Common characteristics of the Workspace transformation game

Some thoughts and observations

Improving the workspace experience costs money!

If you are connected to corporate office space, you will be familiar with the dilemma driven conversation about how to improve the workspace and the need to find the funds for those improvements.

At its simplest this is a zero-sum game – you save money by reducing space in absolute terms and use those $ savings to fund workspace improvements.  For most businesses, the rental costs are 70% of total occupancy cost, so there is scope here.

From my current industry experience, this is a game of give and take that is playing out around the World with some re-occurring elements:

Change management

The ‘game’ itself is multi-layered, complex and full of uncertainties. It takes time to execute. External market factors come into play.  So, skills in organisational transformation and change management are important to successful outcomes.

Multi-disciplinary solutions

The people who know how to go about portfolio ‘re-alignment’ (i.e. ‘reduction’) are not the same folk who have a good grasp of what knowledge workers need from offices (let alone the actual fixtures and fittings within them).  To succeed, these two groups need to collaborate and accept shared ownership for investment business cases.

Forever in beta

What workers need from office space is moving too fast to be captured in a design brief 24 months ago and delivered in 6 months’ time.  The design-build-occupy-adjust, adjust, repeat cycle is placing designers and service operators in an ever-closer relationship – the workspace is forever in beta.

Designed while in-use

Like the car or drug manufacturers the experience in use is critical to commercial survival.  No surprise then, applied anthropology and behavioral science related techniques are being applied to provide designers nuanced insights to direct inflight changes and next design iterations.

From bread and butter to pizza-by-the-slice

The service companies who make such workspaces ‘come to life’ are adapting their offerings and in some cases how these services are paid for.  Hospitality is at the sharp end, but in the background the demand for data driven decision making is fueling the digitization of the entire industry (see BIM, occupancy management systems).

End-to-end (of my day)

Hybrid and ‘work from anywhere’ mean the provision of office workspace must be seen as only one part of a wider ‘work and play ecosystem’.  Employers note: discussions about ‘earning the commute to the office’ is also about the commute to the bar with colleagues or to the training center nearby.  Offices in the middle of nowhere will struggle.

There’s an App for that

Linked to the last few points, apps that join the dots across the working life of the employee make sense.  This is driving the emergence of apps that include desk and room booking, meal ordering, local environmental control and more.  Whilst the use of apps for admin functionalities more associated with HR is to be expected, the next big growth area will be (corporate closed) social media / coms function for the distributive workforce to stay connected (see Workplace by Meta as an example).

All roads lead to talent management

At some point the logic hits an Ah-ha moment.  Every corporate’s nagging question: How can we win the war for talent?  In an AI driven future, the more ‘talent rich’ enterprise might survive (if not actually win).  Remember: to survive the lion chasing you, you just need to run slightly faster than the other guy.

Next steps

Over the next year this is going to be the area W&P will focus on … how this game is playing out, the ‘winning approaches’ and what this means for W&P World and our focus on Knowledge Worker Productivity.


Posted by Marcus B on 3 October 2023

Image: People enjoy a drink in the evening after work – The Telegraph public house in Telegraph Street on the corner of Whalebone Court in the City of London, UK.

Image credit: iStock/Getty #1465275338 (editorial use)

workplace designworkplace economics
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