FM Articles

Designing an Innovative Workspace


Facilities managers and others are tasked with innovating a new type of workspace to meet the changing dynamics of the workplace, where the days of employees working 9 to 5 in one location are long gone. At schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions, facilities managers need to accommodate the new realities of: flexible work arrangements, professionals who spend the majority of their time with the people they serve, and the temporary space needs of adjunct professors, visiting healthcare professionals and others.

One approach that has been effective in reducing real estate costs and the environmental impact is hot desking or hoteling, which enables employees to reserve desks as needed, instead of having assigned seating. While this approach also supports flexible, agile work styles, there have been complaints about how hot-desking has been implemented. Common complaints include: wasted time tracking down desks or other resources, difficulty finding the colleagues you need to connect with, not being able to personalize your own space, and more.

Poor employee experience is not an acceptable trade-off for cost savings and it will ultimately hurt the institution’s bottom line – and often its reputation. Employee experience is important in attracting and retaining top talent, and creating a sense of well-being that can increase productivity, while decreasing absenteeism and presenteeism. But it doesn’t stop there. Employee frustration or dissatisfaction can also be reflected in staff interactions with the people you serve.

Facilities managers are responsible for creating an exceptional employee experience as well as promoting productivity and collaboration. While accomplishing all of that – along with meeting the financial needs of the institution – can be a tall order, innovative facilities managers have applied best practices that have enabled them to succeed.

Here are five best practices that are making a difference:

  • Involve your stakeholders from day one. Create a taskforce representing your stakeholders, across departments and functions, to consider and identify employee needs; brainstorm solutions for designing an effective office space and hot-desking environment; and address organizational needs to contain costs. Have these representatives involved throughout the process from problem identification through implementation and assessment. Their feedback will be critical in helping you avoid mistakes and get on the right path from the start, and they will also be a key source of support and evangelism as you roll out changes across the organization.
  • Give employees control over their environment. In today’s consumer-oriented environment, employees want to feel like they are in the driver’s seat. Prevent the common causes of hot-desking hell by allowing employees to find and book their own spaces and resources in advance with resource scheduling technology. That will help ensure that everything they need will be ready for them when they come to work, avoiding uncertainty and wasted time tracking down desk space and other resources, such as conference rooms, AV equipment, catering, etc. You can give them autonomy over where they sit, and enable them to search for a specific colleague or team on a floor plan, so they can easily find the people and things they need to do their best work. Make sure the entire journey is easy, enables self-service and works from anywhere via mobile devices.
  • Use smart design to further organizational goals. Facilities managers can support institutional goals, such as increased productivity, collaboration and innovation through smart workspace design. For example, where an employee sits can affect performance and collaboration. A South Korean e-commerce company was able to increase deals by 25% and daily revenue by an average of 40% by changing their seating arrangements, according to a research study conducted by Sunkee Lee, assistant professor of organizational theory and strategy at the Tepper School of Business. By sitting next to new people, employees had different conversations, were learning new things and were able to make new connections that spurred creativity, leading to increased performance. Steve Jobs realized the power that unplanned, informal connections between employees can bring, and built in the opportunity for this type of “planned serendipity” by locating restrooms far away from employee areas so they’d have to pass by their colleagues and have greater opportunity to engage in discussion.


Institutions can build rules into their resource scheduling tools that encourage employees to sit in different locations to promote new ways of thinking and increased performance.

  • Offer the right workspace for the right task. From day to day or even hour-to-hour, employees’ needs change to meet the requirements of their tasks. Whether it’s a quiet space for research; a small room to consult with students, or patients and their families; a creative space with white board tables and bean bags for brainstorming;  or a sleep pod to catch some well-needed z’s – facilities managers can design different spaces that employees can use based on the task at hand. This activity-based working approach will enable employees to have the appropriate space resources they need to accomplish their goals.
  • Analyze utilization. There’s no better way to know if your space and resources are being well utilized than through analytics. By finding out that certain spaces or facilities are under- or over-utilized, you can make adjustments accordingly, such as reducing the number of quiet spaces to allow more space for conference rooms or sleep pods, or perhaps creating a different type of space altogether. You should analyze rooms and resources usage on an ongoing basis in order to effectively respond to changing workplace needs.

Facilities managers face the challenging task of keep up with the changing nature of work, evolving workforce needs, and the realities of tight budgets in schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions. Making the most effective use of existing space while addressing the needs of employees can be a balancing act, but with the right practices – such as self-service booking, smart workplace design and activity-based working – facilities managers can create environments where employees thrive and organizational goals are met.

John T. Anderson is CEO of Smartway2, which provides next-generation workplace scheduling solutions for schools, universities, healthcare facilities and other institutions and enterprises. He can be reached via email or LinkedIn.