Find out how Booz Allen Hamilton created the conditions for innovation to happen at work in this video and case study, sponsored by AgilQuest.
Click here to download the full PDF version of the Booz Allen case study, Integrating People, Space, and Technology: How Booz Allen Hamilton Created the Conditions for Innovation to Happen at Work
The case study is chock full of images, drawings, and interviews with Booz Allen Hamilton employees, an OTJ Architects designer, and AgilQuest experts. The full text of the case study, along with select images, is copied below.
Over the past 10 years, Booz Allen Hamilton — a leading strategy and technology consulting firm headquartered in McLean, Va. — has moved to a flexible work program and hoteling solution in their greater Washington-area offices, supported in large part by AgilQuest’s OnBoard technology. In this case study, we’ll explore the strategic decisions they’ve made around hoteling, mobility, and choice; what lessons they’ve learned since implementing the changes; and the positive effects that the program has made on the company’s culture.
Since implementing their flexible work program — which has taken a variety of different forms since its first deployment in 2008 — Booz Allen has:
- Improved work-life balance and increased “personal ROI” for employees in terms of more flexibility and cost savings related to commuting
- Attracted and retained top talent based on the desirability of the flexible work program
- Reinvested savings created by a smaller real estate footprint in a more efficient “network of space”, which includes the cutting-edge Innovation Center that the firm opened in mid-2016
- Increased productivity by giving employees more choice in where, how, and when they work
“Booz Allen is a company that’s on the move,” said Kurt Scherer, the director of their new Innovation Center in Washington. “We recognize that as things change in the workforce, we really have to enable our teams and our staff to make the most of what technology can offer.”
He said that the Innovation Center and the company’s hoteling efforts are the answer to the question, “How do we use technology to set the conditions for innovation to occur?”
“What we want to be able to do for our teams is to allow them to communicate and share in a very easy and frictionless way,” he added. “Whether that’s in the same space, or if it’s across the country.”
The strategy behind Booz Allen’s flexible approach to work
The nature of consulting doesn’t square with the idea of a fixed workplace. Booz Allen’s consultants, for example, may work 100 percent of the time on a client site for the duration of a project, rarely checking in at the firm’s own offices. Other times, a client might allow for teleworking, which means the consultant will split his or her time between working from home, the client site, and a Booz Allen space.
For a consulting firm, a traditional work environment — where each employee has his or her own space, regardless of how often they use it — just doesn’t make sense financially, environmentally, or culturally.
“We realized that the buildings were being underutilized,” said Brinda Sen Gupta, lead associate in the firm’s Strategic Innovation Group. “Employees weren’t using that space because they were going in to client sites. So, we wanted to create efficiencies by lowering the square footage per person in the space by doing the hoteling system.”
There are many studies out there that show a lot of corporate America is disengaged in their jobs, and we don’t see that. In fact, we’re seeing the opposite, where people are excited to come to work.
Now, employees have the option to work from a client site, from home, from the road, or from a Booz Allen space that best suits their individual locations and schedules.
“[Working] at different client sites and then having a location that’s very close to where you live allows you to have that flexibility on the days that you don’t have to be on site,” said Sen Gupta. “You have less of a commute, you don’t have to worry about where you’re going, and you know that you have a place — when you go to that office — where you can sit. It’s really convenient.”
Scherer added that hoteling is just another step in the firm’s “innovation journey”, and has allowed them to use their space as a tool for employees and clients to connect with each other. On top of that, the program has helped Booz Allen to reduce the cost of their real estate footprint, and it’s helped to reduce staff costs, too — especially ones related to travel time.
“We’ve enabled connection in ways that hadn’t been possible before,” he said.
A solution that integrates people, space, and technology
Another advantage of the flexible hoteling program is that it has allowed Booz Allen to integrate their people, space, and technology in a way that creates an environment that is more conducive to innovation. The AgilQuest technology behind the program also gives Booz Allen information about how the space is being used and the most effective tools, which allows them to base future decisions about the space on hard data.
“We’ve worked with Booz Allen now for more than 10 years to continue to evolve our software so that it embraces the workplace change that they were striving for,” said Torrance Houlihan, AgilQuest’s vice president for product management. “It offers freedom, flexibility, and choice to the end user about where they’re going to work, with whom they’re going to collaborate, and the type of space that they need.”
He added that Booz Allen “has really found that balance between technology, people, and real estate that so many organizations are striving for.”
The benefit of technology to the individual starts long before they get to the office.
AgilQuest’s software — accessible from a variety of devices and interfaces, including a mobile app and on-site kiosks — allows Booz Allen employees to reserve and check in to workspaces in a particular location, to locate individuals on their team, and, ultimately, to connect more easily with others in the organization.
“The benefit of technology to the individual starts long before they get to the office,” said Houlihan. “When they’re planning their day, and thinking, What kind of work am I doing and who am I working with?, they can go online, look for the space that best suits their needs, look for the people that they need to work with, and reserve space where they need it, for the time that they need.”
When employees arrive at the space they’ve reserved, “the technology knows that they’re there,” he said. Upon arrival, the system routes the employees phone to the desk they’ll use that day, “and then all of the wonderful in office collaboration technology comes in to play so that you can most effectively use your time in the office.”
In addition to enabling more flexibility for employees, the technology also increases the flexibility of the space.
“We can take space and make it a neighborhood one day, and then we can release it and use it for individual desks that people can reserve another day,” said Dawn Crisson, Booz Allen’s technical lead for the AgilQuest application and the liaison between facilities and AgilQuest. (A “neighborhood”, for the uninitiated, is a dedicated area within a workspace where teams can cluster and work together for the duration of a project.)
On top of allowing for much more flexibility with the space, the platform also allows for Booz Allen’s employees to connect in new ways. Scherer praised the seamlessness of knowing where and with whom you’re going to work, and what you’re going to be doing. And that frictionless connection doesn’t stop once an employee books his or her space for they day:
“We focus a lot on being able to very quickly bring in your laptop, get the information that you want to share up on the screen where others can see it, and do that within 30 seconds,” said Scherer. “You are now being more efficient and connecting in a better way so that more ideas can flow, and using that time, and being very productive. That’s what technology can allow.”
Setting the conditions for innovation to happen and people to thrive
People, space, and technology are the “big three” when it comes to efficiency and innovation at work, but both Booz Allen and AgilQuest will tell you that, of that trinity, the people are the most important part.
“This [program] is about the people that work here, and if we can use technology to enable our talent to do their jobs better and to serve our clients, that’s the really important thing,” said Scherer. “And we’re recognizing that changes in technology will change the way we think about how we talk about things like HR.”
Ultimately, he said, it ends up “being about how we get the best people to work better together.”
Houlihan said he’s impressed with the way Booz Allen has, over the past 10 years, embraced changing technologies, work styles, and work patterns in order to provide a workplace that best suits the needs of their employees.
“Not only [does it] drive up the personal ROI of the people who work at Booz Allen, to make sure their work-life balance is there,” he said, “but [it also] drives up the return on investment in their real estate by increasing utilization, and reinvesting savings in better work environments so that they can be more effective, collaborative, and innovative when they come into the office.”
Space and technology, together with a direct focus on teams and staff, really can be a set of levers to set the conditions for innovation and allow serendipitous connections to happen.
The ROI of a flexible hoteling program resonates for some employees on a deeply personal level. The program, for example, allowed Booz Allen’s Crisson to continue her job while taking care of her ailing mother.
“Using the mobility tools, I was able to get my mom through cancer, get her to treatments,” she said, recalling many meetings she attended from her car.
“Nobody knew any different — I was, as far as they were concerned, sitting right at my desk.”
“People have been able to be a lot more flexible,” added Crisson. “It’s really given us the ability to have a much more mobile workforce.”
And even when the situation is less urgent, employees see meaningful benefits.
“There are many studies out there that show a lot of corporate America is disengaged in their jobs, and we don’t see that,” said Scherer. “In fact, we’re seeing the opposite, where people are excited to come to work. And we’ve taken advantage [of] how space affects people’s moods and feelings and engagement at work. And so [the reinvestment of cost savings in a more efficient workspace] is going to increase our retention, and our engagement, which then can allow us to continue to reinvest because we’ve got a talented and engaged workforce.”
And it’s not just Booz Allen’s people who reap the benefits — their clients see positive effects, too.
“Having a hoteling system has allowed us to be in multiple locations around, in this case, the Washington metro area,” said Scherer. “That allows us to be much more responsive and flexible to being close to our clients, because they’re spread out all over the place as well.”
Scherer added that everything they do is to make their teams and their staff more effective, which ultimately leads to better products and solutions for clients.
“Space and technology, together with a direct focus on teams and staff, really can be a set of levers to set the conditions for innovation and allow serendipitous connections to happen,” he said.
What’s next for Booz Allen: The Innovation Center and beyond
As for the new Innovation Center — the 10,000 square foot space on the ground floor of Booz Allen’s downtown Washington offices — it’s the sum total of all of these ideas around people, space, and technology, as well as a harbinger of where the firm is headed.
In addition to being part of the network of hoteling space, Margaret Fogarty, one of the designers from OTJ Architects — the firm that designed the Center — told us that it’s chock full of cutting-edge technology including wireless chargers, projectors, and robots that allow employees from all over the world to join their Washington-based colleagues and clients in meetings.
“The goal for this space was to take the standards that were already implemented, but then push them further,” said Fogarty. “In the conference room, for example, we have screens that you can actually drag information from one wall to the other. And then there are something like 98 sensors integrated into the acoustical ceiling. And then another big part of the technology aspect of this was making sure that the technology is flexible, so not only is [there a] main area here for hoteling, day-to-day [work], but it’s here for event space, so the desks can move, and it can become event space.”
One employee currently based in the Center is Uri Bombasi, a UX designer working with an Air Force team. Bombasi said that, if not for the Innovation Center, his team wouldn’t have as many opportunities to collaborate.
“Being accepted here indirectly forced us to come together,” he said. “And then using the tools that they have here like the wireless screens and being able to connect from wherever you are in the Center, that’s helped us not only to critique but to [improve] the quality of our work.”
“I’ve learned and developed a lot more here than I would in a traditional workspace,” he added. Bombasi’s experience is the desired outcome of the investment that Booz Allen made in the space.
“We see space as a true asset,” said Scherer. “To set the conditions for innovation, to have project teams come together, and to be able to connect. This is really the next step in our innovation journey.”