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Desk Sharing: 4 Ways To Gain Leadership Buy In

When shifting to a modern work environment
desk sharing can save millions

Jo-Ann Mann, Serraview

By Jo-Anne Mann

In 2017, giving up assigned seating and moving toward to desk sharing is a workplace strategy that’s gaining ground worldwide. And for good reason: large corporations stand to save tens of millions in property costs (at the very least) by consolidating and maximizing utilization of office space. When implemented as part of a shift to a modern, mobile work environment, desk sharing strategies (also known as agile working) can also do much more:

  • Attract top talent in an increasingly competitive climate
  • Improve employee experience and engagement in the workplace
  • Boost knowledge worker productivity to grow profitability
  • Enable collaboration, seen as the key to driving the innovation companies need to be successful in the knowledge economy

As a CRE professional, you are probably becoming more aware of these benefits every time you read an industry publication or attend an event. However, convincing your business leaders to get on board with a move to desk sharing can be more challenging than you might imagine.

Here are 4 proven strategies to help you win leadership buy in and ensure a more effective outcome for your workplace transformation.

Desk sharing: 4 strategies for winning management buy in

1. Use cost savings to get the C-suite on board

When it comes to gaining leadership buy in for a new workplace strategies such as desk sharing and modern work spaces, it’s essential to recognize the differing perspectives of executives at various levels in the company. You’ll probably want to start with the C-suite and senior leadership, because top-level endorsement gets your plan approved, moving forward, and promoted throughout the organization.

For senior executives, one of their primary concerns is the financial impact on the company. So focus your pitch for implementing desk sharing on the cost benefits the company can expect to achieve.

The problem is, how can you develop an accurate business case for desk sharing without resorting to generalities? You need a source of truth that can produce concrete evidence to support your ideas, and show real cost savings projections.

When I implemented desk sharing strategies as part of what we termed “smart environments” at Suncorp, we collected a lot of data to provide that evidence. To begin with, you need to know how many people from each team are actually working in the building each day. You can do this manually, but it’s quite time consuming. A better way is to turn to technology: badge readers, lighting sensors, network sensors and Low Energy Bluetooth gather utilization data automatically. This technology enables you to see which groups are using which types of space and with what frequency. You also need a workplace management system that can aggregate data from multiple sources and make it useful for making decisions.

Learn more about this process from this blog: Activity Based Workplace Design: Why One Size Does Not Fit All

Also, learn more about utilization tracking technologies from this white paper: Managing Workplace Utilization.

Armed with that information, you can easily put together a picture of your current space utilization and how much money is being wasted. Next, develop workplace scenario plans that maximize use of space and allow you to reduce your footprint, significantly reducing spend year after year. Suncorp’s workplace transformation took utilization levels from 50% to 92%, and reduced property costs by millions each year.

Numbers like that will almost certainly convince senior management to approve your desk sharing initiative and promote it to the lower levels as a company mandate. However, a successful outcome for desk sharing also requires winning over managers at lower levels.

 

2. Managers respond to productivity and engagement benefits

Just getting your desk sharing plan approved is not enough to win acceptance throughout the company. As you well know, many a good plan has failed because of pushback and resistance from the ranks. That’s why it’s in your best interest to help lower level managers understand how this new way of working can work better for them.

Middle managers are responsible for the output of their teams. The way to get their attention is by showing how the modern workplace can improve employee engagement and drive increases in productivity. Time and again, research shows a correlation between availability of workplace options and increased output. Harvard Business Review reports that that 86% of the most highly engaged workers have choices as to how and where they work.

 

3. Get managers to lead by example

Once managers begin to buy into the desk sharing concept, your next step is to get them to become active role models for their employees. In the process, they experience the benefits first-hand; even those who were unsure initially become fans of the new workplace strategy. Some may even become active evangelists for your cause.

I worked with a manager like this. He was an insurance underwriter who had worked his way up through the company to become a manager of 60 people. He had a large prestigious office, and was mortified when told he would need to give that up and work in a desk sharing neighborhood with his employees as part of the company’s workplace transformation. He felt like he was being stripped of his status in the company. He understood that he needed to lead his team in the new way of working, but he was traumatized at first: he went from a huge office with years of accumulated belongings to one box.

For the first few days, he felt very distracted by all the conversations going on around him, and got little work accomplished. But then he began to participate in those conversations: offering advice and guidance to his employees that improved the outcome of their work. Over time, he grew to see the collaborative benefits of desk sharing and the agile workplace, and became one of the biggest advocates of the program. Today he says he would never go back to the secluded office!

4. Address HR policies for managing dispersed teams

Another challenge with desk sharing is the fact that many managers are used to judging performance by how many hours they see employees sitting at their desks. In an agile environment, they need to adjust their expectations and learn new ways of managing and evaluating the work of their teams.

One practice that may be new and challenging to managers is flexible working, or allowing employees to work at home or elsewhere outside the office. Embracing flexible working is not necessarily required to implement desk sharing. However, many companies are moving toward both at the same time, since the cost benefits can be greater and also help to attract talent.

Here’s some important advice: in the new way of working, don’t use working at home as a reward. It needs to be viewed as an accepted policy across the board. That being said, HR should establish guidelines; for example, each group can set planned days when people are allowed to work off site, with the expectation that if you’re needed in the office at any time, you will be there. Also, the privilege is contingent upon good performance at all times.

Putting formal HR policies into place around flexible working arrangements and desk sharing can go a long way to help managers who may not be experienced with dispersed teams in a mobile work environment.

Learn more: 9 Steps to Implementing Change in the Workplace: Agile Spaces

In our next blog, we’ll discuss how to get even more benefits from an agile working environment by re-investing some of the cost savings back into the workplace. Don’t miss it!

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