Nomads in the Workplace
The nature of work today is increasingly dynamic, interconnected, fast-paced and competitive. Designing a workplace to best support employee success and business innovation requires a careful look at how and where work is getting done. This, combined with the continued quest to optimize space utilization while providing the right types of spaces to support varied tasks throughout the day, has made free addressing an attractive strategy.
In a free address environment, employees choose each day where to work in the office—an open workstation, a focus room, a lounge, or maybe a combination of all the above. Free addressing empowers people to design their day around the teams with which they need to connect, and the spaces that best support concentration, ideation, and productivity.
Whether the approach is 100 percent free address or a hybrid of shared and dedicated workstations, flexible strategies enable organizations to accommodate more people within the same office footprint by increasing shared workspaces. Considering that 1:1 workspace environments often don’t exceed 60 percent occupancy on any given day, this flexible approach can shift the allocation of space from the individual to more shared resources and amenities. But it’s not only numbers. This approach also requires a cultural shift to embrace agile modes of work.
Not only do we help our clients make strategic workplace decisions; we also face them within our own organization. In September 2016, 150 DLR Group employees relocated to a new 27,000 SF office space in downtown Los Angeles. Because the move merged our former Santa Monica and Pasadena offices into a single location, it was an ideal opportunity to reimagine our workplace, create a living lab to test workplace concepts, and build a new collaborative office culture.
To prepare for this transition, we asked our employees to complete a survey about how they work, and identify the type of space best suited to support their role. Each employee self-selected one of four work identities, which in turn informed the development of our hybrid free address workplace. This engagement was part of the change management process to promote trust and personal investment in the transition.
Nomads have a locker as home base and choose an unassigned workspace daily.
- Global Nomads travel frequently so they don’t require a dedicated desk. Instead, they touch down at an unassigned workstation or in a focus room, the study, or lounge area.
- Local Nomads work in the office most days, but prefer the flexibility and freedom of interacting with their teams in various spaces throughout the office. Unassigned Nomad workstations are located throughout all neighborhoods in the office.
Residents have a dedicated workstation as their home base and are encouraged to utilize focus rooms and amenity spaces throughout the day to the same degree as Nomads.
- Nested Residents work at their desks most of the time and have the highest need for at-hand resources and reference materials. Storage is prioritized at these stations.
- Host Residents are typically project managers or team leaders, so their workstation is set up to support short conversations at their desk with additional compact, flexible furniture.
Our neighborhood-based layout accommodates all of these groups with adjacent conferencing, collaboration, and amenity spaces so individuals can choose their preferred environment for a specific task. While the office currently functions at a 1:1 ratio of desks to people, it is designed to support future expansion up to approximately 200 people—1:1.4 ratio—without requiring any change or reconfiguration.
Six months after move-in, we surveyed staff to see how our transition to an activity-based workplace is working. Seventy-five percent of employees feel their personal needs are better met in the new work environment, with 81 percent feeling their team’s needs are better met in the new work environment. Though metrics about the new space is overwhelmingly positive, it’s important we continue observing how people are using the office so we can fine-tune to optimize experience. For example, we discovered that Nomads feel empowered to use spaces throughout the office, while the Residents tend to stay at their desks. We’re working to change this mindset, since every space in the office is new to everyone.
Ultimately, any workplace transformation is about far more than controlling real estate costs. It’s a reallocation of space to better fit an organization and its people. It’s about repositioning for the future. And as the growing shortage of knowledge workers and other skilled professionals continues to impact businesses globally, a dynamic, engaged workplace distinguishes a potential employer as a great place to work.