Workplace strategy: Turning FM, IT and HR into facilitators of the high performance workplace

by Diane Coles Levine and Nancy Johnson Sanquist — September 2015 — As Greg Lindsey from the October 2014 Harvard Business Review so brilliantly stated, “The office of the future will most likely include highly networked, shared, multi-purpose spaces that redefine boundaries between companies and improve everyone’s performance. Getting there won’t be easy. It will require collecting much more data to inform new design and management principles while engaging urban planners and municipal governments. It will also transform HR, IT and Facilities Management from support functions to facilitators.”

A successful workplace strategy requires collecting data from an interdisciplinary team consisting of HR, IT, the C-Suite, Marketing, Sales, Finance and others. For FMs, explaining these connections and multiple data points can often be arduous and tough to get others to understand the value of maintaining this critical information. Simply put, you can’t really determine the size of a building without knowing how many people will be housed in it, what their jobs require in terms of the uses of space the employees will require and what technology and equipment needs to be embedded in the infrastructure. This information can be problematic to collect since workforce planning is a challenge for many HR departments which find it difficult to plan for more than a year or two out into the future. Even though workforce planning is on the rise, according to a recent Mercer study “while three out of four organizations surveyed have a strategic workforce plan in place to forecast their talent needs, many plans are short-term in nature. Few employers have plans that forecast talent needs over the next five years or more.”1 Often, the burden of predicting the future workforce falls on the FM and architect during the space programming process right before a major move, merger, acquisition, consolidation or renovation.

We also should state that when we use the word ‘workplace’ we are referring to any location where work is performed, be it in an office, a co-working space, a hospital, educational institution, store, library, entertainment venue, portion of a home, lab, manufacturing facility, hotel, plane or iPad standing on the street …you name it. Physical and digital workplaces are ubiquitous since they were untethered from the desk environment and we must be able to now still be able to track their location and usage now wherever they are utilized by employees.

Consequently, it is tricky for IT staff to plan technology without knowing the number of future employees, their needs and processes. According to the IT analysts, Gartner, we are now firmly in the era of digital business where the blur between the physical and digital is radically changing the way business is done today and will be accomplished in the future. CIOs all over the world are preparing for these changes and aligning with HR, but not necessarily with real estate and FM which we feel is a big mistake. CIOs are creating and tracking digital workplaces for employees’ work in virtual space. So too must FMs create a digital workplace to hold all of the physical workplace data, either in a CAFM or IWMS as its repository. For workplace strategy to be effective, HR and IT information has to be included at both the strategic level and through the project phases when execution occurs. People, place, process and technology are all interconnected as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: People, Place, Process, Technology

Of course, workforce, workplace and technology planning are all dependent upon the business strategy. Without knowing the direction of the business, growth projections, expansion plans, culture, etc. it is impossible to develop an accurate workplace strategy. Alignment of FM, HR and IT to the company vision and strategic plan is critical in developing a workplace that engages employees, saves money and increases productivity. Too often, however, workplace strategy fails to make this connection for various reasons including lack of accurate, current data, internal politics, silo organizational boundaries and disparate reporting structures. As a result, many companies waste money when making real estate and FM decisions because they lack a cohesive strategy.

What is needed is a better way to work together to make informed decisions and arm senior executives with the data they need to connect the dots and build a high performance workplace. In Gartner’s IT Glossary, they define a high performance workplace as a physical or virtual environment designed to make workers as effective as possible in supporting business goals and providing value. A high-performance workplace results from continually balancing investment in people, process, physical environment and technology, to measurably enhance the ability of workers to learn, discover, innovate, team and lead, and to achieve efficiency and financial benefit.

The Workplace Strategy Information Matrix (Figure 2) was created for real estate and FMs to talk to be able to describe to their peers in other departments how important the internal relationships affecting workplace strategy are and what data is critical for strategy development.

This Workplace Information Matrix (Figure 2) represents all of the stakeholders involved with workplace strategy in terms of sources of data that may or may not be available to the workplace strategist when formulating their plan. The Matrix was designed as an easy visual aid to view all of the stakeholders in the horizontal bar at the top and where they are involved in supplying data to the FM workplace planner. The sources include the C-suite, the business units, support organizations (finance, HR, IT, sustainability) as well as the facility management and corporate real estate groups. The following sources are critical in strategy development:

  • C-suite: By C-suite, we mean the executive management team otherwise known as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief digital officer etc. It is important to understand the corporate strategic direction and plans, including quarterly updates that might alter the direction of that plan during the course of a year. Also, key information on sales, marketing, business development strategies, as well as branding, image and overall corporate culture, are important to understanding the organization’s corporate direction. This information is critical for aligning the workplace strategy to the business strategy.
  • Business units (BUs): Each business unit’s strategy is also critical to understanding how it is responding to corporate initiatives. This includes future headcount, location analysis, revenue growth, work initiatives, change in workplace requirements (i.e., more lab, less office for that particular BU), historical trends, strategy mappings, and performance monitoring and measurement. This understanding may come from embedded workplace strategists in each business unit, from facility management or real estate, often referred to as relationship managers, or if they are not in place, from interviews with key members of the leadership team.
  • Marketing and sales: It is important for the workplace strategist to understand the strategies of sales and marketing for increasing revenue and communicating most effectively with existing and potential customers, as well as understanding their relationships with each of the business units. Branding the organization is usually key in any workplace strategy project and comes under this purview.
  • Human resources: HR is the source of data on headcount (both employees and contractors), home location (commuting data), total cost of ownership (cost of people in seats), historical trending, labor market statistics, workforce planning, on-boarding and off-boarding analyses, employee engagement and any other information on the workforce necessary to understanding sizing and provisioning of workplace. Organizations are also increasingly deploying people analytics to understand the work of individuals in the workplace.
  • Information technology: Technology and rapid changes to existing IT makes it more and more important for the workplace strategist to be close to the strategies of this organization. What are their plans for new mobile technologies — “bring your own technology” (BYOT) — now in place, cloud computing versus data centers versus outsourcing models and, most importantly, new technologies networking the operations of a building into a smart infrastructure? Will an internal data center be necessary? If so, where will it be housed and what is the optimal size for future growth? What type of digital workplaces are necessary for increased collaboration in team rooms?
  • Finance: Often corporate real estate either reports directly to or is in a dotted line reporting structure to finance. Whether this is true or not, it’s important that the workplace strategist understand the financial direction of the company, as well as understanding the best strategy for the right mix in a leased and owned portfolio and how newly proposed changes to real estate accounting rule may have to change that strategy (FASB and IASB regulations which should be released this year).
  • Real estate and facility management: Obviously, much of the information for designing and implementing a workplace strategy is going to come from the facility management and real estate departments. The critical list of information is listed in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Workplace Strategy Information Matrix

Most people outside of FM don’t realize all the data (Figure 2) that is necessary to create a winning workplace strategy and, this Matrix is not an exhaustive list. For FMs, the task of coordinating the data collection, evaluation, analysis and C-suite presentations can be daunting given all the duties that occur on any given work day. Fortunately, there are consulting resources along with case studies available in the IFMA Foundation book “Work the Move: Driving Strategy and Change in Workplaces” that showcase companies who have successfully achieved strategic alignment of FM, RE, HR and IT through their workplace projects. Keep in mind that the opportunity to do this is in the move or any change project to the physical space and should not be wasted.

Additionally, a recent study by Great Places to Work noted that “CEOs rated ‘human capital shortages’ as the number one item on their priority lists for 2014 and Fifty-six percent of U.S. employers believe the talent shortage has a medium to high impact on their ability to meet client needs.”2 With workforce planning on the rise and new software tools on the market to track employee engagement, satisfaction and performance, clearly the time is ripe for RE and FMs to partner with HR and IT, implement CAFM or IWMS to integrate all of this disparate data and show the value that these four departments can bring collectively to facilitate the provision of the high performance workplace.

1 Mercer 2013 Talent Barometer Survey, Mercer, LLC
2 Attracting Talent: How Small and Medium Companies Can Compete, Lessons from the 2014 50 Best Small and Medium Companies, Great Places to Work, 2014

Nancy Johnson Sanquist is an industry strategist for the Real Estate and Workplace Solutions group in Trimble, an IFMA Fellow, serves on the Board of Trustees of the IFMA Foundation, is Vice President of the IFMA Corporate Real Estate Council, as well as being a speaker and contributor to CoreNet. She is the co-editor and author of Work on the Move and is listed in Who’s Who in America

Diane Coles Levine is the Executive Director of the IFMA Foundation. Previously, she was the founder and managing partner at Workplace Management Solutions. She served on the IFMA Board of Directors, is Past Chair of the IFMA Foundation and was named the 2015 IFMA Corporate Real Estate Council Distinguished Member. She is an international speaker and guest lecturer at Vienna University of Technology and MIT Professional Education Programs. Diane is co-editor and author of Work on the Move.

Workplace Evolutionaries’ (WE’s) mission is to “change the world one workplace at a time.” It’s a global community of over a thousand professionals who care deeply about the world of work and where it’s going. Among its members are workplace strategists, change managers, facilities managers, architects, designers, HR professionals, IT managers, academics, and product and service providers. WE members enjoy three conferences a year, monthly WEbinars with thought leaders from around the world, a monthly round-up of the best workplace research and news, white papers, and a vehicle for connecting with fellow evolutionaries around the world. WE is a global Community of Practice within the International Facility Management Association.