Integrated Operating Environment: Bringing People, Tools, and Place into Alignment

Integrated Operating Environment: Bringing People, Tools, and Place into Alignment

Design thinkers refer to a challenge that presents itself with incomplete or contradictory information and vague paths forward as a “wicked problem”. Our mission at OPX – making good companies work better – is the epitome of a“wicked problem”.

Within organizations, deeply entrenched challenges require leadership to mobilize and take potential risks to ensure the organization effectively addresses these issues.  There are often multiple stakeholders whose ingrained ways of working may be uprooted by any change. Employees’ comfortable routines are at risk of disruption. New skills or processes may need to be introduced. Often,in a well-meaning effort to address such challenges, an organization may implement a quick, simple, and tangible solution to a more deeply rooted challenge. We’ve seen firsthand the effects of this. Clients say their phone booths go unused, that their employees are miserable in their open work spaces,that pantries sit empty. That’s because these are generic solutions to unique,organization-specific problems. There are deeper culture, policy, work process,and management issues that are at the heart of dissatisfaction and that must be addressed in conjunction with the physical spaces. Change management initiatives, clear policies, cultural reform, new tools, and physical space adaptations, integrated into a cohesive intervention, must work together as an adaptive solution.

Our Integrated Operating Environment (IOE) process leads our clients through the sometimes uncomfortable task of identifying these challenges and tackling them with the appropriate tools and modifications to existing behaviors, cultures, and spaces. IOE is an in-depth, multi-step process that results in comprehensive, strategic design solutions that help our clients work better through integrating the three elements vital to every organization: people,tools and place. The solutions clarify our clients’ goals and translate them into operational improvements that support effectiveness and future change.

Our clients tell us that our IOE methodology is a highly valuable decision-making tool,producing results tied to strategy that supports vision, strengthens branding,and yields positive business results. It builds buy-in, participation, and communication across the organization and guides the change management component – all of which are critical to the success of any project.


Vision Session

The first step of our IOE process is the Vision Session (see a previous post here for more insight).  In the Vision Session, we include leadership as we begin to uncover the deeply-rooted challenges facing an organization. We engage in the often difficult, but exciting exercise of challenging entrenched norms and imagining an unknowable future. Because of the fear of potentially disruptive change and the uncertainty about following the “correct” path, we often encounter teams or individuals that hold back or embrace simpler, tangible solutions. It is less awkward to discuss adding a large event space than to rethink ineffectual metrics of success. And yet, we provide the greatest value when we invite our clients to embrace the ambiguity and experience the power that comes with meaningful and lasting change.

Throughout the IOE engagement, we often uncover discrepancies between the views and priorities of leadership and the employees of an organization. When identified,these discrepancies can come as a surprise to leadership. Understanding the relationship between the views of leadership and employees plays an important role in determining how to manage the inevitable change that will occur as a result of our engagement. The Vision Session, in conjunction with the IOE engagement as a whole, surfaces issues and works to implement successful organizational change that includes all stakeholders. This can mean the difference between a successful engagement with the results embraced by the entire organization, and an unsuccessful engagement that fosters distrust and resentment among employees.

The Vision Session provides an invaluable lens through which to qualify and analyze the data we collect in our Operating Environment Survey, Focus Groups, and Observation Study. As we explore ways to develop a more integrated organizational, operational, technical, and physical environment to support an organization’s objectives we turn to the results of the Vision Session as a guide. As we work to refine and promote an organization’s culture, enable their ability to respond to future change, and inspire the skills and activities required to support an organization’s mission, we use the Vision Session as a foundation and validation tool for our work.


Operating Environment Survey

In the following steps of the IOE process, we interact with organizational stakeholders to first uncover and clarify any challenges before imagining solutions and proposing opportunities for lasting change. The Operating Environment Survey is sent to all employees and is an important introduction to the project. Not only is the survey a powerful tool for gathering information about how an organization operates at every level, but it is also a powerful change management tool as it builds buy-in across the organization. With leadership supporting the process and employees eager to see change, we typically see survey response rates exceed 75%, an exceptional response rate for surveys.

As part of the survey, we administer an organizational cultural assessment and engagement survey. The Cultural Assessment gives management a snapshot of the overall cultural tendencies of the organization. The results serve as a tool leadership can use for reinforcing or redirecting cultural views, ultimately helping tie the new workplace design to the desired direction. Knowledge of the cultural state also helps develop an effective change management approach. The engagement survey can be broken down by department, function, age group and other demographics, allowing us to pinpoint and address aspects of the workplace that are helping or hindering employee engagement. Additionally, it benchmarks employee engagement for post-occupancy evaluation.

Too many times we see overly hierarchical workplace cultures with ineffectual metrics of success and a physical office space that hampers work processes.  Productivity, satisfaction and, most importantly, engagement, suffer as a result. According to Gallup, a mere 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work and 18% are actively disengaged.Engaged employees, defined as those who are enthusiastic, positive, connected with their work activities, and able to deal with the demands of their job,have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the success of an organization. Our cultural and engagement surveys, in conjunction with the entire IOE process,allow us to uncover the challenges facing an organization and offer opportunities for future success.

Read more about our Engagement Survey and how it informs our work, here.


Focus Groups

Focus Groups provide an open forum to capture unique individual and group observations and encourage the generation of ideas for delivering on an organization’s top Strategic Priorities, Decision Criteria, and Design Attributes from the Vision Session. Additionally, focus groups allow the IOE team to take a deeper dive into dominant trends and explore underlying reasons for information obtained from the previously administered survey.

Perhaps most importantly though, as an effective change management tool, focus groups help build buy-in. They provide a forum for employees to voice their concerns and suggestions in a safe space. They allow more people to lend their voice to the process so that when the project is complete, employees can point to their contributions and feel collective ownership in their new space.

Read more about how our Focus Groups are unique and contribute to our process, here.


Observation Study

The Observation Study uses on-site ethnographic research to better understand how an organization’s employees interact with the various physical and social systems in the office environment. The study provides both quantitative and qualitative data on space utilization and behavior patterns and allows the OPX team to gain insights and discover unexpected opportunities that may not be readily apparent from survey data or focus group anecdotes. Additionally, what people say they do and what they actually do are not always the same. Recognizing these discontinuities can provide a more accurate view into how an organization operates in practice as compared to in principle, further informing our space and process oriented recommendations.

Some of the most valuable data we collect during the observation study is the utilization rate of spaces and activity data. Utilization rates tell us how often and when a space is used, and activity data tell us how people are using the space and whether they are using the space for its intended purpose. During our studies,we often come across swaths of floor plates that are either vacant or not being used efficiently. Vacant or underutilized space can be expensive for an organization, and understanding how much space is not being used efficiently can lead to substantial cost savings.

Read more about Observation Study, here.


Scenario Planning

Using the results from the previous activities, Scenario Planning imagines possible operational and real estate futures that align with the strategic goals and functional needs of an organization. It provides an opportunity to consider how the workplace might change and what that might look like. All tested scenarios include financial information so you can compare the resulting order-of-magnitude costs associated with each option, allowing you to test multiple futures in a cost effective way. Being able to model possible operational futures and test them against your strategy is vitally important when an organization is growing or changing. Rather than recommending solutions based on popular, generic ‘trends in the market’, we uncover your organization’s real requirements.

Our proprietary Electronic Scenario Planning (ESP) tool allows users to visualize how certain design decisions affect the workplace and stack up against their organization’s business priorities. An interactive tool, ESP makes it quick and easy to test how different workplace features, policies, design criteria, and business priorities interact. Curious how increasing workstation percentages and adding a mentorship program will affect how well you can attract and retain talent? Simply select your settings and see how your attraction and retention score (as well as 9 other scores) changes. Looking to optimize your workplace features to achieve certain business priorities? Simply select how important your priorities are and ESP will show you the optimal workplace solution.


IOE is not a passive activity. We don’t go away and come back with a final set of recommendations. IOE is an active, co-creation process in which we lead organizations through every step to uncover challenges and discover opportunities. The most significant value of IOE may be the cultural impact and change management component, as everyone in the organization has the opportunity to provide input throughout the engagement. While decisions are typically made by leadership, the IOE process substantially increases buy-in for what will certainly be a changed environment. It also sends a message to the rest of the organization that leadership values their thoughts and ideas. Our analysis also serves as a management tool by uncovering insightful operational information beyond what simply applies to real estate.

Our IOE process is often the difference between a highly successful change result with improved employee engagement - and just a new office space.

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