Want a Cool, Creative Workplace? Here’s a Checklist

2 Skype, Palo Alto, CA
Skype’s Palo Alto office. Photo by Matthew Millman, courtesy of Blitz Architecture and Interiors.

A hot news item continues to be “the workplace of the future”, and how it is taking hold in corporate America today. There are many aspects to this story, including the extent of the mobile workforce, workplace optimization strategies, the changing role of the cubicle, and the ideal amenities. Perhaps the most compelling part about this trend is the need for local companies to recruit and retain top talent by creating “cool, creative space,” thus establishing a happy, healthy, and productive environment away from home.

How each company rolls out a workplace strategy depends on many factors: workforce demographics (ages and culture), industry (high-tech vs. traditional/blue chip), operations (sales/field work vs. HQ/back-office), growth plans, cost containment issues, and the need to align the workplace with the company’s brand and culture.

Without question, the workplace is being transformed, and creative retrofitting will continue to be a top agenda item for companies in the Bay Area and beyond. These companies are generally trying to do more with less, reducing their footprint and corresponding occupancy costs. But not every business is a candidate for such a workplace transformation, and not everyone has found the right solution. Indeed, companies need to recognize that plans must be customized to meet their unique needs. They should also realize that workplace optimization plans will continue to evolve.

New Relic's office in San Francisco.
New Relic’s office in San Francisco. Image courtesy of author.

What kinds of programs work best? They can range from the amazing innovation and perks offered by Facebook and Google to much smaller-scale examples. If workplace change is on your radar, it might be helpful to review the following checklist with your in-house team and appropriate consultants:

  • Be strategic. Study seat counts and employees’ feelings about their work environment: what works, what doesn’t work.
  • Do space programming. Review options for consolidation and reconfiguration. This takes into account growth plans, right-sizing, and may include seat sharing.
  • Assess mobility. The extent of your mobile workforce depends on cultural and technological considerations.
  • Consider space reduction planning. Includes smaller and more efficient workstations and less SF/employee.
  • Consider the critical importance of collaboration. Open spaces and “huddle areas” promote interaction.
  • Consider privacy requirements. Sound masking, phone booths, the need for heads-down space, and personal storage are also part of the equation.
  • Go green. Sustainability considerations include natural light and exposed ceilings; also, ask about ergonomic furniture and equipment.
  • Start planning early. Account for test-fits, due diligence inspections, and IT infrastructure.
  • Get organizational buy-in. Includes top management as well as and rank-and-file staff.
  • Anticipate push-back. Plan for training to address issues related to entitlement and accountability.
  • Be flexible. Pilot, test, adapt. Throughout the process, communication is key.

From the get-go, you should talk to project managers and see how they can provide the vision and structure to deliver an optimized and customized solution on time and on budget. The project management process typically involves vendor selection and total project oversight, including collaboration with the in-house team and the facilities manager. And remember, whatever the extent of your virtual workplace program, employees ultimately need to return to the office and meet face to face. Your goal is to make sure they want to be there!

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