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Located a few blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, IFC's headquarters building opened in 1996. Then, the average space per employee was 250 square feet per seat. That figured included open plan workstations, private offices, and other ancillary areas. Today, that number has shrunk to 180 square feet per seat. Pearlman and his team have used every means necessary to consolidate space. Strategies have included reducing workstation size and increasing density in the open office plan areas so that there are three workstations where there previously had been only two, reducing the size of private offices, and converting meeting spaces into workstations or offices.
Additionally, the team has encouraged IFC managers to develop more stringent occupancy standards for consultants, contractors and temporary employees. And they've asked management to promote telecommuting and the use of hotelling suites.
Management has already decreed that any new staff departments wish to hire must be added in the field, not at headquarters. "It's easy to say that," says Pearlman. "But the reality is that there's always going to be some expansion at headquarters to support growth in the field." So ramping up all the strategies Pearlman has already enacted, plus moving some departments out of the building to leased space, are part of the proposals Pearlman is working on to present to upper managers as "good, better, best" solutions for how to relieve the pressure on a building already beyond its capacity.
"Nobody anticipated the rate or volume of growth of our business," says Pearlman. "But so far, we've been able to make changes that worked."
One of the biggest challenges related to reconfiguring space, says Pearlman, is that the designers of the building assumed that the floor plan would never change. So reconfiguring space means changes in electrical, voice and data cabling layouts, and ordering new workstations. The company uses a custom-made wood workstation that requires a significant lead time from the manufacturer, so the moves and reconfigurations must be planned out as far in advance as possible. But the open office plan means less overall construction than a traditional closed environment and, fortunately, the building was designed with a raised floor system, which gives more flexibility when reconfiguring space.
Complicating matters even more has been the fact that the surging business requires frequent reorganization, including a building restack currently underway that will re-seat as many as 1,200 employees. Christine Jones, group property manager with Brandywine Realty Trust at IFC headquarters, helps manage the restack. A key piece of that is managing expectations, she says. "We hold pre-move meetings and ensure move lists are created correctly. Then, we manage the actual move and do post-move follow up with staff." Jones says post-move duties include working with staff to ensure all boxes were delivered, the phones are working, computers and printers were delivered to the correct location and are working, and making furniture adjustments.
"We try to work with staff directly to change their furniture setup so they have the max amount of space to make the area feel more open," she says.
This is especially critical as space continues to be compressed. Indeed, beyond the logistical issues, the human factor may be the most challenging of all. "Moving groups from areas we haven't yet compressed to areas we have means dealing with some politics," says Elizabeth Casqueiro, manager of IFC facilities and Pearlman's boss. It means people are moved from larger to smaller workstations, and of course that can be upsetting. "We have to communicate the message that if they don't move, there is a domino effect which can jeopardize the reorganization," says Casqueiro.
So Pearlman and Casqueiro often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of employees taking frustrations out on them. "I'm constantly having to defend the fact that we're full," says Pearlman. "We get a fair amount of questions about the increased density, but as soon as they hear about the depth of our space constraints, there's usually no problem."
If things get ugly, he knows that upper managers and his boss have his back. "We are seen as a team that adds value to the business," says Casqueiro. "We are well-supported by the upper echelons of management."
A Look at the Company
One of five members of the World Bank Group, the International Finance Corp.'s mission is to help companies and financial institutions in emerging markets create jobs, generate tax revenues, improve corporate governance and environmental performance, and contribute to their local communities. Essentially, IFC, which is funded by its 182 member countries, including the United States, helps finance private-sector projects and sustainable development in developing countries. While other members of the World Bank focus on public-sector projects, IFC is the largest source of private-sector financing in the developing world.
The company has 3,400 employees, 51 percent of whom work in 105 field offices around the world. These offices total about 700,000 square feet. The other 49 percent work in the 1.1-million-square foot headquarters facility in Washington, D.C.
— Greg Zimmerman
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