The Nature of Work

Penny Bonda, FASID

Kevin Kampschroer, director of research for the GSA's Public Buildings Service, helps set new directions for how the GSA—the nation's largest landlord—does business, using its Workplace 20•20 research program as the platform to examine the relat


Gaining a true understanding of the relationship between the physical environment and people, between human behavior and personal productivity is crucial to design teams and facility managers. When you move 60,000 people into 25 million square feet of new space around the country every year, year in and year out, it becomes especially essential.

As the primary landlord for all executive branch agencies of the federal government, the U.S. General Services Administration Public Buildings Service (PBS) is responsible for over 1.1 million employees, and hasn't always, admittedly, done a good job of housing them in an inventory of more than 334 million square feet of space. Changing circumstances—an aging inventory, security concerns, evolving technology, high churn rates, sustainable design mandates and the need to compete to attract and retain workers—have dictated a re-thinking not only of GSA's procedures, but also of their core values. Transformation began in the mid-'90s with the creation of portfolio management as a discipline, but it's been in the last two years that the agency has made groundbreaking advances in setting new directions for how they do business.

This progress is due in large part to the efforts of Kevin Kampschroer, director of research for PBS, who has established a full-fledged research project to examine and measure the relationship between space and productivity. He is, in his words, super-charged about his work because "it's really about understanding what people do before you try to figure out how to house them in any kind of physical environment or even whether they'd need a physical space in the traditional sense at all." That he's changing the nature of work at GSA, and very probably beyond, is unquestionable, partly because this sort of research hasn't been done before and partly because of the scope of the undertaking.

It began, Kampschroer reports, by looking at the areas of GSA's business that it didn't understand, and identifying where it thought it needed better knowledge. GSA had done a lot of outsourcing over the years, the theory being that outsourcing gets you the best thinking in the industry. Depending on how it's done, though, it can also result in low cost thinking, or worse, no thinking. With GSA's size and market reach, it really made sense to take a leadership role. Also, research into the interrelationships among people, place, process and technology had not been done from a scientific point of view. By and large, most of the available data was anecdotal and not statistically valid. An immediate objective was to impose some scientific rigor.

The goal of the research is to obtain quantifiable and robust data that will inform all future GSA building decisions and support the mission and businesses of the agency:

* Provide a world-class workplace for a
world-class work force.
* Enhance and maximize the performance
and value of the PBS portfolio of buildings.
* Implement sustainable buildings practices.
* Broaden understanding of the knowledge
of work and the workplace.
* Affect change.

To assure the best possible results, Kampschroer first assembled a diverse group of partners drawn from the public sector, academia and corporations, and he is quick to credit their invaluable contributions to the success of the program. Together they formed a framework around which the research is structured, one that studies the interactions between the 3B's—buildings, business and behavior—and acknowledges the lack of data about the intersections of the three. To further guarantee the best and broadest outcome, the team is currently developing an omnibus research contract vehicle so that anybody can participate. For example, as Kampschroer explains, "If someone wants to research the relationship between personality type and position and physical space, they can come to us and ask us to find a project to match their criteria and we would do it. Or, in the reverse where we have a client who is very interested in increasing collaboration, we'll find the behavioral scientists who truly understand how to measure social networks and we'll connect them. So, we will have this contracting vehicle where you can either get outside ideas for what's interesting to research, or you can go through us and find a researcher who is qualified to do the work. That will enable many different groups of people to be involved."

From this structure an auxiliary program called Workplace 20

  • 20 evolved to insure that the research wasn't conducted solely from an academic point of view. Real business environments were going to have to be studied and measured in order for the results to be truly legitimate. The basic concept of Workplace 20
  • 20 is to gather an accumulation of best practices and turn them into a process that people can actually implement. A minimum of 22 projects will be monitored and measured with the results published. It seeks to create a balance between people, place and process that's optimum for each organization. Its goal is to establish priorities, categorize value and measure results, not once, but as a constantly evolving process.

    Kampschroer describes the relationship between the research program and Workplace 20
  • 20 as a two-way street. "Workplace 20
  • 20 is our process for getting the work done; every time we learn something that we can rely on from the research, we change the Workplace 20
  • 20 process. Workplace 20
  • 20 is the accumulation of everything that we've learned, while the research is looking for a particular thing for a particular client on a particular project."

    The first three partners for Workplace 20
  • 20—HOK, Gensler and DEGW—were carefully chosen through a very clear qualification process defining what each brought to the table. Securing their participation wasn't difficult: they collectively decide what is researched and, in the end, they have the data and can take it with them and continue to use it, even after they've left the project.

    Kampschroer has seen the results of his research firsthand and, as an example, cites a project in Chicago, IL, where the staff felt they didn't have enough meeting rooms. Using a terrific observational technique developed by Frank Duffy from DEGW, they were able to gather a great deal of data very effectively. Of course, the evidence empirically showed that the existing conference rooms weren't being used. The difficulty, then, became reconciling this observation with the seven or eight different group's across-the-board insistence that they didn't have enough meeting rooms. In the end it wasn't so much the number of meeting rooms, but rather their size, location and their "ownership" by a particular group. As Kampschroer explains, "the meeting rooms were in the wrong place, owned by others, without a centralized reservation system and they were all too big. Most of the rooms were designed for 20 or more people while most meetings are two- or three-person events."

    This focus on meetings and collaborations isn't accidental because, for a lot of the projects that are currently underway, increasing communication and team building are a major organizational goal. One group of 45 users now have five meeting rooms—a huge number, but one that reflects GSA's changing space standards as a result of its research. Old-fashioned space planning and utilization figures are being discarded because, as Kampschroer explains, the point is that people can have their meetings whenever they want.

    PBS has also tackled the concept that office size reflects an employee's position or grade. It's easier, Kampschroer admits, to allocate space that way rather than going through the hard work of collecting data. Often times, though, space allocation doesn't reflect what people do or the amount of time they spend in their offices. Research has shown that most people overestimate their office time, using it instead as touchdown space. As a result, GSA is rethinking the amount of space that's needed for different activities and at different levels.

    Kampschroer has come to believe that the whole theory of interior planning is based on a fundamentally flawed concept: that you can go into an organization and figure out what it's going to need for 10 years, and design for it. "You can't," he insists, "because no organization in the modern world stays the same for 10 years. We've finally realized that fixed wall space with its physical infrastructure inflexibility is really nuts for a modern organization. So we're starting to see that change along with the number of projects that we do. We're starting to try and do fewer projects, but better ones as a result. Jamming 40 projects through the pipeline with a fixed amount of money and skimping on this and that is not the way to go. We'll do fewer projects, but do them really well."

    One of the research tools that has helped drive these changes is the Adaptable Workplace Lab, an 11,000-square-foot space installed on the seventh floor of the GSA headquarters building in Washington, DC. It's been outfitted with features such as raised flooring, plug-and-play, non-imbedded mobile technology, and individual control of environmental systems. Home to a working division of GSA whose staff have agreed to let themselves get studied and poked at over a long period of time, its purpose is to enable the examination of various workplace conditions in a flexible environment.

    An important aspect of the research program is the development of a set of baseline measures that will be used on every project, so that, for example, an examination of the effects of telecommuting or office sharing on internal communication also measures temperature, indoor air quality and other conditions, even though those issues are not part of the primary study. Kampschroer believes that this will evolve into a very rich database.

    "Our protocol is to have a set of measures in many areas—behavior, the physical environment, the building conditions, etc.—which will get us the data that isn't carried in any other database. What we're really looking for are very economical ways of collecting data. I'm interested in doing cross-sectional research on the relationship between, say, an overhead-based system that is 30 years old versus under-floor systems that are 10 years old, and their relative long-term effects on healthy buildings and their occupants. Our database will enable that kind of research as we go forward."

    He recognizes, of course, that this process takes a long time, but has structured it so that lessons learned can quickly be put into practice. For example, traditional overhead lighting installations don't work with open plan environments, and the correct split between ambient and task lighting becomes unbalanced and ineffective. Low-energy task lights will become the building norm.

    The research has also shown that the study of an organization must have a component of observation by an impartial observer simply because most people are not terribly self-aware when asked to report their activities, especially the miscellaneous ones. Most workers can identify the amount of time spent on major activities such as report writing but err on remembering the little snippets of time spent on the phone. The appropriateness of any workplace design will reflect a significant mismatch if the design team relies on what it's been told; therefore, observation will become a standard planning procedure.

    Kampschroer's group has also noticed that the narrower buildings they study rate higher in comfort and satisfaction surveys than those with wider footprints due, of course, to the increased number of workers who have good access to natural daylight and views. As a result, GSA may begin demanding narrower buildings from their designers and real estate developers to insure that no one is farther than 25 feet from a window—even though the economics may not be as favorable for the building owners.

    * Public Works & Government Services-Canada
    * Veterans Administration
    * National Institutes of Health
    * Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC)

    * Carnegie Mellon
    * MIT-Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    * Georgia Tech
    * University of Michigan
    * University of California, Berkeley
    * University of Washington
    * Pacific NW Labs

    Private Sector:
    * Hines
    * DEGW
    * HOK
    * Gensler
    * Spaulding & Slye-Colliers International

    Kampschroer states that it's vitally important to the success of their research to get more data on the effects of healthy buildings and acknowledges that there's much to be learned. The research that's been done, he explains, tends to be extraordinarily specific and narrow. Buildings are, of course, non-specific and broad by their nature; because many systems are interlinked, it is tricky to get a comprehensive picture. This may explain, in part, GSA's donation, through Kampschroer's office, of the funding of the LEED™ for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) pilot program, made last year to the U.S. Green Building Council. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the chair of the LEED-CI committee and am immensely grateful to Kevin and his colleague, Don Horn, for their support of this program.)

    Kampschroer is not your typical government wonk. With a history of architecture degree from Yale, he had a classic liberal arts education—one-third in the liberal arts, one-third in the social sciences and one-third in the hard sciences. Growing up as a military brat, Kampschroer has had his share of moving around, including three years in Japan when he was a young boy. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that he has stayed put and spent close to 30 years with the Public Building Service of GSA, working for 16 years in the Washington regional office, and then for the national office.

    "It's been terrific," he says. "They're a great employer, and the thing that's been wonderful for me is that I just keep getting new challenges that keep me really, really engaged. I was the first project manager for the Ronald Reagan Building, and I worked on the creation of portfolio management, and now this program here, which I think is just terrific." Joe Moravec, the commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, put it this way: "We are a public institution; our duty is not just to serve our customers, but to serve the greater good of the American people."

    Kevin Kampschroer wholeheartedly agrees!