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Change beyond walls

8 april 2009

Change beyond walls

Interviewing Bridget Hardy the author of Working beyond walls and Gerry Hofkamp the author of Veranderen met ruimte.

Bridget Hardy leads the High Performing Property program at the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in the UK. This program is focused on developing a government estate that gives better value. The goal of which is not only to set a standard and provide leadership but also to improve the general awareness and capability of those that manage the government estate. One of the activities that takes place within this field is the publication of books like Working beyond walls and its predecessor Working without walls. These books were the result of collaboration between OGC and DEGW, an internationally renowned strategic design consultancy office.

Gerry Hofkamp works as an advisor for the Rijksgebouwendienst in the Netherlands. The publication of Veranderen met ruimte resulted from a project with InAxis. This organization provided support to government organizations to develop government innovations. When they received a request for funding for office innovation from three different government organizations, the idea dawned to integrate these efforts and share the knowledge that resulted. To communicate these results even wider they were combined with previous office change experiences and became a new publication aimed at providing support for people involved in office change processes.

It becomes apparent that even though both books and both authors are in essence concerned with the same topic; the issue of government real estate through the study of different government cases, they have a different focus on the matter. One (Working beyond walls) represents a more practical view and describes solutions aimed at professionals, while the other (Veranderen met ruimte) is aimed at a wider public that is interested in office layout changes. Both authors are concerned with the so-called new ways of working and the impact it has on the built environment. What is the best office solution for the governments’ office buildings and how can we implement these new workspace concepts into the ever changing environment that is the modern organization?

A large array of possible workplaces

In Working beyond walls we are introduced to the idea of the distributed work environment that comprises a large array of possible ‘workplaces’ in one great network. Bridget Hardy explains that some people are already working in these diverse working locations but that it is not yet acknowledged. Gerry Hofkamp on the other hand states that this type of ‘extremely flexible working’ does not suit everyone. This idea is based heavily on a very individualistic view of the worker, while most people still have a great need for a more social workplace. She also reminds us of a very possible problem for organizations working in this manner: how can they still share a common feeling and organizational culture? It is important that people get enough time and space to make an environment their own. Since changes in office layout involve many aspects that are very close to us and affect our daily routines, the process of adapting to the new environment, according to Gerry Hofkamp, might even be considered to be more important than the development of the built environment. This is a crucial but extremely complex process that needs to be custom-made for each context and organization.

Implementation process is an important phase

More and more organizations are realizing that the implementation process is an important phase to achieve a desired end result. But the management of the (human)environment after the physical workplace changes have taken place is often overlooked. And so it happens that workers do not use the spaces ‘as they were intended’. Bridget Hardy: “You need to know why they are not working in a flexible way; maybe the space is not actually matched to their needs”. Gerry Hofkamp adds that in modern organizations often different organizational changes, that can hinder each other, are at play during the same period. This mismatch or change-excess has a direct negative impact on the way people are able to cope with the changes in the work environment and their ability to adapt to it.

Changing contexts

Recently, the future seems to be more than ever the topic of discussion. Since the worldwide crisis and recession began, many people seem to have a gloomy view of what the coming years might bring. How will the changes in the working populations demographic structure affect the way we think about offices? And how will the crisis affect the government estate? Bridget Hardy describes how the increasing diversity amongst office workers will be one of the biggest challenges that we will be faced with. To keep inspiring the older workers and attract young recruits, the office will need to cater to many different needs and expectations. An office that provides a variety of workplaces, where everyone can find their favorite and most suited spot to concentrate or interact seems to be the best solution. Gerry Hofkamp states that she expects that the changing context might result in a stricter control of the ‘needed square meters’ and that there will be an increased focus on the use of ICT solutions.

How to deal with sustainability

Another issue that is on the agenda of those concerned with corporate real estate and facility management is sustainability. The idea seems generally accepted that we should think consciously on how to minimize the impact of a building on its environment. What is less clear is how exactly to achieve this. Gerry Hofkamp says: even though the environment is an important issue nowadays, often the measures that are taken are rather narrow. The general focus is on rather small interventions like concern for building materials and waste management, but there is no real concern for the overall view on how to deal with sustainability. Bridget Hardy states that reducing the number of square meters of the government estate and the accommodation resources could represent a major reduction of the environmental impact. The issue is also addressed in a broader focus: OCG now runs a center of expertise in sustainable procurement that encourages a wide approach to the different aspects that affect sustainability.

Loss of personal ownership

And so, to conclude both interviews I asked the authors: ‘If we need to remember one thing after reading your book, what should it be?’ According to Bridget Hardy it should be the idea of distributed working: that the office is only one place within a large network of workplaces that can be provided. A distributed network that supports teams and individuals by combining efficient workplaces and ICT in a way that they form the most appropriate environment for effective work. Gerry Hofkamp asks the reader to pay special attention to giving people time to make a new work environment their own. When a shared office environment is implemented there is a loss of personal ownership of workplaces, which makes it essential to be aware of the identification process with the work environment. People need to be able to identify themselves again with the new situation and connect with the organizational community. This is one of the reasons why each office change process needs to be tailored to the specific context of the organization.

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Evi De Bruyne

Evi De Bruyne

Researcher│MSc, Work and Organizational Psychology