- Written by: E.C. Gregg
- Produced by: Brandon Bagley
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
“People are our biggest asset.”
As the founder and managing partner of OPX PLLC, a design consultancy in Washington D.C., Steve Polo has heard his clients say that sentence countless times.
“If that’s true,” Polo says, “then as a company you need to make sure you show it.”
Ten years ago, while designing and renovating the interiors of corporate headquarters, law firms and hotels in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, Polo was surprised at how often the management’s vision of a company was in contradiction with its workspace. For instance, a CEO would tell Polo that his or her company values collaboration, but then request OPX to design a space with drywall offices and limited communal space for people to gather.
By communicating these discrepancies, Polo believed his firm could create offices that allow clients not only to operate more efficiently, but to have spaces that reflect their values, culture and strategies.
Today, OPX calls the approach Integrated Operating Environment (IOE), a multi-step process that reveals current trends within an organization and allows clients to think about how they could operate more effectively.
In 2015, almost 30 years after OPX was founded, it even used the process to renovate its own office.
It begins with vision
Discovering the purpose of a company or organization does not happen overnight.
In order for IOE to be successful, OPX typically begins the process two to four years before clients plan to move into a new space.
It starts with a vision session. In this three hour meeting, guided by OPX, the organizations’ leaders not only discuss possible design attributes, but also how they want to operate in the future and what their top business priorities are.
OPX has found this session is an opportunity for leadership to have conversations that may not have happened otherwise.
“We tend to find that companies keep on operating the same way year after year, but then they come across us and are interrupted in their process,” says Bobby Croghan, senior associate at OPX. For instance, one of OPX’s clients, a government agency with operations in New York and Boston, was able to streamline one of its processes that had originally bottlenecked the whole operation.
The next step of the IOE is sending clients’ employees an online survey. This allows OPX to gauge metrics such as the importance of privacy versus collaboration, the availability and support of technology, and company culture.
“These [questions] are not just extremely important to the overall space planning and look of the office, but they help the company understand exactly who they are,” Croghan says.
At times the perspectives outlined in the vision session don’t align with the answers given by employees. A company might give out laptops to encourage mobility in the office, but then employees might worry that management will assume they aren’t working if they move away from their desks.
To dig deeper, representatives from OPX spend days, sometimes weeks, conducting on-site observation, documenting how meeting areas are used and noting trends that contradict the surveys.
Croghan has seen instances where a client insists that employees need individual offices for privacy reasons. “But then we spend three days walking around the office and see that everyone has their doors open and are always popping into each other’s room,” he says. In this case, a collaborative environment with the option of assigned enclosed spaces might be better.
OPX also organizes focus group interviews with a cross-section of employees and departments. These interviews are an opportunity to discuss survey results and any conflicting information that came out of them.
“The feedback we get from these interviews is that people are so happy to be involved,” says Lee Quinby, IOE strategist at OPX. “And I think that goes a really long way to people feeling engaged and that their opinion matters.”
A space that matters
After gathering all this data, OPX’s team begins scenario planning, modeling anywhere from four to 20 work environments appropriate for the client based on the values set forth through the vision session and employee input.
“The key to keeping people engaged at a company is having a vision that they can get behind.” – Polo
After a scenario is chosen and the office is built, OPX helps guide clients through the new spaces, showing them how to use their new tools, work spaces and amenities.
With the IOE approach, OPX has designed spaces for global hotels, large corporate and non-profit headquarters and some of the most well-known law firms in the world.
For an international law firm client, OPX used the IOE to identify trends and make operational changes, modeling a future work environment that resulted in operational savings of over $100 million over a 15 year period. “The client then used the study to inform, design and build their office of the future,” Croghan says.
As OPX prepares to expand into new markets, Polo believes more than ever in the importance of creating a space that conveys a positive message to its employees.
“The key to keeping people engaged at a company is having a vision that they can get behind,” Polo says. “And helping companies find that vision is what we do.”
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