Workplace Strategies for Solving Business Issues

There are more and more companies working on workplace reform as part of “work style reform,” but developing “hard” facilities will be in vain unless they are actually put to use. The key is to develop strategies for sharing the essence and purposes of a workplace with the people who work there.

March 21, 2019

Workplaces strategies based on relocation lead to failure

“Many companies start to think about what kind of office they want to have only after they decide on where to relocate their offices. However, it is no point in doing so unless they examine issues regarding work style and have a strategy for developing a workplace,” says Yuji Mizoue of the JLL Japan Project and Development Management Department, who is involved in workplace consulting services. JLL Japan began providing Strategic Workplace Solution (SWS) services in full swing two and a half years ago. We have worked on solving essential issues regarding the development of workplace strategies. Mizoue explains that the SWS service is required to “identify issues that the client is not aware of and figure out what kind of workplace is needed to solve these issues.”

As mentioned above, stylish offices that focused on design look nice for sure, but they often pose many problems—for example, a stylish office may not be practical and user-friendly. Making disimprovements by spending a ton of money is like putting the cart before the horse. You need to have a clear understanding of why you are rebuilding your workplace. Efforts to develop a workplace are in vain unless it functions as a place for earning profit—an engine for driving your business activities.

A workplace’s raison d’etre

How can we create a work environment that solves the client’s issues? In an SWS project, we first and foremost determine the direction of the workplace strategy. We set the project’s goal, then, in order to identify the problems that the client has, we repeatedly interview the employees who are actually working at the workplace, as well as the top management. We study and analyze the current situation in the workplace, and figure out the client’s idea of an ideal workplace. We develop possible strategies based on what needs to be done to achieve the workplace that the client wants, and finalize policy for work style reform and a workplace strategy that will solve the issues. In the case of one client who JLL supported, introducing a SWS brought a communication-related management issue to the surface: the sales department was divided by brand and sectioned off, which impeded communication. Another client came to realize the necessity of having their products and issues deeply understood by their partner companies, and now more strongly encourages coworking. These processes of setting requirements are called “programming.” Through programming, we develop a workplace strategy that is used in the actual designing and construction. “Thorough study and interviews help us develop a workplace strategy that reflects the client’s business strategy,” comments Mizoue. “The most important thing is to organize the client’s requirements as to what environment they want to create, before launching into concrete designs for the workplace.”

Change management changes employees’ mindsets

Once the requirements for the development of a workplace are set in the programming stage, next comes project management concerning actual tasks, including designing and construction, procurement of materials and interior fixtures, and jobs involved in the relocation. An SWS project is simultaneously charged with the crucial undertaking of change management. Surprisingly often, when a new workplace is completed, only the top management and people involved in the project are in the spirit, and other employees are indifferent. In particular, moving from a traditional office filled with islands of desks and cubicles into an activity-based workplace (ABW) where staff can freely choose where in the workplace they work, can be a huge change for the staff, and they may find it difficult to adjust to and have psychological refusal. Hence, change management takes up the role of helping the staff understand the purpose and essence of the new workplace before the actual move. Change management intends to “have the staff discuss the workplace and love it as a workplace that they created at the end,” according to Mizoue. It aims to direct the staff’s attention toward the workplace through a variety of strategies. For example, a SWS project holds events that involve the staff’s participation, for example, events for selecting furniture. Such events will naturally increase the degree of the staff’s interest in the workplace.

Change management should be done by the time the new workplace is ready, and also assess the “after-use” situation with a survey three to six months after moving in. The survey checks whether the new workplace is being used as intended, and whether the staff is satisfied with the workplace, on a six-point scale. Any problems found through the survey will be improved upon. “We give the client feedback on the problems we found through the survey, and make use of them in our next project. We build on them to keep the workplace strategy up to date,” explains Mizoue.

Only developing “hard” facilities leads to disaster

There have been countless cases that resulted in failure because change management was not implemented. In one case, a new ABW office was made, but staff members ended up sitting in the same place all the time. In another, a new workplace had a lounge, but staff members were not sure how to use it and did not move from their seats. Some cases end up in even more disastrous situations. “No one gets close to line managers who are not trusted and respected by others, and there are cases in which a ‘doughnut effect’ occurs in the office,” warns Mizoue. An ABW-style office is a bad luck for line managers—it’s easy to control the staff under their supervision in a conventional office with islands of desks, but in an ABW office, they cannot keep track of the staff. They will not be able to run things well unless they train their staff’s ability to make decisions on their own and make them independent. “The key for a company to improve its business performance is to develop human resources who can be independent and make their own decisions. In order to achieve that, a company needs to prepare an environment where its personnel can have a diversity of experiences, learn, and develop independence,” emphasizes Mizoue.

Workplaces are a company’s most important place for solving different issues and facilitating the growth of their business. SWS services, which puts the spotlight on the essence of a new workplace, play a significant role.