While the following is a fictional enactment, the concepts are based on real world examples after 4 months of office lock-down following the global CV-19 pandemic.
Antonia, a senior corporate real estate and facility management director, arose this morning with a happy, but cautious expectation for the day. Although she adores her husband and two teenage children, she is happy to get out of her home workspace and head to her actual office. She is preparing to go back to the Empire State Building in Manhattan where her global financial institution has its headquarters. She is directly responsible for the agile workplace of all the company’s owned and leased real estate portfolio, as well as the facility management work.
It is Phase 2 of NYC’s 2020 reopening plan and there have been around 100 new cases reported/day which is better than most US cities are faring. Only 10 employees are returning to Antonia’s office today to test out the results of the new lobby and office redesign, as well as new policies and procedures that have been created for the operations and maintenance staff, as well as those for the employees and management.
Due to the newly recognized criticality of the workplace to the work of the organization, Antonia has been assigned to the Executive Committee where it was decided that the headquarters location would have a new dual purpose.
Following the success of the remote work that occurred during the lockdown, and the new scheduling arrangements of a hybrid or networked approach to utilizing the closest branch locations for work or work from home, the headquarters would also become the new Center for Innovation and Learning, with a phased return of employees, starting with only those needed to be in that location due to their work practices.
The company recently announced a global mandate that nobody has to return to the office if they don’t want to in 2020. For those employees that do return to the office, booking a desk for a whole day is the new requirement in order to meet the company’s updated sanitization program.
Employees can schedule available workspace through their space scheduling mobile app using reconfigured floor plans. Antonia felt confident the mandatory pre-booking through the desk booking software will allow them to allocate those limited workspaces fairly and safely. As part of their return to office plans they have also turned conference rooms into workstations, with some of the rooms being used as innovation spaces to experiment with some new ideas for employees to enjoy and be able to collaborate.
Antonia has missed her work colleagues and the innovative ideas that came about when unlikely thoughts from different departments collided to solve a workplace problem. She was also looking forward to working with the new Agile Response Team (ART) with representatives from IT, HR, the Director of FM (tasked with fine tuning building systems and analyzing the metrics for maximum performance for the building occupants’ well-being and productivity.) and of course, Finance.
With the ART team and regular Zoom meetings, Antonia headed the work on the Agile Workplace Short Term Recovery Plan. She thought of a quote from one of her favorite photographers, Annie Leibovitz, she had read recently:
“If you want to go forward, you have to look back, and I’ve done that my whole career- and the work I’m doing now looks back.”
This idea came to her when she had recently stumbled on a thin paper-back book entitled ‘The Agile Workplace‘ which was a synopsis of the research project she worked with researchers and professionals who supported the year-long study in 2001-02 headed by MIT’s Michael Joroff and Gartner’s Michael Bell, two leading experts in the workplace.
Conceived around the same time as agile software development, the concept the research project came up with of agility in the workplace began with an understanding of the work of the organization which was to be accomplished in the environment and understanding the dynamic relationship it had with the tools needed for that work (i.e. technology) and the workplace.
The agile workplace was defined as a system of occupancy, connectivity and services that represents integrated workplace strategies which included a network of places and spaces (they called these ‘e-workplaces’, but today they are known as digital workspaces by this author).
What also came out of that research was a concept called the Enterprise Total Cost of Ownership (ETCO). This meant the cumulative costs of providing physical workplaces and digital workspaces which can allow one to benchmark costs of company provided workplaces and spaces vs. costs to work from home. Understanding these costs were now more important than ever as budgets were being slashed through the entire company. Antonia had to present a strong ROI to the Executive Committee when she presented the changes to the workplace needed to make employees want to come back to the office for collaboration and new experiences as an alternative to working from home.
One major technology deployment she had overseen pre-pandemic was the implementation of an Integrated Workplace Management System. Antonia had selected a global system to assist in the work that she and finance had to do under the FASB ASC 842 and IASB IFRS 16 regulation changes, but she could now use its other modules to review their lease obligations, analyze their portfolio of buildings and create scenarios for the new real estate plans due to adjustments needed for employees health and well-being.
She and her husband summoned an Uber for their ride in the city as public transportation was still too risky in this phase of the reopening of NYC. As Antonia sat back in the car, an idea came to her out of the blue. Years ago she worked at a multinational technology company where she remembered hearing the stories from Daniel, an ‘old timer in corporate real estate’, of life there in the 70s and 80s when the company created the ‘branch offices’ in the US and around the world. Daniel talked about what a glamorous time he had visiting these very successful offices in cities around the world, how they all had similar interior environments, and cultures. And the conferences that he attended which occurred in the great cities of the world, particularly the international real estate event held in Cannes, called MIPIM, every year. She thought, “Zoom meetings really just aren’t the same.”
Anyway, Antonia thought of this as she was trying to figure out what to do about the many remote workers that needed a respite from their work from home and a way of tapping into what psychologists call the ‘weak ties’ fostered by face to face contact with people from other parts of the company which were often the best source of new ideas. Perhaps she could do the same thing in some of the more remote areas of a country as hubs or satellites or even use co-working locations, if they could figure out how these offices could become more agile and healthy. She’d also read that some hotels were turning their bedrooms into offices to be rented for the day now that overnight stays were not filling up all of their rooms.
The Uber pulled up to the building and let Antonia out…
Nancy Sanquist is an IFMA Fellow, an AIA Associate, and is currently Chair of the IFMA Foundation Board of Trustees. Nancy has been in the real estate and facility management technology business for three decades; she has spoken at industry conferences all over the world. She is a well-known author and editor, including two IFMA Foundation books, Work on the Move (2014) and Work on the Move (2) (2016). Nancy formerly worked as an academic professor in art and architecture (UCLA; Lafayette and Muhlenberg Colleges), as a historic preservation urban planner (Easton, Pennsylvania), and as an urban revitalization consultant (Hollywood Revitalization, Los Angeles).
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