Interview with Dinesh Acharya

Leitura de 8min

How to plan an adequate space?

How do you plan a suitable space that reflects the workflow, the management model and the company culture while paying attention to comfort and the need for interaction between teams? Have corporate offices developed to keep pace with cultural and economic evolution and the way society thinks about work? These and other questions were discussed in May at Worktech 13 in São Paulo. The event, held for the first time in Latin America, brought together Brazilian and international professionals to discuss issues related to the future of work and working environments.

Panorama spoke with Dinesh Acharya, the director of workplace strategy and strategic consulting at JLL, based in New York, who was a mediator for one of the Worktech Sessions. Check it out.

Panorama – The purpose of Worktech is to discuss the future of work and the working environment. In your view, what are the global trends that we can expect for the coming years in the commercial buildings sector?

Dinesh Acharya – Today, office buildings and workplaces need to respond to global business drivers, which are related to financial performance, agility, hyper-collaboration, innovation, resilience, sustainability and attracting and retaining diverse talents. This means that workplace standards are moving away from the “one size fits all” model towards a more agile space distribution where those in charge have more choices and greater flexibility to choose the space that is most productive for the task at hand. More and more, the range of options is not limited to the physical office space; it now includes a vast network of choices including working from home, satellite offices and ‘other places’ in the urban universe.


Panorama – The main topic to be discussed at the event is the future of the working environment. In your opinion, how has the working environment evolved in recent years and what we can expect in the coming years?

Dinesh Acharya – The ‘traditional’ modern office was based on individual working practices and backed up by processes, which meant that most of the working space was given over to individual activities. This solution is out of step with the practices of knowledge-based work, now adopted by most organizations, which require joint work by teams in different locations and time zones. Technology is redefining the workplace by making it possible to automate process-based tasks, with the rapid exchange of information and geography-independent work (teleworking). This is a generational change, and it also requires an approach to the workplace that looks to the future, anticipating the needs of the next generation. As organizations deal with these workplace-related challenges, so we can expect the emergence of work practices that are increasingly agile and that place a renewed focus on the importance of collaboration, collective action, diversity and the values of the brand in the workplace.


Panorama – How can the working environment impact a company’s productivity? Can you give some examples of techniques or methods that ensure the highest possible productivity?

Dinesh Acharya – Measured by output, or by result, productivity will depend on a company’s ability to get the most out of its employees in relation to organizational goals. It’s important to identify the specific result yardstick used by the company to define its productivity. Once this factor for measuring the result has been defined, the organization should seek to leverage its physical workspace and measure the degree to which the workplace can influence its productivity. The right workplace can boost productivity through various factors: speed and quality of decision-making, innovation, rapid response to change, health and wellness, attraction and retention of talent and minimizing the time lost through workplace inefficiencies. Given that organizations are in a constant state of flux, it’s important to regularly measure performance in the workplace using interviews, surveys, observational studies, focus groups and so on. The aim is to ensure that the workplace acts as a support base for individual and team productivity.


Panorama – Do you see any synergies in new technologies and sustainability practices in the workplace? What can we expect in the coming years?

Dinesh Acharya – Even a ‘green’ building will not be sustainable if it’s left empty most of the time. Innovations such as ‘thin client’ computer technology, ‘blade’ servers and LED lighting can reduce power consumption, but the most significant impact that technology has on sustainability is that it simultaneously increases mobility (via mobile devices and wireless connectivity) and decreases mobility (via tools for virtual collaboration). This means that organizations can adopt agile work practices that can reduce the real estate footprint, energy consumption and the emissions associated with travel to and from work, while also reducing emissions caused by long distance travel. Companies will continue to leverage mobile and collaborative technologies through the coming years. They will use buildings more intensively and/or look for ways to distribute the workplace that can improve their use, efficiency and sustainability.


Panorama – Many people live in big cities, and no matter how good the urban infrastructure, mobility is a very important factor that also impacts productivity. What is your opinion of home offices and how do you create high performance workgroups in this kind of situation?

Dinesh Acharya – Having the option of occasionally working from home can give employees the ability to work without distraction, improve the balance between personal and professional life and reduce the time lost and the carbon emissions associated with commuting to and from work. Research suggests that these policies can help boost the attraction and retention of talent and increase employee involvement. However, any option for home working should be backed up by a program to manage the change to ensure that the expectations and performance parameters are clearly defined, that communication tools are used and that there are regular points of contact for employees to interact with their managers and teams. In some cases, the option of working from home might be more suitable for high-performance employees who are already meeting performance expectations. In this way companies can maintain the integrity of their workplace programs.


Panorama – Even though the economic scenario is still stable, Brazil must overcome some huge obstacles if it is to keep growing in the long run. Taking the United States and Europe as examples, can we say that an efficient working environment contributes to an atmosphere that is more conducive to growth? If so, can you point to any success stories?

Dinesh Acharya – It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s possible to simultaneously increase efficiency and accommodate ‘spaceless’ growth. The key factor here is to question the idea that everyone needs to have their own desk all the time. In fact, workplace usage studies show that desks are used for less than 50% of the time, on average. Companies are better positioned to accommodate growth and organizational change when they break the link between the individual and his or her desk. One of the best-known examples of corporate agility is the activity-based workplace concept of the Macquarie Bank in Sydney, Australia, where 3,000 employees have demonstrated their flexibility from the first day of working without their own desks. Some 800 new employees were added to the previous 3,000 in the first year of occupying the new area without the need for additional desks and without any cost for reorganization of space. Macquarie Bank’s goal is to save US$100 million over 10 years, and 92% of employees say they don’t want to go back to the system of having their own desks, while 70% have brought in family and friends to see the office. The bank considers this to be a meaningful metric of employee engagement.

In the United States and Europe, companies such as Accenture, Cisco, GSA, GSK, Microsoft and Shell are among the many that are using flexible working practices to promote efficiency while accommodating growth and changes over time.