Can it handle the global, mobile, nonstop reality of business today? Because that’s the new reality for globally integrated enterprises. Business is increasingly a team sport that leverages technology to cross borders and time zones. Work is more interconnected and more complex than ever. Our work environment is the pivotal place for helping us navigate this new business world.
This new workplace must address the diverse ways people are working today. It must support enhanced collaboration, the essence of knowledge work. It needs to inspire and attract people to work at the office instead of the coffee shop. It should nurture personal wellbeing, and leverage organizational culture and the company’s brand. Overall, this workplace must make the most of every square inch of an organization’s real estate.
“There’s no company that isn’t struggling with this new business environment. Everywhere, resources are stretched thin from downsizing and a struggling economy. Business issues are more complex than just a few years ago, more organizations are working on a global platform, and every company needs its employees, along with every other corporate asset, to do more than ever,” says John Hughes, principal of Applied Research & Consulting, the global Steelcase consultancy on work and workplace.
The fact is, as companies wrestle with these issues, the workplace can be a key strategic tool: interconnected, collaborative, inspirational. A work environment designed to support people, and the flow of information and enhanced collaboration, can actually help a company solve tough business problems, build market share, and stay competitive. In other words, an interconnected workplace for an interconnected world.
An Interconnected Workplace will:
- Optimize every square foot of real estate
- Enhance collaboration as a natural way of working
- Attract, develop, and engage great talent; people really want to work there
- Build the company brand and culture
- Help improve a person’s wellbeing
What does an interconnected workplace look and feel like? Like the new, innovative headquarters building for Skype, the global Internet communications pioneer. Or the ultra-collaborative workplace for Infragistics, the world leader in user interface software development tools. And the new home for a blend of both resident and mobile workers at Steelcase’s global headquarters. On opposite sides of the United States, the two technology companies meet at the frontier of workplace reinvention fueled by a need to constantly innovate and attract the best talent in the industry. The new Steelcase space is not only a home for employees but also a laboratory to test and measure concepts and solutions designed for globally integrated enterprises. All three of these companies embrace the five characteristics of an interconnected workplace in ways that make them their own.
Attract, develop, and Engage
People really want to work here.
Imagine you’re a talented software engineer. You could find work in Silicon Valley, London, Amsterdam, anywhere really. Why choose a company in Cranbury, New Jersey?
Simple. The company has one of the most collaborative, welcoming, and energizing work environments in the business. With offices in the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Japan, and India, Infragistics is a globally integrated enterprise that must attract the very best talent everywhere in the world.
Going up against high-tech hotspots, “we needed the best workplace experience,” says Dean Guida, CEO of Infragistics, the software interface experience company. “A place that’s spacious, promotes collaboration, a place where you feel good. Along with the people and the projects we work on, the space is what’s exciting and part of the attraction. We wanted a place that creates a ’Wow!’ experience for everyone who enters the building.”
Skype vies for top technology talent, too — throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. Its new location in Palo Alto, California, is just down the street from major technology firms like HP, Google, and Cisco, all striving to attract and engage the best thinkers in the industry. Skype’s holistic approach recognizes the need for a workplace that’s as functional as it is friendly, and uses their own products to help staff work remotely to balance work and life as well as help them connect with colleagues all over the world.
Every day at lunchtime, Skype workers stream into the café for a catered lunch where engineers, marketers, public relations and IT staffers mix good food with conversation that shifts seamlessly from personal life to business and back. Perched on a stool at the central counter, one Skype engineer chatted over souvlaki about how collegial the company feels – almost like family. “I like coming to work here because it’s such a great atmosphere. But I also appreciate that I can work from home when I need to and use Skype for meetings or a quick chat. I used to work in a place where they expected you to be in the office all the time, but I have a wife and two kids and only one car, so that was really tough. I like this a lot better.”
Skype’s facility manager for U.S. and Asia Pacific, Dena Quinn continually considers the company’s space and its relationship to the wellbeing of its employees. Shifting rapidly between tasks, Quinn represents a new breed of facility manager who think not only about the physical environment but the entire work experience, making sure employees are happy and productive.
Skype doesn’t do these things because they hope it will attract talent. They know it will. Their Living Workplace Survey, a recent poll of tech users and decision makers in the U.S., measured how companies are using workspace and technology to engage with highly sought-after tech pros:
- 62% of firms say about a third of their employees spend 40% of their time working remotely
- Decision makers say flexible and remote work options help them attract the best talent and keep them on staff
- The top three factors determining job satisfaction are salary (identified by 55% of respondents), the quality of the work environment (37%), and flexibility to work outside the office or at home (33%)
“We built a place that attracts and nurtures the kind of people we need. That includes a workplace that supports different ways of working, services that help people balance their work and personal lives, like remote work and free lunches, and enough flexibility in the furniture and systems to adapt to changes in business,” says Quinn. “People really like working here, and they can tell what kind of place it is within minutes of walking in. When potential recruits take a tour, they understand that we’re a global company driven by collaboration and innovation. We hear a lot of them say, ’Yup, I could definitely work here.’”
Group hug, maybe. Group work, definitely.
Team work is the essence of knowledge work, and, at its core, knowledge work is four activities: learning, socializing, collaborating, and focused work. Three of those involve two or more people in creating, evaluating, and building on knowledge to generate new ideas and creative solutions.
Innovation is the result of collaboration, but not just any kind of collaboration. Routine coordination, such as giving someone an update on a project, is an important bit of team work. But the kind of collaboration that gets you breakthrough ideas, comes from people working together specifically to solve problems, and develop new insights and solutions.
“Collaboration is an iterative, rolling, often very informal process,” says Julie Barnhart-Hoffman, design principal with WorkSpace Futures, the Steelcase research and design group. “Collaboration relies on social networks, informal connections, how many interactions you have during the day. The variety and type of spaces where you work — workstations, hallways, cafés, team spaces, lounge areas, etc. — have an impact on how well you collaborate.”
Collaboration is part of the design DNA of an interconnected workplace. For example, the Steelcase space originally had a building core of conference rooms and utility space that separated the two sides of the floor. “We removed a third of that core to open it up and eliminate the our side/their side feel,” says Barnhart-Hoffman. In its place went a community café with lounge, eating, and meeting spaces. “It’s a very social space that will create a lot of buzz, build community, and create a whole lot of collaboration.”
An analysis of the work and work styles of the three departments in the space (finance, sourcing, and quality) identified nomads (mobile workers), nomadic techs (mobile technical workers), and residents, and provided specific types of individual and collaborative spaces. The only employees with dedicated workstations, residents, also have a few unassigned workstations mixed in so visiting mobile workers can engage with them. Residents also have access to all the spaces, including the spaces designed for visitors. Nomads have “camps” of unassigned workspaces in different configurations, media:scape® collaborative worksettings, and a mix of other group work spaces. Benching workstations support teams who need to work together.
Forget one-size-fits-no-one standards: “If you want people to collaborate, you have to give them a range of workspace options,” says Barnhart-Hoffman.
Team spaces at Infragistics have a different spin on the same idea: 120-degree worksurfaces inside a Post and Beam frame create spaces called “pods.” Hanging whiteboards and curtains create a sense of enclosure for teams of four to six people. When workers want to expand a pod to include others, they simply draw back the curtains, move some whiteboards, and the space opens to the next pod, or two pods, or three…
Collaboration worksettings scattered throughout the Infragistics office take a variety of forms:
- Open meeting areas with different mixes of chairs, tables, and writing surfaces
- Three different media:scape collaborative worksettings
- A “now showing” room with lounge seating and a big screen for displaying company products
- A breakfast/refreshment bar with a pool table, lounge seating, and a railing that overlooks the first-floor dining area
- “Phone-booths” for private work
- Libraries, small huddle rooms for small groups, and a variety of outdoor work areas
Over at Skype, their “scrum development” work process depends on iterative idea generation through collaboration, so they offer open and enclosed spaces for group work as well as media:scape settings for distributed or local collaboration. “Different spaces let you collaborate in different ways,” says Quinn.
Distributed collaboration used to be one of those “different” ways. Now it’s increasingly common as companies enter new markets, offshore work, and operate around the globe. Videoconferencing has become as easy as making a phone conference call (thanks to companies such as Skype), and file sharing between distributed team members is now routine. To deal with the distance, the workplaces at Skype, Infragistics, and Steelcase each include wi-fi everywhere, small spaces for holding video chats so the noise doesn’t bleed into other parts of the office, and media:scape collaborative worksettings that allow multiple users to display content and work on it together. Distributed teams can work as effectively as co-located teams by using media:scape with high-definition videoconferencing or Skype videoconferencing.
Distributed collaboration not only connects workers in Denver with partners in Prague, it also supplements in-person collaboration and helps cement relationships. Our basic need to connect with the people we work with is fed by technology for texting and phoning, whether we’re separated by thousands of miles or just a few feet of carpet. Barnhart-Hoffman calls it “a quiet, collaborative backstage, a continual information flow that leads to more iterative and spontaneous collaboration.”
The office can actually make you feel better.
For many, wellbeing in the workplace means physical health: ergonomic furniture, a fitness center, healthy choices in the cafeteria, etc. All good stuff. But now, many organizations are thinking about wellbeing more holistically, considering a range of dimensions such as cognitive, emotional, social, and financial, to name a few. That’s part of what Infragistics CEO Guida means by a “Wow!” experience. It’s why their new office is flooded with natural light (a boost for everyone’s wellbeing), includes green plant oases and aquariums, and has a pool table, pizza oven, and other amenities that help encourage interactions and, in turn, build an atmosphere of belonging and collegiality.
Just as people need a variety of different workspaces for collaboration, they also need the autonomy to select where and how they work best. Sometimes it’s a quiet place to concentrate, sometimes a place to meet, or just a more stimulating place to get through a lethargic afternoon. “Allowing people to choose how and where they work, and providing those options on site saves time, makes people more productive, and leads to a more satisfying work/life,” says Barnhart-Hoffman.
Research backs this up. A recent study conducted by Ohio State University and the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S., shows that the physical work environment dramatically influences emotional and physical wellbeing. Workers in an old-style office space with low ceilings, rows of cubicles, limited natural light, noisy air handling, and unattractive views had significantly higher levels of stress hormones and heart-rate variability than workers in more open, spacious, well-lit offices. And these rates stayed high even when workers were at home. The researchers concluded that a bad work environment may actually be a risk factor for heart disease.
“Knowledge work is basically a self-directed process, and people want to choose how and where they work. Work environments where they can make those choices are more intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically fulfilling,” says Barnhart-Hoffman.
An overall view of wellbeing has become a recognized strategy for attracting and retaining people, helping them achieve better health and a better work/life balance. In fact, in a new study conducted by Steelcase together with CoreNet Global, an improved work/life balance is the top reason why companies offer alternative work strategies such as home offices, mobile work, and telecommuting. Nearly half (49%) said it’s the reason their company supports these alternative ways of working. Other reasons include reducing commute time (listed by 35% of respondents), supporting real estate compression (31%), reducing carbon footprint (29%), and supporting creative work (29%). About a third, 32%, said they do not support employees working in third places.
The study found that companies are using a range of alternative work strategies to support the predominance of mobile and collaborative work today. The most common are home offices, supporting mobile work from multiple workspaces, and shared or free-address workspaces. Over half of the survey’s respondents, 58%, say these arrangements are available to anyone in the organization if their manager agrees, and 16% say these work styles are open to anyone in their company.
Brand and Culture
The workplace is the company.
Nothing manifests a company’s brand and organizational culture like the workplace. “Go into any office in any part of the world and within minutes you can sense what that company is all about,” says Steelcase’s John Hughes. “Everyone who comes into the work environment — customers, vendors, board members, new recruits, the media — the people a company most wants to influence, get a clear impression about the company: what it holds dear, how it operates, what it celebrates. Do they come away with a clear understanding of your brand, how you deliver on your brand promise, and what this means to employees? If they don’t, you’re missing a huge opportunity and you’re not really leveraging your real estate.”
Enter the Skype headquarters and you can’t miss the value of space in communicating brand and culture. Here the message is clear: We’re a global company that collaborates constantly, regardless of time zones or locations. New ideas are our currency, our workstyle is informal but hardworking. This is a hip, forward-thinking workplace and company.
At Infragistics, their headquarters may be located in New Jersey, but this office says Silicon Valley entrepreneurism: it’s an energetic, cool space where collaboration rules, technology is readily available, and colleagues rub shoulders in person and over great distances, all day long.
Steelcase uses its new workplace to both build and communicate its brand and culture. On the eve of its 100th anniversary, the company wanted its headquarters to be a catalyst for reinventing how it uses space. “This is our culture and brand: understanding what it means to have a globally interconnected workplace, and acquiring the knowledge and insights we can share with our customers as they struggle with the same issues in their workplaces,” says Nancy Hickey, senior vice president and chief administrative officer.
In keeping with the company’s mission, the new space for the finance, sourcing, and quality departments is also a behavioral prototype, a testing ground for the latest thinking. “We’ve built an environment for this group based on what we’ve learned about the workplace, and it’s very different from what they’re used to,” says Barnhart-Hoffman. “But if you give people the same environment they’ve always known, you’ll get pretty much the same work behaviors, the same work processes. When you mix it up, give them new environments and tools and new ways to use them, you get change, and that leads to more insights.”
Maximize Real Estate
Not just shrinking — rethinking.
The average workstation footprint has been getting smaller for a few years now, a response to the new world we work in: more mobility, more collective work, increasing use of group spaces. The trend shows no sign of slacking: according to a new survey about real estate utilization, conducted by Steelcase and CoreNet Global, 80% of those surveyed expect to contract their space per employee to some degree, most commonly a reduction of about 10%.
What happens to the real estate carved out of individual workstation footprints? Some is subleased or rented out. Other companies move to a smaller office. What’s important is to understand what the right balance is of individual work spaces and shared spaces. Creating the right spaces is about understanding the range of options that help people work most effectively. Simply shrinking your real estate footprint, like putting yourself on a crash diet, just makes you thinner, not better. “Compression alone has limited benefits. If you treat your real estate like an asset, you don’t just shrink, you rethink the space to help people work in an interconnected world,” says Hughes.
More companies seem to be catching the drift. In the CoreNet/Steelcase survey, 57% of companies say they reconfigure individual space to accommodate team spaces, and 41% say they create cafés, meeting spaces, and other alternative work-settings. Most companies take a variety of approaches (which accounts for the percentages totaling more than 100%).
Steelcase’s new workplace shrinks the average individual workspace, uses benching for on-demand worksettings, and creates more collaborative spaces: neighborhoods, team hubs, free-address work areas, media:scape settings, a library, as well as the café space that joins the two sides of the floor. The space accommodates more people than before and provides more options for where and how to work. Even employees with smaller dedicated workspaces (just 39 sq. ft./3.6 sq. m.) have more functional space; their worksurface, chair, and monitor arm adjust to individual comfort and preference.
Creating workplaces for an interconnected world allows companies to stop reacting to volatile and uncertain markets and instead focus on the connection, collaboration, and inspiration businesses need to innovate today.
At Skype’s Palo Alto location, 80% of the workforce is engineers, and they’re developing the company’s next generation products at open workbenches designed specifically to support serious technology use: extra-long worksurfaces with monitor arms that position big flat screens as needed, and adjustable screens so they can balance individual privacy, not to mention a bevy of collaboration spaces just past the end of their desk. “People came in on day one, sat down, and started to work. This space makes you take notice. It delights people. It supports our company’s expectations of high productivity. It has a fast feel to it,” says Quinn. At a company poised to grow, “this place is really attracting talent.”
The Infragistics space has even been featured in an IT trade publication as an “ideal workplace” because of the way it supports collaboration and the culture of the organization. Visitors get it right away. “From day one, employees couldn’t believe this place,” says Guida. “People are blown away. ‘There’s nothing like this!’ is something I hear all the time. Customers are more confident in doing business with us. Everyone — customers, vendors, partners — says they want to come to work here.” Ask your own staff and leadership: where do they want to work in the new, interconnected world?Tags: Collaboration, Global, Infragistics, Interconnected Workplace, Skype, Technology
Filed under: 360 Magazine, Featured Articles