at Computer Sciences Corporation, “There’s a greater level of scrutiny and lots more discussion and validation. And that’s good. We’re reinventing our process.” Organizations that are over-extended will need to focus on achieving stability and reducing risk, but others will have a chance to capitalize on the unusual opportunities the current market is creating.

The importance of real estate will increase and the role of the CRE team will change. The importance of the team will be elevated as emphasis is placed on real estate solutions. More and more, CRE teams will consolidate their operations into global management teams, with guidelines and pre-negotiated contracts for goods and services that eliminate the need to reinvent the wheel and provide speedy market solutions. CRE teams—which have historically been cast in a service-providing role—will likely be asked to change their mission. Going forward, they will regulate and control real estate for cost savings, appropriate workplace diversity and innovation, consistency, and accountability.

RedHat Office Interior Concept c/o IA

Evaluation Processes: Adjustments for Advantage

How does a firm determine the appropriate actions for a unique situation? What changes must be made, and why? Since real estate costs are a big item on the expense sheet, a company must understand both its current situation and where it needs—and wants—to be. An assessment of the overall portfolio, space utilization (including workflow), space requirements, current costs, and business goals is a prerequisite. A holistic approach is essential, as it will help the team identify new ways to manage, allocate and design space; improve operations, mitigate potential risks; enhance organizational culture; and provide overall cost savings.

It’s important to remain open to the avenues that could lead to a positive result for the organization’s use of real estate, resources, and facilities. Every aspect of the infrastructure, all workplace requirements, and human requirements should be considered without a bias for any one agenda. A professional strategist, whether internal or external, should be engaged as a partner and team member. A strategist will be uniquely sensitive to the interconnectedness of diverse factors that impact business success and will have the experience to recognize hidden costs savings and options often overlooked. By analyzing every aspect of a business–overall goals, human resources, technology, human capital, management, workflow, real estate, and communications–a strategist can recommend the steps a company should take to move towards greater effectiveness and success.

Advanced portfolio planning combined with comprehensive strategic planning allows an organization to identify the right time to make tactical changes. Significant portfolio occurrences, such as lease expiration, staff relocation or consolidations, energy upgrades, and building infrastructure renovations, may be the ideal trigger points to initiate necessary workplace modifications. By anticipating and aligning these events, companies can minimize work disruption and build positive staff support for change. This undertaking requires a knowledgeable team with the right tools and a careful process. Consider these steps for a positive and successful result:

  • Determine the company’s goals, both short and long term, and realistically assess where it stands
  • Outline what approaches might work for the company’s business and culture, and what kind of results to expect
  • Socialize the planning effort. Let staff contribute input and help them understand the options being considered
  • Formulate guidelines for a long-term plan, defining the points where tactical change can occur
  • Measure actual changes for effectiveness when they occur
  • Revisit the plan to make adjustments as market, business, and other factors change


An irrevocable, pivotal change has occurred. Like all significant change it comes at a moment preceded by a combination of elements — precursors that make the timing inevitable. The multiple factors—economic, technological, demographic and cultural—now shaping the workplace have been at work for quite some time and will continue to affect our workspaces going forward. The workplace of the future will be both physical and virtual, accessible and flexible in time and space; collaborative and interactive; customizable and easily reconfigured; innovative and competitive, yet sustainable, healthful and work-life oriented; non-hierarchical; and certainly profitable. The implications are readily apparent. Smart company leaders will recognize this compelling opportunity to rebuild and re-position the workplace for optimum performance and gain. Acting wisely with a carefully honed tactical approach will allow organizations to seamlessly evolve into a new way of working.

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