A strategic approach
Collect information and consult:
Assuming an overall strategy for flexible
working has been proposed, the facilities team needs to
translate this into a systematic, justifiable and manageable
programme of work.
A good starting point is to collect information
on how facilities are currently used and how staff would prefer
to work. One approach to the former involves sampling each
workplace every hour over, say, a 3-4 week period to determine
The workplace is in use by someone (space
The workplace is not being used, but is not
available for someone else to use (space claimed)
The workplace is not being used, and is
available for use (space free).
The charts below show some of the results of
such an exercise in a public sector organisation.
and support staff
These charts illustrate high utilisation by
administration and support staff during the working day (several
were part-time and some were sick during the survey) and low
utilisation by managers and professionals.
Further analysis of this data showed that, in
the whole office of 120 people, each of whom had a desk, at no
time were more than 45 desks used (38%) and average utilization
during the working day was 25%.
Whatever the results, the important point about
this type of analysis is that it provides an empirical
foundation for change.
The hard data collected (as described in the
previous section) needs to be complemented by the views of the
people that work in the facilities. This can be carried out
through a combination of interview and survey methods.
It is important for facility managers to be open
minded in terms of the types of solution they will recommend for
implementation. Flexible working can only really thrive in
flexible facilities. For example announcing that, henceforth,
all staff will work from home, apart from probably being in
breach of employment contracts, is just as inflexible as
expecting them always to work at the office.
During the consultation and analysis process, it
will generally become clear that "one size does not fit
all". Different teams and staff members have different
requirements that can change on a daily or even hourly basis.
Learn from best practice:
There is a growing number of good
implementations of various forms of flexible working in a
variety of sectors. Some of these are written up as case studies
in journals and at conferences. A good starting point for
information is Flexibility. Also
several office furniture companies maintain permanent
exhibitions of flexible working environments, including
It is often only when other implementations are
seen and their users consulted that the potential of new working
environments and practices can be recognised.
In contrast to traditional property strategies
that involve specifying, designing, acquiring, fitting out and
moving into a building, most of the new approaches to providing
working facilities can be demonstrated and piloted before
Pilots need to be carefully set up, managed and
monitored so as to learn the lessons and quantify the benefits
prior to full roll-out. Whilst some pilots can be exclusively
set up and managed by facilities departments, for example new
types of furniture, different office layouts and shared
facilities, the most significant pilots will also involve
innovations in technology and human resources.
Involve the users:
People can be very protective about their
working environment and feel threatened by change, especially
when it may involve a loss of personal space.
It is vital that staff are consulted and
involved at all stages. The experience of the authors is that
users can be highly supportive, even of radical changes to their
working environments, as long as they feel part of the process.
By contrast, change imposed without adequate consultation will
generally be resisted by staff.
One approach to involvement is to set up a
project demonstration area where plans can be posted, furniture
put on show, feedback collected and open consultation sessions
held. Also, if team space is being implemented, the individual
teams can be allowed certain leeway in customising their own
Keeping the overall goals to the fore:
Managing a complex facilities redesign or
development project is very demanding: managing suppliers,
contractors and in-house staff, co-ordinating procurement and
bringing together numerous disciplines usually in a testing
timescale. Achieving goals on time and within budget can be
challenging, particularly where innovative concepts are being
put into practice.
It is, however, vital that the business goals of
the flexible working project as a whole are kept to the fore.
Once a flexible working project is given the go-ahead, it is all
too easy for the facilities, the technology or the HR people to
doggedly plough their own furrows, doing things the way they
know best. Often, however, issues arise which need to be
considered from all angles if the right solution is to be found.
The danger is that a lone "tactical" decision from one
of the players can significantly undermine the strategy as a
our series of articles on facilities for work.