Thursday 14th January 2016

Melissa Marsh, Workplace Strategist from design consultancy PLASTARC, talks with Condeco about the trends she’s seeing in flexible work.

Condeco Software: Thank you for speaking with us, Melissa. Before we jump into it, how about some quick background on yourself?

Melissa Marsh: I came to what I do now from MMarsh_Headshot.jpgworking back and forth between social sciences and building sciences (architecture). I studied Political Science as an undergrad but became really interested in spaces, specifically urban spaces. After pursuing a Master of Architecture, I quickly realized how buildings don’t work if people don’t know how to operate them. So, that’s the short version of how I came to focus on helping people and companies make the best use of their buildings.

In 2012 I founded PLASTARC to help organizations make the most of their workspaces for their occupants. At PLASTARC, we focus on helping clients better align their space and their people.

CS: PLASTARC seems like a service every organization can benefit from! Can you expand more on how you help clients make these decisions between space and people?

MM: Almost every building, user group and company has vast amounts of data that’s being generated on a daily basis by different existing processes within the company. Companies will likely have a wide range of what you might call “exhaust data” – anything from badge swipes to food vending data. With the right analytics, these are rich resources for understanding occupant behavior and establishing a baseline of building performance.

Oftentimes, Technology, Facilities and HR departments are working on projects with the same end goals of increasing productivity and workspace utilization, but using different means. By working together, they can understand the whole picture and find better solutions.

A typical approach might include these 3 steps:

  1. Conduct a data audit to identify what data is already captured and develop a baseline.
  2. Identify what data needs to be collected to supplement existing data.
  3. Identify which groups of people need to coordinate and work together to ensure alignment within the project.

From there, we develop a business case for transformation, along with the metrics to prove the success of a new environment. In order to do so, we take all the information gathered from existing data and our own research, to develop solutions that integrate into the existing processes of the client organization.

CS: From our experience, understanding the data is definitely key for improving workspace utilization. Additionally, we’re seeing many companies move towards flexible workspaces to drive up utilization. Are you seeing this trend as well?

MM: Yes, we’re seeing an increase in companies moving towards flexible work environments as well as an acceleration of this movement. We see two main drivers of flexible workspace, and their convergence is driving the pace of change:

  1. Economic pressures: The cost of real estate continues to rise, and with it the expense to the business. Each employer faces increasing pressures to control cost and use existing, or less space.
  2. Occupant demands: We see an ever stronger push towards flexibility on all aspects from the employee perspective. The occupant is becoming more demanding, expecting flexibility in not just the devices they use but the places they work.

These two seemingly contradictory pressures can actually both be alleviated with a well executed flexible workspace. And, that’s why we’re seeing an acceleration in this trend.

CS: Fascinating! Can you give us a specific example of where you saw this and how the issue was solved?

MM: While many organizations have moved to flexible workspaces, we actually see extreme varied success rates. For some organizations it worked really well, for others it was a total disaster. This is often driven by how the initiative was deployed within the business – how it was communicated to occupants.

One specific example of success that comes to mind is a space we re-imagined for a global peacekeeping organization headquartered in New York.

Through our research and 3-step approach, we helped discern that employees really wanted more flexibility (even though the facilities team thought they wouldn’t want it). People wanted greater choice about where when and how to work, reinforced by the mobility and freedom granted by technology. On top of that, while the proportion of people wanting flexible workspaces was growing, the existing space was under-occupied.

Through research and evaluation, our team was able to move the client to a partially unassigned desk environment within an existing building. Understanding people’s wants and needs helped them move faster and ultimately had a two pronged benefit: increase space performance and employee satisfaction.

CS: If you had to pick one thing that is imperative for a successful transition to flexible work environment, what would it be?

MM: Most importantly, you have to keep the people in mind. You have to remember the employee experience and the major effect you will have on the most basic thing: their daily routine.

At PLASTARC, we’re focused on environmental psychology, cognitive and neuroscience as applied to space and work. We understand that by changing the workplace or the protocols of the workspaces, you’re changing how people think about their day and how they work.

For example, for someone straight out of college who is already used to ‘choosing’ their space every day (do I study in the library or the dorm?), it’s not a big transition to choose a desk or a common area to work. But, someone who’s been working at the same desk for the past 10 years has to make a major transition.

Ultimately, be empathetic, and do not underestimate training and change management. I’d say that’s the biggest reason you see so much variability in the success rate of implementing flexible workspace. You might see a dozen spaces that look similar, but the way they function and were deployed within the organization are very different.

CS: We couldn’t agree more. Condeco see change management as the key to a successful implementation of our workplace technology!

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