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Workplace Strategy: How to Go From Lifeless to Lively

The best workplace strategies are
designed around the people

Jill Zunshine

By Jill Zunshine

The Journey to Workplace Productivity is a lot Like the Journey to the Wizard of Oz

Have you ever thought your workplaces were boring and lifeless? Have you ever wondered what could be done to turn your boring and lifeless workplaces around? I did. Once I inherited boring, lifeless workplaces. When you find yourself in this situation, you may be tempted to adopt the latest workplace trend. Remote working. Open office. Free address. Co-working. Back to the office. But how do you know that any of these trends will work for your business?

The best workplace strategies are designed around the people and the work. They boost workplace productivity by improving the employee experience, attracting and retaining talent, and improving business productivity. By how much? Here’s a striking example. One of Serraview’s large corporate real estate clients achieved:

  • 89% of people recommending their new workplace to others,
  • Four times more job applicants, and
  • 92% utilization of their corporate real estate portfolio, up from 50% three years ago.

How do you get there? The journey to workplace productivity is a lot like the journey to the Wizard of Oz. A tornado strikes. Dorothy is lost. She follows the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz. On the way, she meets three characters: the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion.

  1. The scarecrow needs a brain. The brain in workplace strategy is gathering the data and creating design principles.
  2. The tin man needs a heart. The heart in workplace strategy is engaging people in the design and creating a design that engages people.
  3. The cowardly lion needs courage. Courage in workplace strategy is leading the change, especially when it’s difficult.

Brains, heart, and courage. Are you ready to get started? Here are three steps to transform your workplace from lifeless to lively with workplace strategy.

Workplace Strategy Step 1: Gather Data & Create Design Principles (“The Brains”)

“The role of the workplace strategist is to get to know the organization in a really deep way,” says Randy Howder, Gensler workplace strategist in Interior Design. “It’s more than just one vision session. It’s really living with the client, like how Frank Lloyd Wright used to go live with clients, to really respond to the environment.”

Gather Data

To get to know your company and inform your workplace strategy, gather the data to learn:

  • Business Strategies – for your entire company, every business line, and every function, especially human resources, information technology, and brand.
  • Industry Trends – for the industry your company is in, and perhaps even for related industries.
  • Employee Feedback – employee engagement surveys, workplace satisfaction surveys, and facilities satisfaction surveys.
  • Observations – real-time, in person workplace observation studies by a trained industrial engineer who observes activity in both dedicated and shared spaces.
  • Utilization % – how and how much space is used. This is where it helps a lot to have tools to collect and analyze the data. (Learn more from this white paper: Managing Workplace Utilization.)
  • Financial Results – operating expense, capital expenditures, and assets. Get it by site, if possible.

Gathering data to get to know your company and its business, can be the hardest and most time-consuming step, especially if you don’t have good systems, data, or relationships. But you must do it. Without it, you can’t design a workplace strategy that would meet your business needs.

Create Design Principles

When I gathered the data about my company and its business, and analyzed the data, here are the principles that I came up with. Some of them may apply to your company.

  • Connections – How can workplaces become the hubs and connection points for people, places, and partnerships?
  • Focus & Flexibility – Where will we work quietly, free from distraction and noise, and have the ability to change our workplaces based on our needs?
  • Engaging Experiences – How will we design engaging experiences rather than merely spaces?
  • Technology – How can technology bring the physical and digital worlds together? How can technology enlarge our world beyond the four walls?
  • Brand/Culture – How can workplaces communicate brand and culture?
  • Sustainability & Wellness – How can workplaces contribute to better health and better environmental outcomes?

Read more in this related article: Components of the High Performance Workplace

Workplace Strategy Step 2: Engage People in the Design & Create a Design that Engages People (“The Heart”)

Engage People in the Design

To create a design that engages people, start by engaging people in the design. If you prefer a more structured approach, consider ideation workshops or design thinking. If you prefer a less structured approach, consider focus groups or just talking with people.

Identify Work Styles

Identify the different styles of work at your company. They may vary within a business or function. They’re likely the same for one type of job or group of jobs. In technology companies and companies with a lot of technology, work styles may include:

  • Agile – flexible; where a person changes quickly and seamlessly between collaborative and concentrative work. Typical jobs include systems software engineers.
  • Communicator – connects and collaborates with his or her team; where a person balances face-to-face interaction with virtual meetings. Typical jobs include brand managers.
  • Concentrator – spends the majority of time on focused work; where a person shares ideas and builds community in a team setting. Typical jobs include region counsel.
  • Traveler – continually visits client sites when not in the office; where a person uses free address or touchdown space when in the office. Typical jobs include field technical support consultants.
  • Innovator – develops future products; where a person works heads-down, testing and building products, and also shares their work for feedback. Typical jobs include research engineers.

Create Work Settings and Zones

In your workplace strategy, create zones that bring the design principles to life and serve as primary or secondary work settings for each of the work styles. In the example below, the physical layout ranges from an active buzz at the entry zone to focused concentrative places in quiet zones. Here’s how:

  • Entry Zone – reception, business lounge, and showcase center. Emphasis on connections, engaging experiences, technology, brand/culture, and sustainability & wellness. Primary work setting for travelers.
  • Hub Zone – cafés, open dining, and break out spaces. Emphasis on connections, focus & flexibility, brand/culture, and sustainability & wellness. Primary work setting for agile, communicators, concentrators, and travelers.
  • Garage Zone – open and enclosed spaces. Emphasis on connections, focus & flexibility, engaging experiences, technology, and brand/culture. Primary work setting for agile and innovators.
  • Neighborhoods – team-based zone. Emphasis on connections, focus & flexibility, and engaging experiences. Primary work setting for communicators and concentrators.
  • Quiet Zones – little to no talking. Emphasis on focus & flexibility and technology. Primary work setting for agile, concentrators, and innovators.

You may also provide specialty areas in your workplace strategy, such as customer briefing centers and auditoriums. Consider where they belong relative to the other places. Close? Far away? Completely separated? And, will specialty areas sometimes serve a dual purpose as work space or public space?

Workplace Strategy Step 3: Lead the Change (“The Courage”)

Take accountability for leading the change. Dedicate time and resources to it, and get help when you need it. Communicate early and often. Leading the change is much easier if you’re completing or you already completed steps 1 and 2. Steps 1 and 2 help you make the case for your workplace strategy with facts & figures, as well as feelings.

Take accountability if and when the going gets tough. Ask for and give air cover. Ask for input, and make sure you both listen and hear what people say about your workplace strategy. And above all else, stay focused on the goal: boosting performance of the people and the business.

By following these three steps, you can achieve great results with your workplace strategy, as I did. Plus, you’ll be well on your way to lively, high performance, and perhaps world-class workplaces.

Creating an Activity Based Working Strategy

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