Improving Workspace Utilization Part 3: Desk Sharing

In the past two weeks, we’ve explored ways to collect data and how to interpret it to find ways to improve workspace utilization. But it’s all numbers and big talk until you actually start implementing changes. If your workforce is inadequately prepared or if you roll out changes (such as desk sharing) in insensitive fashion, there can be pushback. Employees may feel displaced and disengaged. This week, let’s look at some ways to minimize disruption while maximizing productivity.

Plan, Communicate, Implement, Communicate

The GSA recently published a workspace utilization report with examples of major corporations that have successfully implemented desk sharing programs. For example, IBM now provides only 1 desk for every dozen workers. Of course, they didn’t make this change all at once. There was a lot of investigation involved. It began when they realized that many of their employees spent the majority of their time embedded with client organizations, where they were provided with a workstation as needed. These workers actually wanted to spend even more time at client locations (and the clients concurred). So, the desire was already present to make a change. IBM still proceeded with care. The organization:

  • Examined the options for 8 months to determine the best way forward;
  • Communicated with employees about upcoming changes;
  • Engaged a behavioral psychologist to help the team manage the transition from an emotional standpoint;
  • Tested an initial solution;
  • Requested feedback; and,
  • Rinsed and repeated for 3 years with additional office spaces before rolling out the program on a national basis.

What Strategy Works for Smaller Businesses?

Even if you have only one office location, you can still follow many of the smart practices from IBM. HR and executive management should work together to create a communication plan that:

  • Collects opinions and perspectives from employees prior to making final decisions about workspace utilization changes;
  • Communicates the “why” of the planned changes, explaining how they benefit the company and employees;
  • Has a mechanism in place to collect feedback about the changes that have been implemented; and,
  • Is open to adjustment on an ongoing basis to ensure an optimal outcome.

It’s Not All or Nothing

An intelligent desk sharing arrangement accommodates the needs of different work groups. For example, teams that work on-the-go may be well-suited to desk sharing while those who really are tied to a desk all day may be more fully supported with a dedicated space. The goal isn’t necessarily to force desk sharing on the entire workforce if it’s not a good fit. The goal should be to create an environment that supports the greatest efficiency for all employees while eliminating space that is truly going unused.

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