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Facilities for work 

This is the last of our series of articles aimed at facility managers, architects, designers and others responsible for providing buildings, interiors and other facilities for work.

In this concluding article we set out a strategic approach to providing the optimum facilities for flexible working - facilities that must themselves be flexible.

 

 

 

 

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 whether:

  • The workplace is in use by someone (space used)

  • 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.

Administration and support staff

   

Managers and professionals

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.

Respond flexibly:

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 home-working facilities.

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.

Piloting:

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 large-scale implementation.

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 space.

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 whole.

This concludes our series of articles on facilities for work.

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