Q&A: Lyndon Thomas, Facilities Planner

How a global real-estate company manages to keep its employees’ desks organized.

Keeping track of over 16 million square feet, in 172 facilities that house 20,000 workers in 30 countries around the world requires a lot of discipline and planning. I asked Lyndon Thomas, the facilities planning manager at the Timken Company which reported $5 billion in sales last year, to talk about how his team deals with the complex assignment of keeping everyone, everywhere happy and productive.

Timken engineers, manufactures, and markets mechanical components and High performance steel. Thomas is responsible for office design, furniture standards, warehousing, and contracts; in addition he leads a team that represents strategic partners in office design, construction, architecture, and construction. Here he talks about the IT revolution, the changing ways of work, and the rules and regulations that keep a global company together. Thomas is among the workplace experts I’m asking to discuss their experiences of the dramatic shifts that globalization and technlogy continue to bring to the places where work is done today. I started my quest with Jan Johnson, vice president, design and workplace resources at Allsteel, the furniture manufacturer; other voices will follow shortly. My hope is that these front-line participants will help entrants to the first annual Workplace of the Future Design Competition to understand the complex problem they’ll look to solve, as they ask themselves, “How will we work in 2020?”

Susan S. Szenasy: With Timken’s 20,000 workers in 30 countries around the world, you are immersed in the multi-faceted, global firm’s work styles and how these are evolving. I’d like you to first talk about how your workplaces are changing with computerization; then make a general observation about the changing nature of white collar work around the world.

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Lyndon Thomas: Computerization and technology changes are changing the way Timken works from engineering design to shop floor production. The Timken office design standards and protocols have and continue to evolve to meet the changes being introduced into the work place by the new technology. Connectivity, collaboration, and mobility are key components of our current office design standards. Technology has enabled Timken to improve quality, productivity, and our ability to introduce new products to meet customer needs and requirements.

Technology has changed the way knowledge workers communicate, design, plan, and share information and our workspace design has changed to meet the needs of the changing work style. Our associate workstations have changed in size and design as the typical knowledge worker duties has shifted from less individual focused tasks to more projects and teamwork. In our current North Canton Campus project, individual workstations are smaller, but we have doubled the number of seats available for project workrooms, team meeting areas, and open collaboration spaces for impromptu problem solving. All of these areas are equipped with audio conferencing and video sharing technology that will enable our associates to collaborate with each other around a table and around the world.

SSS: As you are in charge of planning the company’s office furniture standards, I’m interested in how you assess workers’ current needs and what you see as the biggest challenge in furnishing offices in 2013? And based on what you see today, what’s coming?

LT: The Timken Global Real Estate team has two primary tools to assess worker’s current needs for office design. First, we conduct detailed adjacency studies before major renovation or team relocation projects. The goal of the adjacency study is not only to identify the proximity requirement for teams to work together but also any special requirements for those teams. For example, we may need to alter the workstation neighborhood design to include an area for a computer lab for an engineering team responsible for developing computer simulation models.

Each real estate project is managed by a core project team; sub-teams are formed to address the audio-visual, IT, security, and furniture requirements.  These teams identify and specify design components based upon company standards and the business requirements documented in the adjacency study.

During the adjacency interviews, managers are asked how their teams work today and how they will work in the future. Their answers help drive the final workstation and office design, which includes the number and size of workstations and private offices. Seven years ago, Timken had over ten workstation standards based upon job level.  Today, we have just three standards: associate workstation, manager workstation, and private office. This change has simplified our office design and increased the flexibility of the workspace.

For the North Canton Campus project, we selected office furniture based upon a “kit of parts concept” that enables us to set up the same furniture in different styles.  Departments that still have associates performing a lot of individual focused work will have the Planner style, which provides three walls and more privacy. The Analyst style has two walls and a shared work surface between two associates for those departments where team collaboration is a key component of their day-to-day work. We know the future will bring change to the way we work. The kit of parts furniture solution will enable us to modify our associate workstations to fit their future work needs. The kit of parts design has also significantly reduced the number of individual components we need to maintain and store which reduces our storage space requirements and cost.

The second tool Timken uses to assess worker’s needs for office design is the customer satisfaction survey. Three to four months following a major project, we measure the effectiveness of the project in realizing the goals that were established.  If we introduce a new open collaboration space furniture solution, we want to know if it is being used as designed. If not, we want find out why not. Are there design changes we should make? Is there a culture permission issue that is preventing associates from using the space? The results from the customer satisfaction survey enable us to address immediate issues. The data collected from the customer satisfaction surveys also provides input to revise and improve our office design standards and procedures.

In 2013, the biggest challenge for Timken in office design is the paradox of standardized flexibility. Office design solutions need to provide flexibility to meet the needs of a diverse work force but also the efficiency and cost savings of a standardized solution. One of the reasons we partnered with Business Interiors by Staples and Allsteel furniture for our North Canton Campus project was the kit of parts concept. We selected a high quality furniture solution designed to be setup in work station neighborhoods to address today’s work requirements but is also flexible enough to change design and layout to meet the work requirements of tomorrow. With the same furniture components, managers can select the workstation style that meets their team’s needs. Within a workstation, an associate has the flexibility in selecting tool rail tools, marker board, monitor arm, and a task chair that meets their individual needs.

The future will continue to require office design to remain flexible and adjust to the way technology brings new changes to the way people work. Workspaces will become more virtual. “Bricks and mortar” offices will need to provide less “me” space for the individual associate and more “we” space where associates can work together. Virtual offices will become common and considered an extension if not a replacement for the assigned office workspace. Virtual offices will rely upon communication and social media technology to share and post information. The trophy wall of today’s office will be replaced by an electronic trophy wall where individuals will proudly pin their plaques, pictures, certificates, and accomplishments.

SSS: Let’s talk about regional and/or cultural differences of attitudes toward work and worker needs. For instance, one global company’s Shanghai boss told me, very proudly, that his office is filled with young workers, and they don’t need to think about generational issues. I’m really interested in local work, and how different worker needs are accommodated by global firms. Please tell local stories here.

LT: The Timken Company crosses geographies and cultures to deliver globally consistent products and services. The Global Real Estate team works with different areas of the company providing them the flexibility to design workspaces that meet their requirements while adhering to our guiding principles of office renovation and design projects.
These guiding principles focus on the fundamentals and are the foundation for our office design initiatives. Established over six years ago, these guiding principles are still relevant today and help maintain quality, cost control, and design consistency across all of the Timken locations. While different regions, cultures, and generations may have specific needs, focusing on the basic fundamental concepts with flexible workspace design solutions enables Timken to meet the needs of its diverse workforce.

The first office design principle is to allow Timken associates to choose an ergonomic task chair that best fits them. During office renovation projects, associates who do not have an ergonomic task chair are invited to a chair demo where they can test three standard task chairs and select the one that fits them best.
The design principles also contain detailed recommendations on specific paint colors, furniture type, and IT specifications while at the same time leaving options available for the local site to adjust to their specific requirements. Following these design specifications has enabled us to reuse furniture at different sites from Mesa, AZ to Canton, OH and many locations in between.

There are eight guiding principles for Timken real estate projects; four related to cost management and four related to design objectives.  The four design guiding principles are:

  1. Provide associates with ergonomic task chairs.
  2. Increase the number of conference rooms and meeting spaces.
  3. Decrease paper filing storage by at least 30%.
  4. Design a more open work environment.
    • Lower walls; work station panel heights 50” to 56” high.
    • More daylight; move offices away from the windows.
    • Central business centers; shared printers, copiers, and supplies.
    • Standard furniture; follow office design standards for size and color where possible.

SSS: You are also in charge of something called “workplace protocols.” It sounds diplomatic. Can you explain what these protocols look like in how offices are furnished today? Are there local deputies to enforce the global protocols and what do they report from the field?

LT: Workplace protocols are the guidelines, policies, and general information related to the workplace and building. The protocols cover topics ranging from where to park and where to enter the building to office etiquette and contact information for facilities and security.

The Timken Global Real Estate team adopted guiding principles for office design over six years ago. These design principles were developed to create workspace that would foster improved collaboration, attract and maintain talent, and improve the associate work environment. Many renovation projects significantly changed the office space; fewer offices, lower workstation panels, more collaborative spaces, and improved technology. Workplace protocols document the objectives of the changes implemented as part of the office renovation project and how to work in the new office space. The facilities team and local management work together to address issues, concerns, and behaviors that do not comply with the building protocols.

For the North Canton Campus project, workplace protocols are documented in a Welcome Book that will be distributed to each associate at move in day. There are nine sections in the Welcome Book with section one listing the key building contact information. In the Workstation section, six policies are listed that identify what is allowed and not allowed in the workstation. For example, Timken has a clean desk policy. One of the workstation protocols documents that workstations should be cleaned up and documents stored and locked when associates leave for the day.

SSS: With all the changes going on in the workplace, mostly driven by technology but also generational and cultural differences, supporting the firm’s global communication needs has become essential. Can you describe how your buildings accommodate this wide-ranging connectivity in your various offices? How do you connect the offices and what tools (electronic and furnishing) do you use to achieve the results needed?

LT: Connectivity is the key directive for today’s workplace. At Timken, connectivity solutions are incorporated into the design from the beginning. First, wireless connectivity is now available at all Timken locations. Many Timken locations have guest wireless to provide internet access for customers, vendors, and other visitors.

Secondly, Timken is committed to providing easy to use connectivity solutions in different types of workspaces. All associate workstations have two wired data connections. Conference rooms and meeting spaces are all equipped with data, power, and an audiovisual projector or screen. Larger conference rooms also include Polycom teleconference equipment. Many of the open collaboration spaces include push button AV controls that simplify the sharing and switching of display between presenters.  Timken also uses video conferencing to connect our offices in Canton, France, and India.

Read more posts about the Workplace of the Future: Q&A: Jan Johnson on the Workplace of the FutureQ&A: Tom KrizmanicQ&A: Alison KwiatkowskiQ&A: Paul Darrah

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