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Genentech's Approach to Agile Seating & Hybrid Work

Jul 1 2021

When Genentech first adopted their neighborhood work environment design many years ago, they did so with the intention of offering a mix of activity-based working spaces for their employees. Instead of creating a fully assigned seating structure they assigned groups to work in each “neighborhood”— each consisting of a mix of huddle rooms, heads down focus rooms, laptop bars, and collaboration booths. At the beginning, in the pilot phase of this initiative, the only way Genentech had to monitor the activity of their handful of neighborhoods where hundreds of employees were working was with someone manually conducting in-person walkthroughs at a certain point in time.

However, as this neighborhood work environment grew in popularity, this tactic became less and less practical. Genentech needed to find a way to better monitor the activity of their employees, and fast. When the pilot program ended vagile seating, activity-based approach boomed in 2018 to become the preferred workplace environment for thousands of employees across 150 neighborhoods. 

Their solution? To partner with VergeSense and our Workplace Analytics Platform to use sensors in order to more efficiently collect accurate data concerning workplace behavior of employees, and then leverage this granular data to optimize office space design to better support in-office employees.

Due to this partnership, Genentech was able to scale their neighborhood approach to their entire workplace employee organization. With 4,000 Power over Ethernet (POE) and wireless sensors which capture and aggregate 240,000 data points per day into the myriad of ways their employees use their spaces. 

These insights allow their company to gain a greater understanding of the ways in which their team members occupy office space. In addition, they support employees.

Workplace analytics help organizations to:

  • Provide their employees with the help they need to find the right space to work at the right time.
  • Enable their company to make informed decisions regarding office design, based on employee workspace preference and usage.
  • Allow their company to better understand workplace ratios.
  • Provide employees with a greater understanding of the full capabilities of their work environment, by presenting them with even greater workplace flexibility.

According to VergeSense CEO Dan Ryan, “Genentech has been a pioneer of activity based working. Not many companies were operating in this unassigned seating environment, but Genentech’s activity based working represents the future of every company rethinking their spaces with hybrid-first mentality.”

This hybrid-first mentality is especially valuable at a time like this, when companies all around the world are strategizing their return to office approach after more than a year of nationally mandated work from home policies. Once COVID began shuttering office doors in March 2020, everyone accepted that what work looks like in the office will change, but no one knows just yet what exactly that change will look like. With sensors, companies can more closely monitor this return to office to gain insight into which office space is still necessary to support the new wave of highly flexible and hybrid workers.

What is agile seating?

Agile seating is the primary component of an agile work environment. Meaning, a workplace that does not practice assigned seating and instead allows its employees to transition from the use of dedicated workspaces to shared spaces in an effort to boost collaboration and efficiency.

For organizations that succeed on the power of their employees’ creative thinking, agile seating (also commonly referred to as activity based seating) is known to stoke innovative thinking and idea stimulation due to the increase in workplace flexibility.

Benefits of Activity Based Seating

  • Shifting to more flexible work environments keeps the emphasis on employee productivity and creative freedom, as opposed to the rigorous nature of assigned seating.
  • Shared spaces allow for optimization of space, due to being able to accommodate more people in a smaller space.
  • For companies navigating a lower-density return to office post-COVID due to the implementation of more progressive hybrid work policies, agile seating allows them to implement multiple satellite offices in hubs where clusters of employees live and work.
  • Offering a flexible workplace policy can improve your recruitment efforts, especially if your competitors are still enforcing assigned seating.
  • Activity based workplaces fuel a more collaborative culture at your company, leading to increases in innovation and creative thought.
  • Employee satisfaction boosts productivity, to improve employee satisfaction allow for more daily choice in the workplace activity of your team members.

Using Agile Seating Insights to Create Flexible Workspaces

Creating agile seating policies will only be as successful of an initiative as your workspace allows it to be. Meaning, without the right office and workspaces available to your employees then allowing for activity based seating will hardly increase productivity and efficiency. Once you decide to enable activity based working at your company, there are a few things you need to do to support this initiative and make it a reality.

Step One: Learn how your employees work.

Before you can optimize your workplace to better support your employees, you first need to study them in their traditional environment in order to learn how they work. Some companies do this with employee surveys or with regularly scheduled walk throughs. However, the easiest, most scalable, and accurate way of understanding how employees are working and collaborating in the workplace is to install anonymous people counting sensors. Once you have a clear understanding of the ways in which your teams prefer to work, you can then begin creating more flexible workspaces designed to support agile seating.

Step Two: Create flexible workspaces to support activity based working.

Once you’ve gained insights into the ways your employees choose to work and where in the office they prefer to work from, you can begin redesigning your workspace to meet their needs. Flexible workspaces are designed to be just that: flexible. When rewiring your office to support more flexible workplace behavior, remember to provide accommodations for all manners of work. Such as:

  • Huddle rooms
  • Breakout spaces
  • Co-working areas
  • Conference and meeting rooms
  • Phone booths
  • Heads-down focus rooms
  • Creative spaces
  • Flex-desks
  • Open studio desks
  • Hot desks
  • Focus rooms
  • Laptop bars
  • Recreational areas
  • Nap pods
  • Neighborhoods
  • Pet-friendly workspaces

Depending on the insights you gathered,  the flexible workspaces you create in your office will be a mixture of these elements. For example, if you notice that the majority of your employees prefer to work in focus rooms most of the time, design more individual workspaces. If you notice that your teams prefer to meet in creative rooms over huddle rooms, repurpose your huddle rooms to support their preference.

Step Three: Continue gathering insights into employee activity.

The future of work is flexible. To keep up with changing employee habits and workplace preferences companies need to continuously monitor employee behavior. Vision-based area sensors provide a level of accurate, anonymous, and ongoing surveying that walkthroughs never can. 

And, ongoing measuring is especially essential for companies currently navigating the return to office, with high daily variability. It’s important to remember that this post-COVID return is a learning experience for everyone involved and it should be approached with flexibility at the forefront of your mind. If you try to shepherd your teams to act and perform in the same way they did pre-COVID you will be missing some of the most valuable insights that they can give you— insights into the ways in which COVID is altering the where and how of modern employee behavior.

By being open to detecting change you will be better prepared to create sustainable flexible workspaces for your employees that are capable of continuously supporting them, no matter which ways they change next.

Step Four: Use these insights to make data-driven workplace decisions.

Once you’ve monitored employee behavior in the first stages of your new agile seating policies, you can begin making data-driven workplace decisions based on what you’ve gathered. Based on the insights you’ve gathered, start adjusting your flexible workspaces. 

Maybe you’ve learned that employees who rarely work in-office feel lost when they do. In which case, you can create a mobile app for room reservations and a map of the workspace that highlights open areas in order to ease their transition back into the office.

Intuitive workspace mapping software like this provides an ease of use for all employees, regardless of their work schedule. Flexible workspaces are designed to optimize productivity, if your team members have a hard time even finding an open place to work from on any given day then they will surely have a hard time focusing on their responsibilities once they get there.

Ultimately, the strength of your agile seating approach depends on how well you study employee behavior in order to create flexible workspaces that your teams not only want, but need to be productive in the office. In addition to an influx of flexible schedules that allow for more hybrid work, companies around the world are using this activity based working approach to ease the transition back to the office in a post-COVID world.

For even more insights into the future of flexible workspaces, take a look at how Genentech and companies like them have found success using this approach in our presentation from Future Offices Spring: Genentech’s Data-Powered Approach to Agile Seating & Hybrid Working.

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