The workplace just got smarter.

Is it possible to compress real estate and shrink individual footprints while at the same time helping people to collaborate and create more effectively? Yes.

As companies work their way out of the recession, they often feel a tug-of-war between two seemingly contradictory goals: the need to stay lean and efficient yet, at the same time, become more flexible and creative. Businesses are more efficient now, having cut their biggest expenses – real estate and people. Companies need every part of the operation, especially the workplace, to work harder than ever. not just individual workspaces, but the entire office. every. Square. Foot. “We don’t have a client who isn’t asking for their real estate and workplace solutions to work harder, to do more,” says Lauri Lampson, principal with Houston-based Planning Design Research (PDR), expressing the experiences of designers and architects everywhere.

In a world of 24/7 competition, project teams stretch from Midtown to Mumbai, and business moves at race pace. Companies are looking to create harder working spaces that:

• maximize real estate utilization
• foster and support collaboration
• help attract and engage talent
• reinforce the culture and build the brand of the organization.

Can space really work that hard? Is it possible to compress real estate and shrink individual footprints while helping people collaborate and create more effectively? To inspire workers and help them feel more connected to company culture and brand? How can you simultaneously combine lean, innovative, and effective?

Several leading companies show how it can be done. Consulting giant Accenture developed a work environment strategy called Workplace 2.0 that it piloted in its newly relocated Houston office. “When most organizations pull a workplace strategy together, it really has a real estate focus. We aligned our overall business strategy, our human capital, real estate, and technology strategies very closely and pulled all of those together into a comprehensive strategy,” says Dan johnson, Accenture’s global director, workplace. The results are impressive in terms of real estate compression alone: Their office went from three floors and 66,000 square feet down to one floor of 25,000 square feet, while still supporting more than 800 people.

A leader in alternative work strategies such as hotelling, Accenture prides itself on its efficient use of real estate. But what sets the company apart is how it considers the workplace holistically. Instead of simply using smaller workstation footprints and similar approaches to increase density, the workplace is both smaller and harder working, using a combination of business strategies in ways that work best for the organization. The company also insists its workplace meet high standards for what it terms “The Four e’s” of “efficiency, effectiveness, engagement, and environment,” with collaboration as a baseline. Like a lot of companies, Accenture found that many workstations were empty for long periods of time because workers were collaborating in team spaces, project rooms, or offsite. “The briefcase, the PC, and the coat had one of the best views in town,” says Bill Mearse, Houston location managing director. The company realized that its staff was working differently, so its workplace had to reflect and support those new ways of working. The integrated work strategies and the Four e’s strategy address these changes.

Mobile telecom leader Vodafone also applied an integrated strategy for the company’s new netherlands headquarters in Amsterdam. The company was not only moving its office from another city, but also consolidating staff from three different sites at the new location. “We needed to make a big step forward in our workspace to break out from traditional offices to something fresh, new, even heretical,” says Jens Schulte-Bockum, CEO of Vodafone netherlands. To support mobile and collaborative knowledge work, and to demonstrate the company brand, Vodafone’s workplace has a very open layout with no assigned workspaces combined with a wide variety of meeting and project spaces.

Every Vodafone staffer – from leadership to the newest worker – operates from the same workspaces. Much like Accenture’s office, Vodafone’s workplace is colorful, welcoming, and energetic, and uses less real estate than their previous offices.

Benching is a go-to strategy for gaining more efficiency in real estate footprints, and, while it’s been used in europe for many years, it’s a growing phenomenon in North America. Benching is an application approach for supporting workers with parallel work surfaces along a spine. Typically there are no space-defining panels and little or no dedicated storage and privacy. It’s definitely an efficient approach: Research conducted by Steelcase WorkSpace Futures in Europe and North America shows space savings of 22-26% in benching applications verses individual workstations, and an initial cost savings of 10-15%. But there’s a risk as well: cramming more desks into less space to save money can affect the performance of the workplace and staff. Benching should be tailored to the work being done. For example, project team members might use a bench for individual work or as a place for collaboration; the former use calls for some small privacy screens and space for portable tools, while the latter needs more work surface, space for more people and no screens at all. Real estate savings realized through benching should be leveraged for the benefit of all workers – for cafés, lounge areas, team rooms, and other shared spaces.

Accenture and Vodafone made sure their benching workspaces were augmented by shared spaces, a move that pays real dividends. “There’s a lot more informal communication going on in the office,” says Vodafone’s Bockum. “People are closer to one another, it’s easier to have a quick chat about issues. People are communicating more than in previous environments and I think that adds to productivity. Mission- critical information is passed between people more easily and people have the feeling that there’s more information sharing going on, that they’re on the inside rather than struggling to keep up with what’s going on.”

The flow of information and ideas is critical to collaboration, the de facto protocol for knowledge work today. It’s also the standard embraced in the new offices of the Housing, Dining, and Hospitality (HDH) department at the University of California, San Diego, opened earlier this year. Workers from 11 different locations were brought together in a workplace designed to break down internal silos and improve communication and information sharing. Down came the panels, in came impromptu meeting and team spaces along with technology for easier sharing of information – all to encourage the ongoing conversations vital to collaboration.

“It’s been just three months and information flows faster now, and that’s a huge benefit. We’ve brought people together and given them an environment they can work in more effectively. We had no idea it could work this well, but it seems so apparent now. It’s amazing the way you can construct a community with a building and furniture,” says Mark P. Cunningham, executive director of HDH.

The Coca-Cola Supply workplace

The Coca-Cola Supply workplace

The Coca-Cola Supply workplace encourages and supports information sharing, teamwork, and collaboration in a variety of workspaces.

Greater Expectations

Building a new organizational culture was the main goal for a space designed for the newly formed supply chain logistics team, Coca-Cola Supply, an LLC of Coca-Cola Enterprises, and the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta. Deirdre O’Sullivan, designer and principal at idea|span, says the combined group “wanted to let go of the entrenched ways of doing things and figure out how they could work together better,” and they used their workplace to help define the new era. Since many of the workers typically are working in the field and are not in the office every day, 40% of the workspaces are unassigned. The essential nature of the space is open and collegial. O’Sullivan planned different types of collaboration spaces – large and small, open and enclosed – and all offer plenty of technology support for displaying and sharing information. One space, dubbed the data-presence room, features four large monitors in a group and media:scape® technology that allows four people to display what’s on their laptops in real time, side by side.

Alongside shared workspaces and collaborative work areas stands a traditional office icon: the private office. At Coca-Cola Supply, Accenture, UC San Diego, and countless other companies, private offices endure – with good reason. They offer the highest level of privacy, they’re ideal for concentrative work, and they’re part of the organizational culture of many companies. In the past, organizations often allocated private offices based on hierarchy. now many organizations are making those decisions based on job function and worker needs. The private office isn’t going away; it’s being re-imagined and redesigned to support the type of work being done, which often requires quick shifts between focused individual work and collaboration.

Footprints for all spaces are getting smaller, so every private office surface needs to perform at higher levels. Walls support visual display and flexible storage. Storage doubles as guest seating and work surface, and even offers embedded technology that helps people share information on monitors with another person or a group. Forget struggling to see a computer screen tucked back on the credenza.

The notion of “private” itself is being redefined. An enclosed office remains a private refuge, but it also must support the increasingly collaborative nature of work, even for those who occupy private spaces. The office must be able to make a quick transition from supporting focused individual work to group collaboration. Designers are planning these new private offices in work zones: one for conversation by the entry, another zone for collaboration farther inside, and one for concentrated work farthest from the door. The collaboration zone should include a work surface for use by one person or a small group, mobile seating, the means to display work in progress, and technology support that is simple and ubiquitous.

Hotelling works in the open plan, so why not in the private office? At some companies, an employee may be assigned a private office that is made available to others when that person is away for some time. The private office worker simply isolates confidential materials in a file or other storage, and just that easily the office becomes available as a meeting room, huddle space. In some companies, two people share a private office full-time, often by workers who regularly work together, such as financial auditors and legal associates.

Rethinking the workplace takes planning, vision, and a commitment from leadership and staff. At Coca-Cola Supply, “the president formed a leadership steering committee of corporate real estate, team leaders from both organizations, and other workers to help define this new workplace,” says O’Sullivan. This multigenerational team participated in a day-long education process about new trends in the workplace and realized the opportunity they had to embrace new ideas for increasing collaboration. Stepping away from the paradigm of each person owning their own space, the team recognized that by allowing some workers to shift to a free address system, it would open up space that could be reallocated for collaboration areas.

Figuring out how to attract and engage the multigenerational workforce is a sticky problem for many organizations. experts often suggest the needs of different generations are diametrically opposed, but in fact their diverse needs are more aligned than dissimilar, according to primary research conducted by Steelcase. A nine-month study of U.S. companies shows that Gen Y’s new behaviors and work styles are driving eight dramatic shifts in knowledge work and the workplace. Moreover, these workplace shifts are being embraced rapidly by workers of all generations. “Gen Y workers are transforming the rules of engagement between employers and employees,” says Sudhakar Lahade, senior design researcher with Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures group, which conducted the research. “Younger knowledge workers’ attitudes and behaviors are being adopted by their older Gen X and Boomer colleagues, creating a whole new set of requirements for any company that wants to compete for talent.”

No cubes, no silos, no worries.

Creating a space that attracts all generations and helps to engage them in their work is no longer optional. The vast majority of workers say having an office that helps attract and retain knowledge workers is important, according to the Steelcase Workplace Satisfaction Survey, an ongoing global survey of attitudes on work issues that has engaged nearly 23,000 respondents at 133 companies. It’s the single biggest issue not being met – and it’s been that way every year since the survey began in 2004.

Engaging Workers

To better engage all workers regardless of generation, high-performing spaces effectively support the four modes of knowledge work (as described by nonaka and Takeuchi in the seminal book, The Knowledge Creating Company) common to all knowledge workers: focused work, collaboration, learning, and socializing. All knowledge workers – whether consultant or scientist, product manager or project leader – build and share knowledge that in turn drives creativity and innovation, using these four modes:

• Focusing – every worker needs some time that’s uninterrupted to concentrate and attend to specific tasks such as thinking, studying, contemplating, strategizing, processing, and other “heads-down” work.
• Collaborating – Fundamentally, collaboration is about working with one or more people to achieve a goal, such as collectively creating content or brainstorming. Ideally, all perspectives are equally respected, brought together to leverage the group’s shared mind.
• Learning – Learning is about building knowledge. Whether in a classroom or a conversation with peers, learning happens best by building on each other’s knowledge. When thinking is made visible and shared with others, learning is accelerated.
• Socializing – Knowledge becomes ingrained in the organization through socialization. As people socialize and work with others in formal and informal ways, learning and trust are nurtured. And those are necessary ingredients for innovation.

Across the four work modes, workers create and use two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit. explicit knowledge is the formal, systematic information typically found in documents, procedures, and manuals. In contrast, tacit knowledge is deeply personal, harder to formalize, and learned by experience. It’s communicated indirectly through metaphor, analogy, mentoring, and working side by side. It’s how knowledge gets shared, ideas are explored and tested, and the value of experience is passed from worker to worker. Both explicit and tacit knowledge are essential to the process of building knowledge and fueling creativity and innovation, a process that requires collaboration.

But not just any kind of collaboration. The simple coordination of tasks (“here’s some info for you…”) or communication (“wanted to let you know…”) is important to running a company. But genuine collaboration, the kind that leads to breakthrough ideas, comes from people working together specifically to gain new insights. As Accenture’s Johnson says, “We wanted to make sure that (coming to the office) was a very engaging experience, and people learned something by being here that they wouldn’t by not being here. It made the office a destination. People are actually coming into the office now more for face-to-face collaboration and interaction with people, and much less for individual work.”

In the past, most work was individually focused, but today the reverse has become true: 82% of white-collar workers feel they need to partner with others throughout their day to get work done. Knowledge work has become fundamentally a social activity, where workers build on each other’s ideas and together create something new. “That’s really what a lot of companies are looking to achieve,” says Mark Adams, principal, of Phoenix-based architecture and design firm, SmithGroup. “It’s all about helping people work together more effectively by creating visual connectivity, interaction, and a sense of community.”

Organizations whose offices exemplify their culture and brand, attract and engage workers, provide a highly collaborative atmosphere, and do it all in less space are getting their spaces to work harder than ever. They also tend to be among today’s leaders in business. “They let people be as absolutely productive and as strong as they can be, providing them a support backbone that allows them to do their job better than anywhere else, and allows them to be creative, collaborative thinkers. When you really, truly look at the ones that do these things and have this philosophy, they tend to be off-the-charts successful,” says Adams.

Next Generation Workspaces for Innovation

Space that’s harder working supports a company that wants to be lean, effective, and, especially important today, more innovative. Companies are seeing signs that the economy is turning around. Business confidence is returning and the focus is shifting to growth, which according to most experts depends on what Harvard Business Review calls the “secret sauce” of business success: innovation. The ingredients include the right organizational culture, collaboration, and space.

Author and innovation expert john Seely Brown says all innovation requires an accommodating company culture and workplace. “The cultures that constantly produce innovation have visionary leadership, an organizational commitment to breakthrough thinking, and a place that supports the work of innovation.”

There are two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. The former is an improvement to an existing thing – say, release 2.0 of a software program. Disruptive innovation is a true breakthrough, often creating a new product category or market – think iPod. Sustaining innovation satisfies customer needs, sells for higher margins, and may offer a competitive edge. Disruptive innovation ensures competitive advantage, often for a longer period of time, and builds momentum inside the organization and in the marketplace. Companies need both kinds of innovation.

“Innovation cannot be isolated from collaboration,” notes Steelcase’s Lahade, who recently led a team studying innovation and space. “While all collaborative work is not necessarily geared toward innovation, all innovations require some level of collaboration.” And effective collaboration requires the right space.

Consider Google. The global search engine giant has worked to build a culture of innovation at every level of the company. They operate as a marketplace for ideas, heavily cross-pollinating internally through a tightly integrated culture where contributions from everyone on staff are encouraged. It’s a natural approach for many companies to look to their internal staff, not just R&D, for innovations. An IBM study found that the most common source of innovative ideas for companies is its employees, relied on by 41% of CeOs with only 17% relying on R&D.

Jan-Peter Kastelein, a partner at YNNO consultants in Utrecht, the Netherlands, worked with Google on their new R&D center in Zurich. He notes that “Google workers have to be innovative every day, whether it’s through new solutions, new ways of doing things, or innovative products. The space enables people to be innovative.” To generate novel solutions for information retrieval, user interfaces, and new search features, this Google space, like the offices of Accenture and Vodafone, includes wide open workspaces, communal cafes, and plenty of ways to share information. At its core, the space reflects an organizational attitude of “obsessive communication and information-sharing between and among employees,” as one writer dubbed it, to help keep Google acting like a creative start-up organization.

A Mayo Clinic Workspace

To innovate, collaborate. The Mayo Clinic workspace reflects key principles of innovation: space for collaboration and displaying work in progress, and furniture that groups can move around and reconfigure to the needs of the project.

Mayo Clinic is another serial innovator. Their SPARC Innovation Program, a first-of-its-kind operation for designing and developing health care innovations that opened in 2004, leverages the organization’s deep expertise in health care, and makes the innovation process and facility an integral part of the larger culture. In its first year alone, SPARC generated more new ideas than the program could handle, while the new approach proved its ability to take a wealth of ideas, conceptualize them, and demonstrate their value to patient care.

Innovation can’t be mandated. A culture that reveres and pursues creative ideas must be carefully nurtured. In fact, the quantitative skills that most companies develop for analysis, production, processing, etc., are often anathema to a culture of innovation, according to Roger Martin, author and dean of the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. “Most companies are utterly ill-equipped to innovate. Leaders have to be willing to accept an argument that says, ‘We can’t be certain, because this is something new. But here are the reasons we think it might work.’ Many executives would say ‘That doesn’t seem like a strong case. It looks different, it feels different, it doesn’t make me as confident. Why can’t you prove this? Come back when you have proof.’ Another year or two goes by, some competitor does it and you’re behind the leader. You’re not an innovator.”

Help Innovation Flourish

Space is a key element that nurtures the process of innovation. Martin says “Innovation-oriented organizations are inherently going to be more project-based: most creative things in life are projects. Teams have to be able to work together and collaborate, so spaces that are reconfigurable and more about the team than about long-term stability reinforce a culture of innovation.”

YNNO’s Kastelein says “Place is incredibly important, especially for collaboration, knowledge sharing and learning. People have to have awareness of what colleagues are doing, they have to have access to each other, and that’s why you’re seeing more open planning in Europe, for example, and people have to engage with others in conversation. Space can help you with all of those.”

“Space provides places for people to get together, interact, and that’s so important when it comes to innovating around big challenges,” says Ryan Armbruster, former director of the Mayo Clinic SPARC program, and vice president of innovation for UnitedHealth Group, a managed health Ryan Armbruster, UnitedHealth Group care company. Technology can support collaboration – cell phones and video- conferencing help separated co-workers communicate – but there’s no substitute for rubbing shoulders. “The analogy we use is: no one’s ever built a start-up business over a telephone line,” says Armbruster. “It’s usually a bunch of people getting together, working nonstop, right? It’s intense collaboration, because you have to talk and work things out and solve problems on the fly.”

Teams collaborate differently and for different purposes. Furniture, tools, technology, and space will vary by innovation model, company culture or other factors. “Collaboration has been a big topic for the last 10 or 15 years, but people are realizing the different types of collaboration we need to support. More emphasis on more informal, casual spaces for informal get-togethers and cross fertilization, and less about planned, formal meetings,” says Lauri Lampson of PDR.

“As organizations struggle to remain relevant and meaningful, we are rethinking how space can support, inspire, and enable innovation business practices. We’re continuing to work on how the design and use of innovation spaces can reinforce the other organizational components that contribute to a company’s ability to innovate,” says Lahade. After all, rethinking how space can help innovation flourish is one of the best ways to make space work harder than ever.