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How can R&D firms develop a workplace that delivers results?

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May 29, 2017
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Every company has its own specific combination of workplace requirements but those in the research and development (R&D) sector tend to have more rigid prerequisites than most.

It’s not just about housing high-tech equipment or even hazardous materials, it’s also about creating workplaces which can allow firms conducting R&D in fields from engineering to biopharma to respond quickly to major evolving trends.

With technology driven change in strategy and process, today’s scientific workplaces need to be able to adapt whether it’s shorter cycle times from concept to creation or rapid prototyping using innovations such as 3D printing or automation.

And most importantly, successful R&D companies need access to talent with highly specialized skill sets.

“Traditionally, workplace strategies for the R&D sector have focused heavily on health and safety parameters, minimizing disruption to lab environments and optimizing planning for capital intensive research or lab resources,” says Sandy Craik, Vice President, Tenant Representation Group, JLL Canada. “A more holistic approach to the workplace can help these organizations respond better to the trends influencing their business – where they locate, how their space is designed and how they manage organizational change.”

Getting the right people with smart location choices

The right location is critical to recruiting and retaining highly skilled professionals who do the cutting edge work. Given the technical know-how involved and build-up of knowledge over time, the cost to train talent is high, with attrition costs being even higher.

As such, R&D companies need to identify locations close to established talent hubs or emerging talent pools that have good public transit access and can minimize travel times for employees. Commercial spaces also need to have the right mix of nearby amenities.

“A combined view of labor pool analytics, market scans based on specific parameters (such as emerging talent hubs), employee travel time analytics and a close look at competitor strategies can help companies gain an edge in the battle for talent,” says Nick Joosten, Executive Vice President and National Leader for JLL Canada’s Project and Development Services.

Workplace design also acts as a significant differentiator when it comes to attracting the best people and providing them with an environment for them to their best work.

Scientific R&D environments house lab space; typically these zones are sequestered or have restricted access either on account of intellectual property or hazardous material handling. “This impacts workplace design decisions, as any movement post the initial set-up has a significant cost and business disruption implications,” says Joosten. “Therefore, an important feature to workplace design in such environments is determining who interacts with these spaces, the frequency of interaction and their specialized workplace needs.”

Data on how each workplace is used along with insights on employees’ needs and aspirations can help to create a comprehensive design brief. This in turn can be used to create spaces that encourage knowledge transfer and collaboration – areas in the workplace both formal and informal, to encourage workplace collisions – chance encounters and unplanned interactions that improve performance.

Engaging people through smart change management

Not all R&D companies are expanding into new space; some are aiming to transform existing workspaces – and minimizing disruption during the process is vital.

Understanding the needs of the individual business, identifying the specific changes required, mapping stakeholder groups, engaging employees and incentivizing new workplace habits are all important steps within a sustainable change program. And it must be governed by systems, processes and structures that support the change, says Ram Srinivasan, Vice President and hub lead, JLL Canada Consulting.

“Effective change management ensures space is used as intended,” Srinivasan adds. “Through the transformation journey, as employees better understand how to utilize settings that support their work as well as the people they are with, they will become more empowered to decide which space best suits their needs.”

There’s no single process for achieving the perfect blend to workplace success for R&D companies. However, by harnessing the right mix of location, design and effective change, companies can create a dynamic and compelling work environment that helps employees take the organization to the next level.

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