CASE STUDY: The Impact of COVID-19 and Remote Work on Space Planning for INDOT’s Central Office

The situation | Consistent with an overall goal of “Taking INDOT to the Next Level,” as well as priorities to recruit and retain an exceptional workforce, the Indiana Department of Transportation recognized a need to update their work environment. While work processes and technology had evolved over time, the agency’s workspace had stayed largely the same. Private offices around the perimeter of their three floors reduced natural light available to the employees working in tall cubicles. Employees had limited areas for small-group collaboration. INDOT was living with too much space and not enough functionality.

The acceleration of remote working | In the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, INDOT—like most organizations with office-based employees—quickly shifted to a work-from-home arrangement. While the pandemic has created a host of challenges, it has also created new opportunities and accelerated many office trends. Specifically, the work-from-home shift has allowed organizations to re-imagine their workspaces and re-think what their employees need to be productive and effective. For INDOT and its employees, the shift to remote work affirmed that they could still meet their goals, even if everyone wasn’t coming into the office every day. This transition was the opportunity INDOT needed to implement changes that were already on their radar, as well as additional transformations that accommodated the new reality.

Creating an optimized workplace | Having engaged CORE Planning Strategies in 2018 to create a space assessment, INDOT again called upon CORE to revisit and implement the proposed space plan through a 2020 lens. Focusing on INDOT’s 700-employee Central Office located in the State Government Center in Indianapolis, CORE conducted a survey of department directors to determine how much time employees spend working on equipment housed only at the office, as well as how much time they require for in-person, face-to-face work. The results determined:

  • 6% of employees need to spend the majority of their time in the office (non-remote employees)
  • 14% of employees need to spend half their time in the office (split employees)
  • 80% of employees can spend most of their time working remotely (remote employees)

Combined with findings from the 2018 study, the survey results guided recommendations on the amount and size of workstations, how many workstations would be assigned versus open, as well as where departments and support spaces should be located to foster collaboration and improved efficiencies. The new, open layout provides assigned workstations for non-remote employees, non-assigned workstations for the remaining employees, and new spaces for both small-group collaboration and privacy. The quantity of workstations incorporates contingencies to accommodate future growth and fluctuations on the days that split employees come into the office.

Results | As a result of their 2020 space plan, INDOT reduced their office space at the Indiana Government Center from three full floors to two full floors. By providing more access to lighting, meeting, and support spaces, the renovated office levels the playing field between departments; only one person—the commissioner—now has a private office. The renovation also resulted in:

Keys to success | INDOT’s experience provides relevant takeaways for organizations interested in analyzing and reconfiguring their spaces.

Establish realistic timelines. Because INDOT had commissioned a space planning study in 2018, they had a running start on the data collection and dialogue needed to reconfigure their space. Organizations should ideally plan at least three months for staff and leadership surveys, planning, and design. Depending on procurement requirements, it can take from two to eight weeks to solicit quotes and secure contracts. Plan on at least two months for restructuring existing workstations for electrical and networking connections, and add in lead time for new workstations, wall reconfigurations, and flooring. INDOT required four months to renovate 80,000 square feet of office space.

Understand the impact of technology. As organizations have shifted to a more open office environment and remote work, desktops have been replaced with laptops, and Wi-Fi is replacing data ports. INDOT’s use of AutoCAD and other technical programs called for the addition of wireless datapoints to increase bandwidth and maintain productivity. For technical staff that require computers that can run intensive programs and applications, INDOT invests in desktop units. Staff use virtual private networks (VPN) to access the desktop remotely from a laptop, and INDOT has a room dedicated just to VPN desktop units with appropriately designed network ports, power, and HVAC systems.

Create policies that take individuals’ needs into account. Organizations’ work policies should include information about how they will provide support with technology and furnishings, as well as identify conditions where individuals may need to spend more time in the office. When considering employees’ office standards, there’s usually at least one exception to the rule. For example, an employee could live in a rural part of the state where network connectivity doesn’t allow for VPN access. It’s important to understand where the rules don’t apply, because if an employee is forced into a standard that doesn’t fit, it can cause disruptions and inefficiencies.

Conclusion | The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges and tragedies that today’s workforce has never experienced before. Yet along with the dramatic changes, it has also led to a realization that some employees can—and prefer to—work remotely. Analyzing those possibilities, abilities, and interests through a strategic space plan can help organizations meet the needs of their employees while being more effective stewards of their funds.

Does your organization need help analyzing your space or coordinating and managing the technical details of an office reconfiguration? Contact us to discuss!

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