On the eve of the 21st Century, business is undergoing dramatic change — and so is the office. More and more companies are facing daunting investment decisions as they respond to new business realities. Y2K issues have dominated headlines, but no less challenging are issues surrounding office changes required to support new workers and new ways of working.
It’s a whole new world as companies seek to understand the forces that are shaping change. These new “business realities” include:
– Increasing global competition
– Increasing real estate costs
– New kinds of organizational management
– The information economy, based on the acquisition and exchange of information
– New technologies for acquiring and exchanging information
– The need to build and maintain a diverse, skilled work force
– Increasing government regulations
In response to the realities, companies are looking at a variety of actions:
– Reducing their real estate and other expenses to be leaner and more competitive
– Flattening their organization and working in teams to be quicker, more responsive, and more competitive
– Developing new ways to serve customers, new ways of working, and new ways to attract and keep good employees
– Acquiring new information technology
In the workplace, these new business realities may demand a variety of responses. For instance, advances in technology require more agile environments to incorporate new tools and new work processes. Work environments need to be more flexible to suit a broader range of users, including teams. Facilities and furniture must be more adaptable so that footprints can be reduced to help cut real estate costs. In other words, a company’s facilities should enable its business strategies to succeed.
A whole new perspective
Companies facing change must understand first the business realities that are having an impact on them. Then they must develop a strategy that responds to the realities. Part of that strategy is to create a workplace that allows the company to reach its goals. For instance, a company looking to cut real estate costs may need more space-efficient workstations. Or the company may need on-site support for people working at home.
Herman Miller has defined four perspectives that will help companies better understand the workplace so that informed decisions can be made in support of the business strategy. Each of these perspectives allows companies to focus on a different fundamental element of the workplace. All four perspectives must be considered and synthesized to create an effective environment. Everything is interrelated; a decision based on one perspective has an impact on the others. In addition, a product designed to meet needs from one perspective can’t ignore the needs of the others. That’s why it’s critical to keep the big picture in view.
It’s important to note that individual workers feel the effects of all four perspectives. The individual always should be a primary factor when decisions are made about any of the perspectives — as critical as factors such as cost and value.
Pespective One: Infrastructure
You can think of a workplace like a city,and you can think of workplace design like urban planning. In urban planning, it’s important to first step back and take a wide-angle look at the basics,the infrastructure. Fundamental decisions have to be made about roads, bridges, utility lines, communications systems, and so on. In the workplace, similar kinds of fundamental decisions have to be made. How will power and telecommunications be delivered? How will space be divided? What will traffic patterns be? These decisions have a great impact on every aspect of the workplace.
Typically, the infrastructure is provided by a combination of a building’s architecture and furniture. Today, furniture products for an infrastructure fall into the following five types:
– Panel: Divides space and delivers power and cables efficiently
– Frame: Divides spaces and delivers power and cables efficiently, but with more flexibility and versatility than panels
– Desk: Allows more openness than panels or frames, while still carrying power and cables
– Floor: Distributes power and cables without creating boundaries
– Ceiling: Distributes power and cables overhead
Generally, it’s more cost-effective in one facility to choose just one furniture product as infrastructure. When two or more are combined, each may be underutilized and redundant benefits are provided. The type of furniture chosen, however, may limit the product options for meeting needs within the other perspectives.
Perspective Two: Community
In a city, there need to be community spaces such as parks, schools, theatres, and stadiums. People gather there to share experiences, learn, and be entertained. Community spaces reinforce people’s feeling of membership in the group. In the work environment, people also need community spaces where they can meet and learn together, and they need spaces that enable them to find their way.
These places should reflect the culture, values, and personality of the organization, as well as accommodate the behaviors that the organization encourages.
Elements such as artifacts, colors, information display, and furniture qualities all work together to express a company’s identity to visitors and workers alike. Lobby and reception areas in particular need to convey the organization’s messages, and those messages must be carried throughout the workplace.
Perspective Three: Production
Another perspective that must be examined is how work gets done and what results are produced. You have to look at the immediate surroundings of people, whether they work independently or as part of a team.
You may ask the following questions to gain an understanding of this perspective:
– How much privacy is required? How much interaction is desired?
– Where do people go when they need to work together or have privacy?
– What computer hardware is needed? What is the rate of technological change? How does the person interact with the computer? How long does a person work intensively at a stretch?
– How much work surface is required?
– How varied are the tasks? How flexible must the workstation or work space be?
– How much storage is required? What type?
Today, the answers to these questions often are framed in the context of continuous change in work processes, work tools, team structures, projects, and tasks. As a result, the production environment has to be highly flexible and easily customized.
Perspective Four: Personal
What are the personal wants and needs of people in the areas they call their own?
Attention must be paid to the well-being of an individual to enable her or him to succeed. There are four aspects to this well-being:
– Physical — to be productive, each person needs a comfortable, healthful place to work. This includes furniture and seating designed to fit the range of the human body, access to daylight, and the appropriate lighting, temperature, acoustics, and air quality.
– Spiritual — varied colors, textures, shapes, and materials satisfy the spirit and create and pleasing and renewing environment. Light and sounds have an impact as well.
– Intellectual — the environment should promote creativity, learning, and access to information.
– Social — the environment should make it easy to communicate and interact with others.
Safeguarding Your Freedom to Choose
Herman Miller provides many choices to meet the criteria of each perspective. When companies embrace the framework of the four perspectives to understand their workplace needs, they have the freedom to choose products that will perform best for them. This freedom ensures that their decisions will result in workplaces that support business strategies and promote achievement.
Ricard Duffy is Director of Workplace Effectiveness for Herman Miller, Inc.