How smart organizations are taking advantage of their workplace in new ways to improve productivity and their bottom line
by Steven Kelley
Principal, MKThink Architecture
We often think of sharing as the laudable act of giving access to something owned by one entity to another or perhaps even to an extended user base. While sharing is a virtue our mothers may have advocated to us as children, modern human nature often drives individual and group decisions away from a sharing culture and toward more direct and immediate benefits. So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that when it comes to enterprise companies and complex organizations sharing physical assets and intellectual property the notion has been met more with repugnance than enthusiasm. That is until relatively recently. Lisa Gansky has documented how enlightened companies are taking advantage of sharing to open up huge opportunities for innovation and growth. Her recent book, “The Mesh, Why the Future of Business is Sharing”, describes how “mesh companies create, share and use social media, wireless networks, and data crunched from every available source to provide people with goods and services at the exact moment they need them, without the burden and expense of owning them outright. Gansky reveals how there is real money to be made and trusted brands and strong communities to be built in helping your customers buy less but use more”. You’ve heard of them: Netflix, Zipcar, Groupon and Mozilla. And the numbers are rapidly growing.
Here’s the riff on her thesis: Why construct and occupy capital intensive work and learning environments that treat physical space in the old ‘non-mesh’ model, dedicating most of an organization’s physical space assets to a unique and relatively small subset of users? Companies and organizations can and should take advantage of the idea of sharing within the context of their own work environments. And enlightened companies and organizations are doing just that…
At MKThink we spend a lot of our energy thinking about how to assist our clients by making their space assets more productive, more effective and better utilized. In fact it is a process that we undertake for every client because building more space than is needed -taking into account anticipated growth – unhealthy for any client’s bottom line and unhealthy for our planet to boot. Here are a couple of case studies of recent work:
Case Study 1: Mozilla
Mozilla will be the first to admit that as an organization they bend towards doing things a little differently. They have built a successful brand and products through a community-powered approach. The immense success of Firefox is due greatly to the founding decision to not protect its source code but instead set it free to a worldwide community of enthusiastic volunteer developers intent on continually making it better through the mesh of worldwide contributors.
This egalitarian culture pervades Mozilla’s workplace as well. They discard “private” workplace and instead fully embrace “shared” workplace. Everyone including the CEO works out in the open – and shares the same type of open workstation as an entry level staff member. Private offices are shunned in favor of distributed team rooms of varying sizes where focused work happens in groups. Even these spaces are fully glazed as if to reinforce the notion that everything they do is out in the open – and shareable.
To encourage their legions of volunteers to participate face-to-face with other Mozilla staff Mozilla provides what they term as co-share space designed to allow visitors to drop-in, plug-in, tune-in and collaborate. These spaces are supported by flexible table and seating clusters and are activated by a café open to staff and visitors alike creating enhanced opportunities for serendipitous encounters and collaboration.
Case Study 2: Stanford at Porter Drive
The pressures on land and buildings in Stanford’s core campus area like many landlocked college campuses have become increasingly intense in recent years as the university redoubles its efforts to lead the way in higher education. The Porter Drive complex at the Stanford Research Park, among the first of the university’s off-site staff migrations, was designed to be home to key administrative departments at the University including Land, Buildings, and Real Estate, Administrative Systems, and the Controller’s Office. It was also designed to make the staff being relocated feel connected to the campus and to be a “test bed” for understanding how to best develop and implement an optimal workplace for future on and off-campus sites in the future.
One of the primary driving objectives for success was to enable a strong “sharing-centric” culture in the workplace that also enabled a both a more collaborative and efficient work flow within a more efficient and flexible footprint. In order to achieve these targets the following key concepts were implemented:
The concept of ‘Work Anywhere’ adopted from Sun Microsystems, allows users to access information and resources, as implied, from anywhere at times dictated more by the user than by the facility’s strict operating schedule. In order to support this workflow concept numerous ‘touchdown’ areas are provided to allow users who don’t necessarily require a dedicated workspace to have access to the same information technologies, meeting spaces and project spaces that a typical resident user would be provided.
Furniture is more flexible than walls, an important consideration given the fluctuations in overall department workforce populations. For dedicated workplace, open office solutions were strongly preferred over private, closed workspace enabling flexibility, improved daylight penetration and peer-to-peer collaboration. Furniture choice is also critical to support formal and informal interaction spaces.
Shared Collaboration Space
By providing increased shared space resources to all users the area dedicated to personal, private workspace can be significantly decreased. Through observational data and testing we were able to confirm that increasing the number of seats available in shared collaboration areas – including conference, team room, break-out, and touchdown spaces can foster improved collaboration and workflow efficiencies while actually reducing the overall workplace footprint significantly as compared to traditional workplace models that rely more on a private workplace model.
Choice is Important
The variety of shared, informal spaces turns out to be more important than the quantity of spaces. Through a post-occupancy analysis we conducted it was determined that the appropriate mix of options can actually reduce the overall square feet per employee allocation in future projects. The perception of choice is also an important factor in satisfaction with individual workstations – this can often be realized through flexible chair and desk options.
MKThink has had the privilege to work with these organizations and others like them who see the benefits of sharing in the workplace. It happens to be both socially responsible and potentially profitable. So it seems that our mother’s admonition to us as children to share with our siblings was not only sound advice but a perceptive business concept as well.