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10 surprising lessons Perkins+Will has learned about workplace projects

P+W's Janice Barnes shares some of most unexpected lessons from her firm's work on office design projects, including the importance of post-occupancy evaluations and having a cohesive transition strategy for workers.

January 09, 2015 |
Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings

We’ve read that some lessons can’t be taught; they have to be learned. In the last fourteen years with Perkins+Will, we’ve worked on over 200 workplace projects and we’ve learned a slew of interesting things. Our biggest surprise? Most lessons have nothing much to do with the physical space. Perhaps your first reaction is “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!” Yep, we do. Here’s what we know:               

1. Mobile isn’t always mobile. To quote from "Princess Bride," "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Depending on the organization, mobility can mean onsite mobile, mobile on campus, or work from anywhere. Determine what mobile really means to the organization and then to build a strategy around it.

2. Create an integrated team. The key players—real estate, human resources, information technology—are easy to identify. But given these entities have independent budgets, schedules, strategy, and delivery, it takes trust-building, budget revealing, and schedule gnashing work to integrate. But once it comes together, it’s the most powerful tool in the workplace arsenal.

3. Pilot, then pilot, then pilot. Not even airline pilots come as singles. They all have backups. Mobile work pilots are the same. Multiple pilots provide lessons over time, allowing the tuning necessary for any strategic change. Keep piloting.

4. Avoid the pain of quick decisions. We often hear that real estate has a workplace emergency. There’s often a rush to get a pilot ready, to house employees from recent acquisitions or take advantage of a lease deal. Quick decisions drive commitments in occupancy that may play out over the life cycle of multiple leases becoming weights that carry performance implications for people as well as portfolio. Avoid that pain. Plan ahead.

5. Find complementary funding. We can’t tell you how often we hear, "that’s not in my budget." To make mobility work, it has to be in all budgets with a coalesced plan of action. The good of the company, the performance of its people, and the balanced cost model to allow that to happen should be the target. Learn how to complement one another to make this happen.

6. Assume continuous learning. You won’t get it right every time. It’s a time of tumultuous change as we refine our personal lives to be more connected, digital, and immersive. When the world is changing, we know that we can get close in workplace, but we also know that we’re part of a continuous learning cycle globally as work and life converge. Expect that to continue.

7. Expect that evolution happens. Yes, we just agreed to this, but evolution in work process is moving rapidly. We’re drowning in information and grappling with ways to make that information work harder for us. Our work processes are changing in tandem. Embrace that this evolution is active, not historical. Learn to be agile with change.

8. Build in congruence. We know what happens when one group wants to be very progressive while another prefers the status quo. There’s a tug for power, a struggle to effectively advance any idea. In order for the organization to be successful in its mobility program, the experts who lead the physical planning, the technology planning, the personnel planning, and the business need to be fully aligned with their intent. Congruence pays for itself. Create alignment and excel.

9. Set aside money for POEs. We measure projects to gain feedback from employees but then fail to put a penny in place to make any changes they suggest. If you ask for opinions on effectiveness of mobile workplace and fail to act where fine tuning is required, what’s been accomplished? It’s best to set aside money, particularly on a new mobile workplace strategy, to allow for changes to be made not only in the project, but in the overall program

10. Plan for change. This work is about capturing hearts and minds while building trust and creating new capabilities. Some will embrace change while others will struggle. We’re habitual creatures and mobile work requires new habits to be formed. Harder still, it requires old habits to end. We have to create a cohesive transition for mobile workers, providing knowledge about not only what to do and how to do it, but why it’s relevant for the organization to thrive. Plan this even more carefully than the physical environment, as it’s central to the success of any mobile work program.

Want to learn more? I’ll go into more depth for each of these points in a series kicking off in 2015. I welcome your comments in the meantime.

About the Author

As Principal and Global Discipline Leader for Planning and Strategies, Janice Barnes focuses on the ways in which planning enables clients to meet their business goals. With 25 years of design experience, as well as a significant research background, Barnes' work focuses on eliciting information on work practices and organizing this information to help clients make better decisions.

Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings | Perkins+Will

Perkins+Will is a firm of remarkable people who are driven by discovery – through their relationships, research, and design. In the simplest sense, our ideas are the precursors for all of our design work. Ideas + Buildings, Perkins+Will’s blog, features emerging thought leadership from across the firm, inviting an even greater global dialog around learning, wellness, workplace, sustainability, and everything in between. Visit the blog at:

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