Collaborative working, not in an office

20 June 2012 – Corporate property professionals and information and communications technologies teams within organisations must cooperate to create a successful workplace, a Colliers International white paper has found.

Colliers International Consulting project services director David McEwen is the author of the Workplace Technology: Strategies for Successful Integration White Paper

The white paper explores developing effective relationships between property and ICT professionals, aligning property and ICT strategies to add value to the business, working with ICT during a workplace fitout project, partnering to achieve superior sustainability outcomes and avoiding property boat anchors: data centre strategies.

David McEwen

Mr McEwen said there was often a somewhat strained relationship between an organisation’s corporate property professionals and ICT personnel due to different working practices, jargon and project timelines.

“Sometimes it seems like an interpreter is needed to engage in a meaningful dialogue,” he said.

“Despite this, research has found that a productive partnership between the two is critical to maximise the utility, efficiency and effectiveness of contemporary workplaces.

“The integration of ICT with workplace design and change management is critical to the success of contemporary workplace strategies such as activity based working [AWB]. Perhaps even more importantly, key ICT decisions can dramatically affect an organisation’s choice and cost of office accommodation.

“If an effective partnership between property and ICT is in place when a major tenancy relocation or refurbishment project arises, opportunities to add business value can be maximised and costly mistakes avoided.”

Mr McEwen said the corporate property team needed a carefully crafted strategy for engaging with ICT.

“We see the outcomes of a poor relationship between property and ICT manifest in workstations where the ICT support personnel skin their knuckles due to the trickiness of cable access, in utilities zones where the multi-function printers don’t fit within the joinery, in meeting rooms where the audio visual systems never work properly, and in computer rooms with inadequate data cabling for the servers and storage,” he said.

“But these are only the surface issues. The real tragedy is when the once in 10 or 20-year opportunity presented by a major office move or refurbishment is squandered due to lack of alignment between property and ICT.

“For example, contemporary workplace strategies generally envisage a level of staff mobility, within the office and beyond. At a simple level this might involve an open plan workplace with quiet rooms where staff can retreat to complete tasks requiring concentration.

“Invariably such tasks require computer access, and while the solution might be to install a PC in each quiet room, a more far-sighted – and increasingly affordable – solution might be to issue all staff with laptops and ensure there is wireless access or an active network cable in every quiet room.

“It is in situations like this that the corporate property team needs to engage with ICT to ensure the right steps are taken, in terms of what is best for the company and what is most cost-effective. Effecting change after the fact on such a big scale can be complex, time consuming and expensive, and may not align with the ICT team’s investment priorities.”

Mr McEwen said another factor to be considered when it came to office relocations is the necessity for a local computer room or data centre, which are small in comparison with the total tenancy – generally 0.5 per cent to four per cent of net lettable area – but which could consume 50 per cent or more of the tenancy’s total energy, requiring high capacity airconditioning and sophisticated power protection.

“As a result, they are expensive to fit out, run and relocate,” he said. “Most organisations do not need a computer room in their office tenancies. Affordable network links and contemporary technologies allow almost all systems – including telephony, email, file servers and business applications – to be hosted separately from users in the office, and when this takes places, affordability is dramatically improved for tenants.”

The first step in forging a successful partnership between property professionals and ICT is to appreciate the scale of ICT’s input to a typical head office relocation, Mr McEwen said.

“An organisation’s ICT team has a critical role to play in achieving a successful relocation to new premises,” he said.

“Typically the ICT spend equates to between a quarter and a third of the overall project budget – excluding base building construction but including selection, fitout and relocation costs.

“Too often, however, we see property teams forgetting about ICT costs until the last minute and then attempting to shoe horn it into whatever remains of their budget or attempt to make it ICT’s problem.”

Mr McEwan said it was critical to reach out to ICT from project inception.

“As soon as the opportunity for property change is identified, ICT should have a seat at the table,” he said.

“Getting the right representation from ICT at various stages of the project is also important. A new workplace is not simply an ICT infrastructure initiative; apart from data cabling, comms rooms and network equipment, it also requires input from applications teams desktop support personnel and, of course, the organisation’s chief information officer.

“Target the right ICT expertise at the right points, rather than relying on a single representative.”

Mr McEwen said the in-house ICT team must also be supplemented by experienced specialists in ICT for workplace projects, because most ICT personnel were not often involved in property projects and did not “speak the language”.

“These representatives can ensure the ICT team is across the implications of various workplace technology options, can help them articulate their requirements in property’s language and can represent ICT’s constraints and dependencies back to the project team,” he said.

“In short, they act as an interpreter, bridging the gap between property and ICT.”

Activity based working spaces good for collaboration
Mr McEwen said many companies were also currently evaluating the introduction of activity based working which captures two key concepts of office life.

The first is that for many office roles, a fixed seating plan may not be the best option to promote collaboration and productivity given the varied activities performed.

The second is that because average workstation occupancy in most offices is about 60 per cent during the business day – due to meetings, business trips, working from home, leave and other absences, breaking down the concept of fixed seating can also lead to significant real estate and energy savings because not everybody needs a seat all the time.

“The introduction of ABW or similar workplace concepts can be controversial,” Mr McEwen says.

“Suffice to say, however, that ABW only works when CRE and ICT are aligned behind a business driven strategy, which also involves the close involvement of human resources and many other teams.

“For ABW to succeed, ICT must deliver seamless and secure computing, telephony and printing mobility for staff as they work within and beyond the office, with support for the ever increasing range of user devices such as iPads, other tablets and smart phones.”