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First Person: Bernice M. Boucher, Director, DEGW North America

Dec/Jan 09
Much has been written about how efficient building design and the choice of the right materials can have a positive impact on the corporate bottom line. But building operations are just part of the expense picture. What are some of the less obvious ways that facility choices can have an effect on profitability?
Once you've selected your site, leverage your greatest asset: people. An organization may spend 80 percent of its budget on people. You want to attract and retain good people, and your space can have a big impact on that.
When it comes to attraction and retention, there's a slight difference between the two. There can be a tremendous demand for a certain type of individual, and it can become very competitive. The workplace can be a tremendous advantage.

It sounds like you're talking both about facility design and work force policies, such as mobility and telecommuting.
Some of the millennials, the generation coming into the work force now, have expectations that are slightly different from those who have been in the work force for 20 or more years. They're looking for ubiquitous technology and want to feel more connected socially to the organization. With some of the Generation X and Boomers who are having challenges with work-life balance, they may want flexibility in where and when they want to work. Once you introduce alternative work force strategies, people tend to be very loyal, so that can help the bottom line. Part of that is what you do with your space.

Among the things valued by many workers today - particularly younger workers, those with families - is the ability to be more mobile and work from remote locations. How does that affect the way a workspace is designed?
Increasingly, people are working remotely, traveling, visiting clients, working at another building on the campus. A lot of organizations have introduced telecommuting.
If people are really mobile, if they're spending 70 percent of their time out of the office, why do you have one seat dedicated to each person? One of the things a mobility program can introduce is a more efficient use of real estate.
People who look at real estate as a tangible statement of what an organization is spending may walk around the space and they may see space that's vacant, especially if it's office space, or they may sense a breakdown in collaboration. Senior managers may say, "Why are we paying for this space?" You have to look at the space and improve it to help make people more productive.

Where does collaboration fit in? How does that impact the bottom line?
You can look at a variety of ways to improve the bottom line. There's lowering of operating costs and getting more efficient. Another is to increase revenues through greater generation of ideas and innovation. It's important to make supporting team members and collaborating easier and to make [the facility] a more effective place to work.
You get people together and you create more opportunities for ideas to see the light of day. People have to process information and turn it into ideas. Often it points to trust as an issue, in order to be able to turn an idea into an innovation. If there isn't open dialog and a sense of trust, that idea doesn't see the light of day.

Can you provide an example of how this collaboration comes into play in an industrial environment?
If there's manufacturing, there's engineering. How often do you see engineering in a totally separate building from manufacturing? Have them move closer together. The closer you put engineers to the manufacturing floor, the easier it is for them to see what's happening on the floor. The timeline before a problem is escalated and resolved gets shortened.
We've seen it with clients that have sought to bring these two groups together - it's amazing what can happen. Bring teams together that are cross-functional. If they are on separate floors or in separate buildings, it can be very difficult to get the same kind of resolution to problems that you can see if you co-locate them. There are as many opportunities as there are in knowledge work. In fact, it's easier to measure success in a manufacturing facility than in knowledge work - you can actually count widgets and how many times there's an industrial accident.

How about in an office, engineering or creative environment?
You need to understand and study the work patterns of various groups in order to identify actual uses of the real estate. Do people feel like their team is productive?
We tend to want to open space up. When you walk into an environment with lots of closed doors and no transparency, there isn't an area where people can gather and have an opportunity to interact. Work today is more and more collaborative, and the space needs to support that. Try to create a variety of settings so people can decide what the best setting is for today.

Offering more settings for collaboration provides more opportunity for innovative ideas to emerge; is that where the bottom-line impact comes in?
Most ideas can happen between impromptu meetings and seeing people in the elevator or down the hallway. Space can help - by putting in the culture of an organization and how the culture gets expressed in the environment. Make it so it expresses your brand and values - communicate your values and mission. If there is a philosophy that you want to support teamwork, it has to be incorporated in the space. When you start increasing occurrences of impromptu meetings, that's when interesting things start to happen.

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