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Reengineering real estate can enhance productivity

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Today, better, faster, cheaper is the goal of any new initiative or process. When it comes to real estate, many companies are looking for ways to reduce their costs while maintaining or improving productivity. How can you reduce costs while making the most of office space?

The challenge is that while employees are being asked to work differently every day, their workplace has not necessarily changed to accommodate their new work processes or the new technology they are expected to use. And the office is not going away.

"Observers speculate that telecommuting and home office work will eventually eliminate the need for the office," said Jack Tanis, director of performance and management services for Steelcase Inc. "All indications point to the office always existing although it will certainly look very different than it does today. People are working differently today. And while they need private space, which they can find in a home office, they still need face-to-face interactions to create and be productive. Workers need a place to gather and share ideas."

At the same time, global competition forces companies to become smarter, more responsive and more cost-efficient. Reengineering has emerged as a process for effecting change in corporate structure and driving corporate strategy. It has led to widespread transformation of organizations from hierarchy to network-based.

There has been a shift from top-down structures built around "bosses" and the "bossed" in favor of matrix structures linked by coaches and mentors, empowered teams and resource groups.

Many companies are beginning to make the connection between physical facilities and the quality of work that goes on within them. They are identifying the physical environment not as a liability, but as an asset that can be used to drive change in organizations and work processes, attract and hold the best people, and foster conditions for greater worker effectiveness. Companies are realizing that facilities can make a positive contribution to increasing competitiveness and, ultimately, the bottom line.

"Physical space or real estate is too valuable to be wasted for activities which cannot justify its use," Tanis said. "Space should be viewed as another tool in the company's inventory of competitive resources, which changes the rules of the space game."

The old rules allocate space on the basis of where one stands on the corporate ladder and on the assumption that every man and woman owns the chair they sit in. Executives and managers get offices; the executives' offices are larger than the managers' offices. The staff gets workstations and they're all the same size. There are few shared settings, mostly conference rooms.

According to Tanis, the redefined rules turn the old order upside down. They declare:

?When it comes to the work environment, what you do is more important than who you are.

?You don't have to "go to work" to work.

?Group and team settings are essential.

?There are multiple models for the workplace, not a one-size-fits-all approach.

?We are moving from a focus on efficiency to a focus on effectiveness.

"Real estate is too expensive to automatically assign a certain amount of minimum square footage to each person, regardless of what they are doing," Tanis said. "The reality is that many workers may only need a small personal workstation or 'home base' for part of the day, a team space for project meetings and a quiet, private space for concentrated work."

This may sound like more real estate devoted to each individual instead of less. In fact, the opposite is true, according to Tanis.

"While an employee may have access to several settings, these settings are shared with colleagues," Tanis said. "The home base is primarily used for parking files and mail, so it can be reduced in square footage because the employee is not spending the majority of the day in this location."

By viewing space as a revenue enhancer rather than an expense, the workplace can be leveraged to link people, technology, and business processes for greater effectiveness. Space does not have to be a "necessary evil" if it is put to work for an organization. Flexibility, mobility and user control all need to be part of the workplace for optimal business results.

(The preceding article was provided to the Business Journal by Steelcase Inc.)

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