The Workplace IS Strategic: Take it from a CEO (Part Two)

Last week I described how in 2001 Joe Hagan, the Chief Executive Officer of National Equity Fund (NEF) led a highly strategic workplace redesign and relocation project that had a major impact on the company’s culture and economic survival  (see “The Workplace IS Strategic: Take it from a CEO“).

Now, in 2014, NEF is getting ready to move once again. Why? The office still looks very much like it did in 2001, and the staff still likes working there. The company continues to be an industry leader; it’s not in need of a dramatic turnaround.

But – and this is both obvious and critical – much has changed over the last decade. The last five years have been a very tough time in the financial services sector. The “Great Depression” and the housing debacle have put incredible economic pressure on NEF and its competitors (to say nothing of publicly funded housing).

Just as importantly, technology has totally changed the way the company does business and the way its employees communicate with each other and with the company’s customers and investors. The current facility was designed before WiFi was common; while there is a wireless network in the building now, it is not particularly robust – there are several well-known “dead zones” throughout NEF’s current office.

In addition, with the growth of cloud computing services there isn’t the same need for on-site servers and data storage capacity. And since almost everyone has a smart mobile phone and laptop computer today, there isn’t the same need for all the staff to be in the office all the time.

These new conditions led NEF in 2012 to begin exploring a range of new possibilities for supporting and provisioning it’s headquarters staff.

The first step in what has become known as “Project CHANGE” was to develop a part-time work-from-home program for some employees. The company conducted a careful analysis of which jobs could be handled at least part-time from employees’ homes, what the current commuting patterns were, and what impact a more distributed work pattern would have on core business processes as well as employee attraction, retention, and productivity.

To guide that analysis, and to help orchestrate the cultural and management changes central to implementing a Work From Home program, NEF engaged The Future of Work…unlimited and yours truly.

Gaylene Domer, Vice President of Facilities, Sue Ann Reed (SVP of HR), and Ed Simon (Chief Information Officer) formed a Steering Committee for Project Change that, with my support, spent over a year collecting data and developing a business case for enabling a whole new way of working at NEF – one that leverages new IT capabilities and recognizes the way the NEF workforce is already embracing flexible work.

Our analysis suggested that if about one-third of the staff worked from home two to three days a week the company could reduce its office footprint by about 25% – while at the same time upgrading from Class B to Class A real estate and adding a significant number of new conference rooms of varied sizes (there has been a perceived shortage of conference room space at NEF for many years – it’s the major complaint the staff has had about the current facility).

During one executive committee conversation considering the proposed move to a smaller but better facility, in combination with an aggressive workforce mobility initiative, Joe Hagan commented “What do we care where someone is when they get their work done? If they meet their goals on time and on budget it really doesn’t matter where they are when they do it.”

That is clearly not yet a common view among senior business executives; but it reflects Hagan’s basic commitment to enabling his employees to make their own decisions about where, when, and how they complete their work – all the while holding them accountable for the results they produce (or do not produce).

The bottom line is that now, in May of 2014, approximately 40 NEF employees are spending 2-3 days a week working from home and the company will be moving to a new, smaller but better facility at the end of August. Employee satisfaction with the new work arrangement is high, the managers of mobile workers are uniformly supportive of the new work environment, and the company expects to save at least $2 million dollars a year in real estate costs.

That is clearly a win-win-win for NEF, its employees, and its investors. It’s a great story.

And to hear this story in the words of those executives, watch this video excerpt from the conversation they had with me about their experiences and expectations at the 2014 Facility Fusion event held just outside Washington, DC, in mid-April:

(special thanks to Rodney Stone, President, Environetics Los Angeles, for capturing this video)