Connect at Your Workplace to Acquire Balance
Talent at work in GSK’s headquarters at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.
By Rachel Duran
It was bound to happen. The acceptance and escalation of virtual work environments has been around long enough that the pendulum is slowly swinging back to where talent is heading back to physical workplaces. The spaces look and feel much different than the traditional rows of cubicles and artificial lighting that have greeted employees in the past.
Telecommuting initiatives aren’t concepts of the past; it is just that new approaches to workplace settings are becoming more inviting.
On the surface, it would seem that being cooped up in an office space would clash with achieving the life and work balance concept we hear and read so much about. In the quest for balance, which could include working from home for a couple of days a week, or all week, some workers realized they missed the human connection more than they expected.
Workers want to be around other people and engage and collaborate. In today’s workplace environment, the talent base wants to have ownership in the look and feel of their spaces. They want to feel relaxed, almost like being at home. Most importantly, they want a voice in how their workspaces are built out.
Fellow corporate decision makers tell Ray Milora that they could create an effort similar to GlaxoSmithKline’s Smart Working initiative in a modern office building if only they had similar budgets. Milora, who directed the company’s headquarters project at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, points out there are things they can implement immediately, for little or no money, to foster modern work environments. The first thing? Take down cubicles to open up space, removing barriers so employees can actually see each to make collaborations easier. Another move is to move people out of offices, converting the spaces into conference rooms. By having staff of all levels sit on the floor together, “you are democratize the space,” Milora says, “because you are staring to remove hierarchy, which starts to balance things out.” Such small efforts enable your talent base to focus on things that matter, such as collaboration and interaction.
Office spaces like GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) headquarters at the Navy Yard redevelopment in Philadelphia allow for this input. The global health care company is one of the anchor tenants at the Navy Yard, occupying its new space for two years. The company’s Smart Working initiative is on full display at the facility, which has paid huge dividends as the acceptance level of the building is off the charts. The occupancy rate of the building is more than 90 percent every work day; at GSK’s former two facilities in Philadelphia, occupancy rates averaged 40 percent to 50 percent on work days.
GSK follows its Smart Working standard when designing, retrofitting or building its office spaces worldwide to support the productivity of its knowledge workers. The standard, which the company began 10 years ago as a pilot program at office space in the UK with a few furniture purchases, is an initiative that gives employees choices in how they work.
Gone are the offices and cubicles, removing a hierarchal system as employees are assigned designated areas or neighborhoods with their team members, such as the finance or communications divisions. “This allows us to promote a concept of home, and you have a spot to start the day,” says Ray Milora, who led GSK’s move to the Navy Yard. He is also the global head of design and change management for GSK’s real estate and facilities team.
“You are assigned a locker, so you get your laptop out and you can either work in your neighborhood with your colleagues or move around the building and go to other neighborhoods or locations to work,” Milora says. “There is a constant level of movement. The atrium is a very active space. We have really amped up the collaboration. It [the layout] not only takes advantage of the entire building but it bleeds out to the Navy Yard.” GSK’s wireless signal extends to the outside front of the building.
GSK’s employees can also take meetings on the roof, which is 60 percent covered in green material and plants. In fact, the headquarters facility is certified double LEED platinum. “There are great collaborative zones and the location of the Navy Yard really helped us achieve it,” Milora notes.
The promise of the Navy Yard as a workplace destination is taking shape as amenities begin to take root. A restaurant opened in the fall, and a coffee shop will open in the spring. A park space is under development. And even though GSK’s campus is located in the city, the Navy Yard features open spaces, access to the river, and trees are everywhere, Milora adds.
Officials of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., who oversee the redevelopment of the Navy Yard, have been partners in creating a collaborative environment. “They take an active role in managing the Navy Yard with tenants in mind,” Milora says. For example, stakeholders want to see the Broad Street subway line extend to the Navy Yard, which ends a few blocks from the development.
“The PIDC takes our voice to local and state governments to say, ‘we have a critical mass of people coming down and will have thousands more in the next two to three years. Let’s advance mass transit.’”
Engagement from the Start
Milora notes that as the Smart Working program has matured it has allowed the company to drive engagement. “We have been in the Navy Yard two years and we are still gathering feedback about furniture,” he says. “We have moved furniture several times. We have moved neighborhoods around.
“Everything is ergonomically correct,” Milora continues. “There is soft seating and bar height level seating — there are many choices in and around the neighborhoods. We have enabled the entire ecosystem so people can choose the setting that is right for them for the meeting they are having.”
Gathering employee input took place from the start of the relocation planning process to build a new campus at the Navy Yard. Officials shared the conceptual designs for the facility and asked for feedback. “And what happens is that it not only becomes a change management tool, it helps prepare employees for the eventual move,” Milora says. It becomes a company-wide move, where employees aren’t left out of the decision-making process.
Employees become excited when they see their ideas materialize in their workplaces. The quality of the place matters as talent aspires to fulfill their idea of work and life balance.
To view the GSK facility, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx0oSAWptHw. For complete details about GSK, visit www.gsk.com.
Jeff Davidson says there are five mega realities of humankind’s frenzied existence, which includes a constant bombardment of information, and an overabundance of choice. “Even if you follow the best of time management principles, you still feel time pressed,” says Davidson, the author of several books including Simpler Living. He is also the founder of the Breathing Space Institute. So, how can you manage the realities? A crucial step is to marshal your resources. Accept that you can’t achieve a life and work balance all of the time. “The important thing is we can continue to get back to a place or moment where we feel we have control and some satisfaction before we get hit with more stuff,” Davidson says. “If you can muster resources that are equal to the challenges you face, obviously you will be in relative balance.”
The resources include tapping into the skills you weren’t aware your staff possesses. Refer to resumes to uncover the capabilities in your existing employees. Engage subject matter resources such as librarians, particularly at business schools. Reach out to students and retirees within your immediate surroundings. And utilize your professional networks for real answers instead of sharing vacation photos with them. When you match the challenges, Davidson says you can expect wealth, prosperity, profits, free time, leisure, and increased market share, for example. “When you continually identify and assemble the resources that are more than a match that you take on or have been assigned then you will be one of those people who consistently experiences a work-life balance,” Davidson says. “Not all of the time, but enough of the time.” For complete details about the mega realities and solutions to the challenges, visit www.breathingspace.com.
Cover image: GSK