Rethink workplace briefing to get a better return on the minds across a business

Graham Lauren
Jun 15, 2017 · 7 min read

By rethinking workplace briefing to fit a workplace to its purpose, you can get a better return on the intelligence found across your business.

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Improve workplace ROI

Whether you are an owner or an occupier, you need ways of getting a better return on your workspace.

For owners, empty commercial space is simply painful and expensive.

Worse, tenant companies getting smarter about workplace strategy tend to take less space, and that is a trend that is unlikely ever to reverse itself.

For their part, tenants want to be able to fit premises better to meet the evolving needs of their businesses.

To reconcile these opposing demands, we’ve spent time pondering how and if it is possible to deliver a better workplace briefing.

Based on our skills and previous work experience and expertise, we’ve made sure also to check our suppositions with those with experience of large-scale workplace management and design.

To get a better return on your workspace investment, the solution is social

We have a way of helping companies use collaborative workplace technologies get a better return on their workspaces.

I have adapted our techniques from my first-hand experience of documenting a major software development at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. (Please note, I am a journalist, not an architect.)

The bank spends a lot on its social technologies’ use in sharing and developing its knowledge base from the minds of its workers because they work.

Its resulting data provides the rich fuel of invention and innovation.

Those same tools can work just as effectively when applied to finding out how to make any workplace work better for the people it must contain.

The occupier’s challenges of strategic business accommodation

As likely its second-biggest cost, we know the goal of relocation and activity based working is often, at minimum, to reduce the cost of accommodation and achieve better workspace utilisation.

More importantly, it is, in turn, likely to include: enhancing workplace productivity; to improve employee workplace satisfaction and engagement; to use adaptation to new ways of working
and workplace mobility to foster collaboration, innovation and achieve faster product to market times; to enhance the organisation’s ability to compete in attraction and retention for the best people.

More importantly, for those undertaking the move to activity based working, the process isn’t always without pain.

Hence if you want to keep the talent you have, there is a significant need to think about how you are going to engage the minds about to undergo such a move to keep them on board.

Here’s the challenge

When they move to new premises and new ways of working, leaders often create those new workplaces in the hope of realising new knowledge flows.

The pain of relocation ensures there is a lot at stake for those wishing to protect their investments in those workspaces, workforces and workplace practices.

Those future-oriented workspaces and practices must be capable of evolving in step with the distinctive potentials of the knowledge-creators they are built to contain.

The challenge of contributing to the configuration of their future place of work is likely to engage most.

But the knowledge, experience and insight of those in their workplaces are almost certainly their leaders’ best guides in what it takes to create a workspace worth turning up for every day.

When consulted, teams that fall in love with a captivating problem are substantially more likely to create more successful outcomes than those that fall for particular solutions.

And acting to capture diversity of opinion in answer to any challenge is likely to yield better results and present the greatest potential for creative breakthrough.

Where commercial property owners too often know too little about those tenants’ use of space, briefing can provide an ideal opportunity to collaborate to capture new workplace-productivity data that neither owners nor occupiers are likely to possess.

Without it, both lose.

Briefing to meet the evolving challenges of contemporary workplace strategy

To get a better handle on the challenge of getting workplace briefing right, I interviewed Marcus Hanlon, executive general manager, property operations, at the giant property trust ISPT.

Hanlon has responsibility for a commercial and industrial property portfolio worth $11 billion.

In his view in many instances, property professionals encourage organisations to begin workplace briefing at precisely the wrong point: the property itself.

In an interview I conducted for The Urban Developer, Hanlon says, “I think too many times when people are looking at relocating, it’s still driven by technical facets [yet it] can’t be seen as a property initiative, it’s got to be seen as an organisational and cultural initiative, in which property is just the enabler.

“The property people should be on the second line, as none of that conversation is around square metres or rent or floor-plate size or fit-out.”

Attaining the goal of a better workplace design must he says involve the knowledge of a growing number of concerned stakeholders, beginning with the chief executive, the chief operations officer and the head of human resources.

Getting briefing right is important because the physical place in which work is undertaken is no longer benign, but itself becoming a strategic actor.

As such, its briefing processes must engage the high-level workplace rationale of the C-suite’s strategic vision makers.

But, as simple insurance protecting their workplace investment, their vision must cascade down the organisation to draw on the insights of those throughout the hierarchy.

Strengthen the workplace through guided collaborative enquiry

In any organisation, there is more intelligence than ever gets put to use, and our briefing methodology recognises this.

In advocating the use of social workplace technologies such as wikis, we recognise we have the best tools ever invented for capturing and sharing information and enquiry across an organisation.

Asking good questions opens people to new ideas and possibilities.

Using the tools of online collaboration to apply the minds who will occupy them is to increase the probability of configuring workspaces that work better in attaining tenants’ higher order workplace goals.

Anyone can create and edit wiki pages, making them excellent vehicles for teams to build on the knowledge of others.

They also slip neatly and unobtrusively into the workflow.

Well managed with a plan, it becomes possible to apply focus, steer understanding and grow any dimension of an organisation’s knowledge.

In knowledge factories, this is particularly useful to remove workplace configuration blockages.

It gives shape to knowledge architecture.

Upstream of relocation, the use of social tools gives everyone in the workplace an opportunity to engage with the changes ahead, minimising the pain of post-occupancy change management.

The process can be used in project management to keep a workplace design and configuration initiative on track.

It can likewise provide a post-project document that is the single source of truth, and whose inputs can at any point be back-checked.

The process is entirely scaleable to deal with merger and acquisition activity and the consequent integration of multiple facilities.

It yields new data from which owners and occupiers can learn across the entire cycle of occupation.

Indeed, the briefing process can be initiated at any point in the cycle.

With Marcus Hanlon I agreed that it may actually be more effective if introduced in appraisal mid-cycle, before the tenant becomes consumed and distracted by thinking about lease expiry.

Using its qualitative inputs, you can test inputs quantitatively by polling user opinions, and in determining how to monitor future workplace outcomes.

The bottom line

Businesses wishing to protect their investments in their workspaces can use social workplace briefing as a tool of quality management and risk minimisation.

Its processes hand over summarised reports for validation by appropriate experts and use by managers to ensure delivery of the desired workplace outcome.

And it provides knowledge and insights that give architects and workspace designers new and invaluable material to work with.

Background: What are my credentials?

Having published a piece on the subject of workplace strategy in the December-January print edition of Facility Management magazine (The Evolution of Workplace Strategy Into a Discipline of FM), I was invited in March 2017 to chair a panel at the Total Facilities Conference entitled Meeting the Demands of the Evolving Workplace [NOTE] (see image embedded beneath).

In this piece, viewable at, I suggested that if we are to get the best out of the minds across the workplace, workplace strategy must be codified, taught and learned.

This is a challenge of “knowledge architecture” and of shaping workplaces around the knowledge they contain with the aim of creating new knowledge.

In the time since, I have been commissioned by a private party to research and write on coworking, and through that research now see that coworking is an essential ingredient in this new future.

Before becoming a director of Shiro Architects, I’d previously worked for many years as a business journalist for Fairfax Media’s Australian Financial Review group and for ACP Magazines (now Bauer Media).

I also have an MBA (Technology) from UNSW, whose focus is on business strategy, managing technology-driven strategic and cultural change, innovation and organisational learning.

I became curious about what lies beyond activity based working and decided to research and write about it, and having now conducted more than 50 interviews on the subject, I believe I am contributing to shaping the knowledge of what workplace strategy is, and will become, in Australia.

At the time of writing, a sample of my workplace interviewees to date includes:

Amaysim . AMP Capital . AMP Limited . Atchison Consulting . Aussie Home Loans . Blackwall Limited . Catylis Properties . CBRE Australia . Charter Hall Group . Cisco Systems Australia . Colliers International . Cornerstone Properties . Cushman & Wakefield . Deloitte Australia . Dexus Property Group . Dimension Data . Expert360 . Facebook Australia . FM Scope . Frasers Property Australia . Freehold Investment Management . GHD . GPT Group . Grocon . Hassell Architects . IAG . Infomedia . ING Direct . Intrepid Travel . Investa Property Group . ISPT . JLL . Knight Frank Australia . Lion Co . Local Government Superannuation Scheme . Medibank Private . Mirvac Group . MYOB Limited . Norman Disney & Young . Novartis Australia . Pullinen Property Group . PwC Australia . Schneider Electric . Spotless Group . Suncorp Group . Super Retail Group . Toyota Australia . UNSW . Westpac Banking Corporation . William Hill Australia . WOTSO WorkSpace . WPP Group

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern…

Graham Lauren

Written by

Shiro Architects director and business writer, writing, reading and researching workplace strategy, learning organisations and knowledge architecture.

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern technology and new ways of working come together to deliver the future of work. Shiro Architects’ research focuses on understanding how to create a better workplace-design briefing for the future occupants of commercial space.

Graham Lauren

Written by

Shiro Architects director and business writer, writing, reading and researching workplace strategy, learning organisations and knowledge architecture.

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern technology and new ways of working come together to deliver the future of work. Shiro Architects’ research focuses on understanding how to create a better workplace-design briefing for the future occupants of commercial space.

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