Take on the Role: What We Learn from Space Planning

Take on the Role: What We Learn from Space Planning

Congratulations! You are now the CEO of a cutting-edge, quickly expanding tech company! While stepping into a new role is exciting, it comes with a new set of business and space related challenges. As the opening event of the recent Future Offices West conference in Los Angeles , HLW led an engaging workshop that explored how different sectors use space and approach workspace planning. HLW’s space planning exercise, appropriately termed sandboxing , challenged attendees to view workplace strategy from someone else’s perspective.  Some participants were asked to think outside of their industry.  Other participants were asked to think outside of their day-to-day roles. After being assigned to a leadership role in an imaginary organization, participants were asked to plan out an ideal workspace for their company using a provided kit of parts and a blank floorplate.

It was clear from the start that planning out an effective and efficient workplace in fifteen minutes while role-playing with a group of strangers is not an easy task. Because the companies covered a variety of sectors ranging from finance to nonprofit, each defined a unique set of requirements. By the end of the exercise each group created unique innovative solutions to organize their space to meet their business needs.

Just when everyone felt comfortable with the process, we decided to dial it up a notch… Groups were reshuffled and asked to complete the exercise again, only this time they were given a Wild Card. From going 100% unassigned to doubling in headcount and acquiring another floor, a new set of frustrating, yet common space planning challenges emerged midway through the exercise. As groups worked through their new requirements, HLW facilitators offered expert space planning tips. The second iteration concluded with a feedback session where four major themes surfaced.

The best time to edit a design is before it happens.

Sandboxing proves to be an effective space planning tool because it is quick and hands on. Participants were easily able to reorganize their pieces to test different spatial configurations and analyze the implications of each. For this reason, it is important to start the space planning process on paper. Exercises like this that are undertaken at the beginning of the design process will save time and money (and stress!) down the line. Additionally, groups who started with small, modular concepts had an easier and quicker time building out their floorplans. Planning a large floorplate can be overwhelming.  Starting small,scaling up, and visualizing the possibilities helps simplify this daunting task.

Starting the design process on paper is also advantageous when it comes to decision making. Groups found themselves challenging the industry norm – integrating a tech company workplace culture into a financial services company and creating a more streamlined setting for a fashion brand The lack of restrictions and willingness to encompass the assigned personas fueled innovative problem solving.

Quantifying the value of your footprint.

Different people view square feet differently! Space is becoming a more important strategic business tool. While each group was given identical floorplates, the discussion around how to use the allotted square footage was dictated by the industry and leadership role.  The CFO of our non-profit group pushed his team to sublease a portion of their floorplate. While it was a major space sacrifice, he rationalized the decision by stressing how important it is to generate revenue as a non-profit. Another participant later suggested the benefits of strategically renting out space for coworking - a growing trend in today’s workplaces.  For example, a small tech company could partner with a marketing firm subtenant to boost marketing efforts. Space is no longer a sunk cost. It has transformed into a business tool that can be leveraged to reveal the true value of your square footage.

Develop tech strategy parallel to space strategy.

Technology has traditionally been brushed off as a small piece of the space planning puzzle. With today’s increasingly mobile workforce and need for a reliable technology infrastructure, a tech strategy can no longer be left as an afterthought. Understanding how each piece within the sandbox functions together will inform, as well as be informed by, the technology within the space.  An effective technology strategy is essential for quality performance and ensuring that you are getting the most out of your space.

Lead by example.

Difficult decisions about space typically have the greatest impact on employees who are not part of the conversation. Although it was a hypothetical role, the CEO of each company in the sandbox exercise felt that it was their responsibility to ensure employee satisfaction. One of the best ways to manage change  in the workplace is to lead by example. The participant playing the tech CEO decided to give up her corner office for a bench workstation to encourage the rest of her staff to adopt a desk sharing system. People are fiercely protective of their space and big decisions can disrupt a company’s culture. Showing a willingness for self-sacrifice on behalf of your staff helps build empathy and trust throughout the organization and proves to be a powerful tool during the change management process3.

A big thank you to all who attended the workshop and were willing to take on a new role. We hope your newly gained perspective will push you to think about space differently!