DDM – Make Your Move

I’m going to start this off by bringing the master-strategy game of Chess into the picture.  This is a game which requires the utmost analytical consideration, concise strategy with both immediate and long-term consequences.
If you study the game of chess, you will quickly find out that many of the pieces move different from one another.  At first glance, it’s baffling how someone can keep a mental record of these different moves; use foresight in their moves to augment the moves of other pieces; and still execute brilliantly on a strategy that had only formed minutes before in their head.
Chess – like many sports – also challenges strategy because the opponent’s move is a calculated guess at best.  You can plot, plan and scheme all day and night, however it’s impossible to mentally compute the end result of a game.  There are too many variables and calculations.
At first glance, chess seems like a behemoth of a challenge; however, clearly as proven by the world champions, it’s a skill that can be learned; and by the various clubs, it’s a game that can be fun.
The reason why I brought up Chess is because like Chess, your workplace has different generations – like different pieces – with different wants and needs, and just like Chess, your employees and coworkers can feel like a behemoth of a challenge to facilitate growth, so you just let them grow distinct from one another.
Two things, a poor chess strategy is worse than no strategy at all; and letting the pieces move based upon their available options rather than an overall strategy, opens up weaknesses and disconnect between the pieces.
How does any of this tie into office furniture and four different generations?  Simple, by understanding the dynamic of your workplace, you should be able to integrate a strategy (furniture or otherwise) that accommodates the different work-styles, yet still focuses on your brand strategy (not just marketing, but social interaction; productivity).
If I were writing this up fifty years ago, the chess analogy would be null: the office of 1960 had no computers, no fax, photocopier or teleconferencing equipment.  It was characterized by a strictly ordered plan that placed private offices at the perimeter and a warren of cubicles at the center.  People looked different, too.  Men wore shirts and ties; women skirts and stockings.  A hierarchy was securely in place from executive at the top through middle managers to secretaries and clerks. 

Today’s workplace houses four generations of diverse workers – men and women of different ethnicities who represent cultures from around the world.  A successful workplace – one that is able to recruit, retain, manage and motivate people – must embrace diversity and take into account the different needs and expectations of people who do not see work (or life) in the same way. 

Referring to the master-strategy game of chess, looking at these different generations and how they operate differently, can be a difficult challenge at first.  But just like a Rook, Bishop or Knight – each generation can be defined into a distinct group.  Let’s first identify what the generations of the workplace are, and then we’re going to talk about why it matters: 

          Traditional       (1928 – 1945) 

          Boomers           (1946 – 1964) 

          Generation X    (1965 – 1980) 

          Millenials         (1981 – 1991) 

In general, traditional workers joined the workforce before the social upheavals of the 1960s.  Boomers arrived in the ‘70s when the proliferation of digital media was still nascent, while GenX and Millenials came of age in a Web-based world.  At work, these tech-savvy young workers exhibit high expectations of self, comfort working in teams and a fluid sense of space.  Everyone ‘owns’ all the space.  Work can take place anywhere.  It’s an attitude that appears to be analogous to growing up in a networked world where you can connect with others at any time and any distance; or access any information you need via your iPhone or BlackBerry.
By understanding what you’re working with, the creation of a brand strategy becomes simple.  Plan a course of action for overall strategy, with contingency plans and responses to dynamic changes in the environment.  Take into account the pieces that you have in play – your different generations – and how they best fit into your overall strategy.
A study by the Carroll Thatcher Planning Group, a workplace strategy and design group, identifies the different attitudes and expectations of these four generations in terms of: 

          Desire for color variety 

          Need for ergonomics 

          Want corner office with window 

          Noise tolerance 

          Expect professional attire 

          Expect supplementary amenities 

In order to address these vast differences in preference and need, office planning must provide for variety and choice.  A regimented, cookie-cutter approach cannot encompass such a wide range of what is deemed acceptable in terms of sensory stimulation or desirable in terms of amenities and behavior.  Success lies in finding a balance between uniformity – a degree of structure is necessary – and giving workers the ability to make choices.  The challenge is to design appropriate variation.
That is the ‘who’, the ‘what’, the ‘why‘, and the ‘what they want’ – but how do you translate this information into a tangible strategy that is good for business?  Just like with chess, there is no ‘end-all’ set of moves; you have an opening, mid-game and end-game, each of which will speak distinctively about your overall chess strategy, but each with an incalculable amount of moves and odds.  However what makes Chess an amazing game is that it highlights how an overall understanding, strategy and approach dominate the end-result.
When it comes to planning for the workplace of today, an overall understanding of the workplace, a strategy and approach, is key to tackling any moves, initiatives, or changes.  Two strategies I want to encourage have been executed by HP and IBM, and are managing your real-estate costs and embracing collaboration.
Manage your real-estate cost:  A lot of companies don’t have the analytical force like HP, but there are groups – even our dealership – that has the ability to assess and capture occupancy and space utilization.  That’s the first step.  If you take your understanding of your own workplace dynamic, and now the newfound information on occupancy and space utilization, you will be able to better determine the best possible way to layout your office and functions.
HP managed to reduce its real estate cost per employee by 55%, by simply managing their real-estate cost once they found out that employees were utilizing their dedicated space only 38% of the time.  They didn’t just cut space down, but they improvised and improved on it, managing to reconfigure facilities to use offices and meeting rooms differently.
How much is your real estate cost per employee?  Do you know?

Embrace Collaboration:  A major global architecture, design and consulting firm recently published its 2008 Workplace Survey for the U.S.  Among its salient points, the survey noted that success in a knowledge economy requires a workplace defined by varied and dynamic interactions.  Productivity is no longer characterized by long hours of solitary research, analysis, writing and creating with the occasional break to confer with colleagues.  In today’s most successful companies, more time is spent collaborating, learning and socializing.

IBM recently produced a white paper entitled, “The New Collaboration: Enabling Innovation, Changing the Workplace.”  According to the IBM document, “People increasingly work in places other than their offices – and on teams that draw expertise from virtually anywhere in the world.  They access applications, data and subject matter experts live and across networks – and others tap into the same information.  They employ whatever end-user device is right for the job to improve productivity –while enhancing the work experience for themselves and their employees.  Today, collaboration is the name of the game.”

It’s not always easy to balance the desire for privacy with the need to collaborate.  Interaction has to be “designed in” not only as discrete areas for large and small meetings, but by creating an entire environment conducive to communication, creativity and innovation.  As an example, if one has to book a conference room in order to meet with fellow team members, the opportunity for collaboration may be lost.  Companies require design that invites contact and participation throughout.

To summarize this report, the best chess players don’t accidently become the best.  It’s through constant attention and growth; understanding how to use their pieces most effectively; and how to plan through losses and changes succinctly that make them the best. 

A huge shout-out to Teknion and their investigative prowess in ‘Workplace One’.  Checkmate.

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