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Achieving Flexibility Through Strategic Workplace Planning

Agility will result in a highly collaborative business team that supports the company's work force, manages operational cost, and maximizes competitive advantage.

2011 Directory
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3. Mobilize commitment.
• Involve stakeholders in the design process.
• Engage key process enablers.
• Establish a blitz team.
• Plan rollout.
• Manage the change.

With the value proposition and desired outcomes clearly in place, the next step is planning and implementation using a blitz team approach. This team would refine the vision for the new work environment, create a comprehensive plan for change, and develop the tools. As part of the plan, the team would also address potential roadblocks and determine how to overcome obstacles.

At this stage, business leader participation is critical. Getting business leaders and line managers on board can be difficult as they may be reluctant to alter their line profitability mindset. Engaging business partners early increases the likelihood of program success. This team must assume joint accountability for successful delivery of the initiative based on the established metrics.

In some cases, a phased implementation affords time to test concepts, communicate outcomes, and refine plans before any significant changes are implemented. This approach also helps allay fears about the proposed changes and increases adoption across all the stakeholders.

4. Monitor progress.
• Define shared metrics to gauge progress against goals.
• Monitor feedback.
• Conduct post-occupancy surveys.
• Communicate successes.

Applying a balanced scorecard approach - one with multiple metrics that are shared across business units - allows an organization to gauge its success against stated goals. This also avoids the danger of a single measure, such as employee satisfaction, that may undermine this initiative if it is not met or circumstances change. Measuring several elements - such as employee turnover and retention, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, innovation, utilization rate, and occupancy - gives a broader and deeper picture of the change's impact. A key component at this stage is to communicate the program's successes to all stakeholders, including the executive leadership and business partners.

For example, a large insurance firm that practices this approach tracks its progress using a balanced scorecard. The company measures the impact of reduced carbon emissions and gas consumption, improved employee retention, real estate costs, and technology costs. These metrics must be shared to achieve true corporate agility.

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5. Make it last.
• Engage in continuous program improvement.
• Re-evaluate and improve.
• Revise rewards systems to remove siloed compensation structures.

This agility model is a vehicle for change. As such, it needs an occasional tune-up to maintain top performance. Sustainable solutions need to be informed by real-world experiences and feedback from employees. Continuous program improvement requires dedicated time to re-evaluate and check progress against goals.

Making It Work in the Real World
Sabre Holdings - the parent company of Travelocity, Sabre Travel Network, Sabre Airline Solutions, and Sabre Hospitality Solutions - is one company that's on the leading edge of agility and workplace flexibility. The company first initiated Flexspace, a holistic and multiregional flexible workspace program, in 2007 at its headquarters in Southlake, Texas. With Jones Lang LaSalle as its strategic real estate partner, Sabre shifted to an alternative, flexible space model, achieving significant savings within an 18-month timeframe, reducing global real estate costs by 25 percent, and enacting a sustainable enterprise transformation that created value beyond the bottom line.

The strategy enabled Sabre to fold its five headquarters offices into two LEED-certified buildings, reducing its footprint from 1.04 million square feet to 470,000 square feet. By moving to an open floor plan model where only a percentage of cubicles were assigned and others remained available for "flexible use," Sabre cut its cost per employee at its headquarters in half - moving from a ratio of 0.81 employees per cubicle to 1.35. As a result, its annual operational expenses decreased by $10 million.

Cubicles, which previously varied in size depending upon an employee's position and level within the company, were reconfigured into a standard size and outfitted with the same technology so that employees could expect the same environment regardless of where they sat. Executives, including the CEO, who previously had hardwall offices, moved into cubicles to make room for the additional meeting space required.

Sabre's goal was to create a system that would recapture the real estate value lost on all of the days employees' desks sat empty, while allowing the company to shift to the concept that "work is something you do, not someplace you go." The unexpected outcome was that this radical shift in the workplace put a premium on agility within Sabre's work force. It created not just a physical transformation, but also a crucial business transformation that added flexibility and agility, i.e., it accelerated a transformation in Sabre's employees and its work culture.

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