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Get Smart!

By John Jarvis

The year was 1965 when Art Gensler along with his wife and an associate founded the architectural firm in his name to specialize in corporate interiors. Gensler has since become a global powerhouse and a thought leader in the field of office design. Each year the firm comes out with an annual report, and with each annual report we seem to add to the lexicon of architecture and space design with clever descriptions of the workplace such as neighborhoods, agile workspaces, hot-seating and hoteling. I remember when “workplace strategy” became a thing, and I mostly dismissed it as a version of that old fancy-phrasing trick. For example, a 2005 article in the Journal of Corporate Real Estate defined workplace strategy as “the dynamic alignment of an organization’s work patterns with the work environment to enable peak performance and reduce costs.” Blah, blah, blah. Sorry about that chief, but this just doesn’t quite do it for me.

Then we hired Nic Willis. Nic was an architect with Gensler running their San Diego workplace team, and, would you believe it, he taught me a thing or two.

One day at lunch I asked Nic to please explain to me what workplace strategy really means, and he leaned in and said simply “workplace strategy is data.”

He went on to explain that workplace strategy is a process of asking questions and gathering data, then assembling the information garnered into thoughtful, intelligent reports that tell the client “here is what we heard from you and your team.” OK, that is brilliant, and it hit me like a sunbeam.

I have since been through this workplace strategy experience with Nic and our Planning + Design team with my own clients and I have been blown away—it really is a smart and powerful way to kick off any project. If you skip this step and just head out to look at buildings, it is going to be utter chaos. Better to take control at the outset and figure out what you are really looking for. The reports that our P+D team deliver can help to answer key questions that will guide the entire real estate process and decision making, including:

  • How much space
  • What type of space
  • Density
  • Workflow
  • Adjacencies
  • Aesthetics
  • Amenities
  • Team priorities
  • Traffic patterns
  • Cone of silence?
  • Team culture(s)
  • Organizational branding
  • Change management style
  • Space utilization and remote working

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In this era of COVID-19, with companies prioritizing health and safety as they plan for a return to the office, we are now incorporating cleaning protocols and physical distancing in these reports, but you can see that many of the most important questions were already being asked and answered by engaging in a thoughtful workplace strategy session at the outset of a project.

Workplace strategy is not just fancy phrasing. Workplace strategy is data. Gather it, study it and use it to inform your real estate priorities and processes. Nic, you are a genius. Having you on our team makes us much, much smarter. I am loving it.

John Jarvis is an executive vice president of Hughes Marino, a global corporate real estate advisory firm that exclusively represents tenants and buyers. Contact John at 1-844-662-6635 or john@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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