The Flagship Office- The Office for the Now

Back in early December of 2020, one of my outside board of advisory members asked me this question, “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” My immediate answer was brilliant, “I don’t know.” Subsequently the board members, my partner, and I, engaged in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s of having a substantial office space that was equipped for doubling the size of our staff, assuming everyone was in the office. “What do you think the odds are that everyone will return to the office?” “Do you envision a reality where 100% of staff will be operating together 100% of the time, with no offsite remote work?” “How do we justify the overhead costs with empty space?” “What’s the value?” Many of us are asking these same questions.

I recently participated in a PSMJ (Professional Services Management Journal) webinar about current compensation strategies and the future of human resources (HR) in A/E firms (Architecture and Engineering.) Multiple surveys were taken from the 300+ participants during the 1-hour session. All were dealing with the questions of remote work, partial remote work, in-office, out-of-office, and so on. Interestingly, while multiple hybrid work models were the largest percentage of the sampling, a follow up analysis showed that only 5% of people wanted to remain remote and work at home 100% of the time. If you had gotten answers to the same question one year ago in February of 2020, prior to everyone actually doing remote work, you would have gotten a much higher percentage.

The debate is real. The questions are substantive. We’ve seen big companies choose to not occupy new headquarters buildings, to cancel new leases, and to stay in current spaces. We’ve seen some say “we’re going to be 100% remote now forever.” We’ve seen some still going ahead with buildings equipped to house all or part of their staff. But the reality is, everything has changed. What was once the norm is now disrupted. It was going this way, but the COVID19 pandemic reality accelerated the process; it created the cause-effect response available in a connected, internet-based, digital world. Response to the remote-based work environment, hybrid models, or 100% in-office, are going to vary by industry, company, and position. All I know is that it’s going to be different.

Once again, the question: “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” I’ve been thinking about this continually, monitoring our experience, getting input from others on an Executive forum thread with PSMJ, listening to staff, to podcasts, gathering information, talking to clients, related businesses, and more. I’ve been watching the realities hitting retail in the pandemic and digital environment as well. We all know that the future, and the “now”, of “brick and mortar” retail is quite different. Smart retailer’s have gone digital, while also showcasing some of their work and products in specific stores. Outlier stores have been closed, inventory in the remaining stores reduced, and more invested in online and warehoused inventory. So what about the future of the “office?” What about the future of it in the context of professional services? How about more specifically in A/E? Here’s how I envision it.

Think “flagship store.” The future of “the professional service office” is a multi-dimensional experience for all who enter, all who are affiliated with the company, including staff, clients, vendors, affiliates, referrers, advocates, collaborators, students, recruits, and more. Just as smart retailers have put in place digital infrastructure while creating a physical retail location that is experiential, showcasing products, services, and supporting their brand, such is the future of the professional services office. What does this multi-dimensional office look like? What is the envisioned experience? What is it? What is it not? It will depend on the location, industry, work type, and so much more.

It is no longer simply a place to go work for 8 hours a day and go home. It is no longer a static space to just do work and collaborate with clients and staff. It’s a “watering hole” a “community well” a “gathering place” for the industry, domain, practice segments. It is a representation of brand through physical placement of things representing the work, through digital experiences accessible in multiple areas throughout the facility, where clients can access and reference the showcased services, engage electronically, or personally. The 3-D printer is continually printing samples of products and goods supported by the service. Spaces are nimble and flexible for collaborative teams. Spaces are hybridized. Glass is more prevalent in creating separation and visibility at the same time. People can talk to a representative like they do at a bank. Services can be ordered and procured on the spot if desired. Clients, supporters, and other people connected to the company can come and use common spaces as a “third space” to use wireless, collaborate, take a coffee break. Staff members work productively whether from home or from office based on the need, the work typology, and tasks at hand. Projects are displayed physically, and electronically. The space is a shared work space, brand support, resting space, and more. It is a media center as well. The podcast (if you have one) is produced from a studio in the office such as the one I produce called “The Creating Structure Podcast.” When not accessible, staff, clients, and constituents can have a virtual experience.

Everything we do, including the facilities in which we work, are an opportunity to support and express brand; to express innovation, attract, retain, support and care. The facility, in my reality, has always been required to communicate as much as possible about who we are in the physical expression of the space.

I’m looking forward to creating more of a “flagship” office experience. That’s what we are going to do. That’s how we will use the space. Now let’s see how much we can make it a reality.

Telling the “Story”

When your material strength-to-weight ratio has not been optimized in the aluminum and steel buy-out items and you are spending more than you need to (or more than what’s in budget)…….

When there’s a leak on the carpeting in the CEO’s corner suite in the new corporate headquarters and no one can trace where it’s coming from…

When the wall has allegedly been designed to meet thermal criteria but occupants are uncomfortable with excessive cold or warm air entering their space…

When the vapor barrier has been breached and what seems like a leak in the wall is actually condensation flowing from exposed metal….

When the transitions between wall systems have been left to “by others” and now there are endless call backs about water infiltration in an occupied building….

When that “Value Engineered” item is now a 2′ x 2′ metal panel blowing in the wind after being pulled off the building, and has become a life-safety issue….

These are all introductory statements to real-world experiences we’ve been called in on, or for which we’ve been able to show a better way.

What’s the cost of engaging a consultant or specialty engineer on “that project”?

What’s the cost of “not”?

Choose wisely.

Engineering and Value

I learned a long time ago that engineering is a means to an end. The process and expression of engineering should deliver value to the client, and the end user, to create safe, serviceable, components, parts, and systems, and in many forms. Engineering is part art, part science. It becomes a way of thinking as we do the work. My familiarity is with building systems and components, building science, structural and systems engineering for buildings, and most specifically for specialty systems know as curtain walls. These systems also are described as cladding, facade, architectural components, and building envelope. I am going to break down some items and factors that I’ve found to be important in executing engineering work in the proper context. It applies to the broad categories of engineering as well as the specialties I’ve noted. Value-based engineering has these types of mindsets and expressions:

Connected: It’s connected with client. It begins with the end in mind. Work backwards from the clients goals and desires, whether labor savings, redundancy, risk mitigation, manufacturing efficiency, optimization, or all of them.

Collaborative: Create a context where we are working in a shared reality with the client. Break down barriers, seek collaborative solutions. A shared reality puts us figuratively in “the same boat” or in “each other’s shoes.”

Competent: The fundamentals have been mastered so that the principles and practices can be utilized in an increasingly elegant manner, and with confidence in the accuracy of the solutions

Codified: One must be aware of the minimum requirements as outlined in building codes, standards, or applicable governing authorities.

Communicative: Keep an ongoing dialogue with the client. Let them know what is being done, inform them of our progress. Use email, instant messaging, phone calls, virtual meetings. Clients appreciate concise, informative, ongoing feedback to support collaboration. Engineers typically struggle with the idea of need to communicate regularly and just the reality of being communicative. Communication is the differentiator.

Concise: Solutions should be understandable, able to be interpreted, and as straightforward as possible to implement.

Clear: Solutions, drawings, reports, sketches, narration, should be clear and logical, simple to understand.

There’s more to this conversation and additional categories to discuss, which I will do in future blog posts. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.