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A+D and FM: Can Mars and Venus Ever Agree?

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Architects and designers have a reputation for having their heads in the clouds. Facility managers have a reputation for resisting change. Whether or not those reputations are warranted, it's true that architects and designers see things differently than facility managers. The research we did in the summer of 2012 bears that out. A total of 710 architects, designers, and facility professionals responded to the survey.

When asked various questions related to their expectations of how they saw their use of space within the workplace changing over the next three years, in every case the response most often given by facility managers was “Stay the same” and the response most often given by architects and designers was that it would change. Sometimes, as in the case of the question about technology, the difference of opinion was quite large—39 percentage points.

The discrepancy in worldviews can be attributed to the different roles the professions have. Clients rely on architects and designers to be provocative and to help them envision "what will be." But companies rely on facility managers to be realistic and pragmatic, and to manage "what is."

In the past, the facility manager role has been characterized by standards. But more companies are seeing the value of providing onsite choices about where to work. "It's about creating a great place to work by curating an environment that’s more thoughtful," says Brian Green, senior researcher/work environment lead.

There are spaces that meet the objectives of both professions. Several years ago, we added a coffee bar to Herman Miller’s Front Door because we wanted to build community and foster spontaneous interaction. People came to it, but didn't stay long, in part because they were worried that sitting at the coffee bar did not look like working. As one employee said, "There’s no way I’m drinking a career-ending latte."

Getting employees to accept that work can and does happen outside the workstation takes time, and we realized there was more we could be doing, both through change management and design. We studied the space again and then did an overhaul of the entire space, not just the coffee bar area. The new Front Door has more unassigned than assigned workstations. Employees are encouraged to work anywhere in the building and to change where they work throughout the day. And as soon as the Front Door space reopened, managers led by example, using the coffee bar for informal meetings.

Now there's a lot more movement throughout the Front Door space. People have meetings at the coffee bar, but also come on their own with laptops, tablets, and smartphones to do individual work while they sip their lattes. Impromptu meetings have increased and people are making more connections with colleagues from outside their group.

The space is both progressive, satisfying architects' and designers' needs to prepare for what’s coming, and practical, satisfying facility managers' attention to budgetary considerations. The space, which used to accommodate 30 - 50 workers now accommodates about 120. Furthermore, the synergy of the space is a huge draw. People want to work there, and that’s created a reinforcing positive loop. The more people come there, the more people want to be there.

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