Conveying Corporate Continuity

By Matt Stansberry
From the November 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The constant demand for efficient and consistent decision making in the corporate environment makes a comprehensive standards program indispensible to facility professionals. While many types of organizations have written programs in place, corporate facilities provide the environment for the highest level of executive functions, often with the least amount of space.

Corporate facilities can range from single floor offices to giant buildings on world headquarters campuses. Yet the function of these offices remains the same throughout-to make the decisions that will keep organizations running. Often, the offices of facility professionals are housed in these corporate facilities.

Many facility managers do not have standards programs in place for their corporate offices. The drafting and implementation of such programs can often seem too time consuming and wasteful in terms of resources, when so many other factors vie for attention. But as many corporate facility executives will testify, the time implementing standards can prove to be well spent.

There are many resources available for writing a standards program. These include previous standards programs as well as feedback from other individuals in the profession.

In addition, these resources can provide new ideas for facility managers who are updating the existing standards programs. This is especially pertinent to corporate headquarters where communications and technology often evolve at the quickest pace.

Standardizing For Efficiency And Employee Satisfaction

There are many reasons to implement a written standards program, ranging from branding purchases to the consistent distribution of office spaces. Other areas of standardization include service response to trouble calls and custodial service levels. Internet protocol and wireless technology have numerous standards, but these questions are best answered by an IT specialist.

Glenn R. Blake is chief construction officer for General Mills in Minneapolis, MN. His office is in the corporate headquarters.

“We certainly try to standardize so we have an ease of maintenance; we also want to avoid duplication of inventories on spare parts and replacement maintenance parts,” says Blake. “We try to apply consist application, whether it’s furniture or light bulbs,” he adds.

Trevor Foster is vice president of corporate development for the Norwalk, CT-based Emcor Group, a service provider for facilities operations. According to Foster, business continuity issues are one of the most important aspects of corporate standards.

“The real hot button in the marketplace right now is business continuity and security, where standards are continuing to evolve,” Foster says. “But they are very customer specific, depending on the corporate facility.”

According to Tom Lighthouse, principal of San Jose, CA-based VFMC, the biggest impact a standards program has on employees is managing their expectations. Lighthouse proposes that unfulfilled expectations are responsible for 90% of upset employees. So managing expectations is important to his staff. His motto is “Under promise and over deliver.”

“The benefits of standardizing are nearly priceless,” says Lighthouse. “You eliminate arguments about offices, office size, cubical size, etc.”

Space Planning

One of the most pertinent aspects of corporate facility standards is space planning. When square footage is in demand, efficient space planning can make a greater difference in employee comfort and performance.

“We have a number of research facilities as well as a number of manufacturing and sales offices, but the standardizing we do at our corporate offices-which house a multitude of corporate functions and divisions-is based on the functionality of the office space,” says Blake.

“It’s the primary reason to redesign or design office space to make people’s work as easy as possible. Speed of information transfer, and therefore speed of decision making, is the reason for these standards,” he adds.

“I worked for Solectron Corporation back in the early 90s when it was a $2 million company; we grew the company to $3 billion dollars by the time I left, but during that time, we built a nine building, 550,000 square foot campus,” explains Lighthouse.

“We brought in all our existing leased manufacturing facilities to the new campus. Some existing facilities had private offices for supervisors while other sites had directors in cubicles. There was no standard.

“When moving to the new campus and doing space planning, the directive came down from company leadership that all employees-chairman of the board down-would be in cubicles. So, when we were moving some mid-managers into cubes they were very upset with us, as if we had insulted them in some way. They complained to us, and we simply suggested they contact their division leadership for approval in providing offices.

“Naturally, we were not as bold to send them on their way without first informing them that the CEO was in a cube! Problem solved. Company leadership, VPs and above, were placed in 12′ x 12′ cubes, directors in 10′ x 10’cubes, managers with direct reports in 10′ x 8′ cubes, managers as sole providers in 8′ x 8′ cubes, and supervisors in 6′ x 8′ cubes. This made our lives so much easier.” The guidelines for space planning can vary depending on the size and function of the corporate office.

“I think an open environment, a very collaborative environment with teaming spaces, is very conducive to the speed of information transfer and the speed of decision making,” says Blake According to the research publication “Revisiting Office Space Standards” by Judy Voss of Haworth, the first step to standardizing space planning is to evaluate the total space available. Facility professionals should work with designers to assess how many people will use the space, which pieces of technology individuals use, which interaction patterns are necessary, and how much storage people will need. Other considerations for space planning include ADA concerns, HVAC capacities, aesthetics, and individual work styles.

When employees are spending most of their days in meetings and visiting clients, a smaller work station might provide enough space. Yet employees who are working at desks all day will feel crowded if their office area is too small. Also, large offices are often given to employees to show status, therefore the larger office will be more desirable.

“We have (space planning) standards for the size of offices by title and function. It’s based more on functionality than title,” Blake states.”For instance, if you had a manager of purchasing and that person was managing a category of ingredients but didn’t have junior purchasing agents working for him or her, that person would still be considered a manager. Yet it is different if someone at manager level has a staff of 16,” Blake explains.

Researching Standards Programs

The number of resources available for writing or updating a corporate standards program would surprise those who have never undertaken the project. These resources are wide ranging and include the published standards of other facilities on the Web, existing standards from the various industry organizations, federal/state government regulations, product manufacturers, and other facility professionals. Two examples of professional orginizations are the International Facicility Management Association (IFMA) and BOMA International.

“When I took over the facilities management a few years ago, I used some consultants from Steelcase and Herman Miller and did a great deal of benchmarking,” says Blake. “We also used our own internal sources to put together the programs, such as our interior design and operations departments,” he explains.

“We have, in our organization, what we call a knowledge network for running corporate facilities,” says Foster. “These consulting teams put all the standards in place to run corporate facilities. It is constantly being updated by legislation, local requirements, and technology.

“The industry is going to a virtual world,” Foster explains. “We look at facilities as a massive network of people connected by technology. We have calls coming in from all over the world and calls being dispatched.”

Bridging The Gap In Communication

Many facility professionals are out on islands, isolated from each other. Being connected can make the job a lot easier.

Lighthouse is a CFM and former chapter president of the Silicon Valley Chapter of IFMA. His company provides integrated facilities management services throughout the state.

“The most used resource for standards is the facilities manager’s network-fellow managers,” says Lighthouse.

According to Lighthouse, the facilities professional needs to recognize the value of the organization, whether IFMA or any other for that matter.

“In our annual chapter directory we list a Professional Resources section. This is a section where a member can make himself available to other members in particular areas of expertise. The areas range from alternative officing to waste management. These peers are available to coach fellow facility managers, and are simply a phone call away,” he says.

As more and more corporations begin standardizing their operations, facility executives will have to stay current with the trends and technology of the profession. In today’s global economy, many corporations have offices around the world. By implementing a written standards program, corporations will be able to maintain continuity and streamline business practices for the entire organization.

This article was based on information from Blake, Foster, and Lighthouse.