Space, buildings, and architecture are not the first things a company thinks about when it is “transforming work.” Yet changes to space and time are basic to evolving concepts of what work means. Employee empowerment, reengineered work processes, organizational learning, and the elimination of work-family barriers do not seem to be connected conceptually to a company’s accommodation, yet companies looking forward to growing and thriving — to more than just survival —are learning to examine their work spaces in new ways.
Corporate trends toward outsourcing and downsizing, reducing overhead, and consolidating all have space design implications — not just for real estate, but also in terms of the physical space in which employees perform their tasks. In this article, I examine attitudes toward space design and accommodation in light of two objectives: (1) to reduce costs and (2) to increase worker effectiveness. Not enough companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to “right size” their space, first, by using their real estate dollars more effectively and, second, by using the streamlining of accommodation expenditures as an opportunity to transform the organization. (I use the term “accommodation” to refer not only to the physical space an organization inhabits, but also to the elements of the work environment that make the space function, such as office technology, furniture, building services, and ambient environmental conditions — lighting, noise, ventilation, and so on.)
There are information, tools, and technology available to give white-collar workers a physical work environment that actively supports their task performance. A company does not need to pay for uncomfortable work space that slows work down, makes change difficult, or is less than optimal for work performance. By attending to the human aspect of space use, managers can gain more from money spent on office accommodation. In cases such as Apple Computer, Digital Equipment Corporation, and the NMB bank in The Netherlands, where “office of the future” concepts have been implemented, CEOs have found that strategic work-space planning — the integration of space-related decisions for work and workers with an organization’s business objectives — can potentially empower employees to take responsibility for and make cost-effective decisions about their own space.1 Strategic work-space planning can facilitate and, in some cases, drive reengineering of work processes, and can encourage teamwork, help flatten hierarchies, and instigate other organizational changes.