Designing the Digital Workplace: Georgia-Pacific

May 23, 2018


The vision of the “modern office” holds a great deal of promise. Today’s workplace is transforming how we do business, valuing efficiency and mobility in unprecedented ways. The flexible office decreases real estate costs while enabling the workforce to be more productive, more collaborative, and more inspired.

But what exactly does that model look like in practice?

To see one example in action, look no further than the experience of EMS customer Georgia-Pacific, the world's leading makers of tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, building products and related chemicals. As detailed in a recent ZDNet article Georgia-Pacific recently overhauled its Atlanta headquarters, and it’s a great story of how shifting from traditional cubicles to the modern workspace provides employees with the environment they need to thrive.

Here are five top takeaways from the article:

  1. First, gather the data. Your enterprise probably knows that your workspace is underutilized, but do you know exactly how underutilized? A recent JLL survey shows that on average, 30-40% of space is underutilized every day. Consider space wasted in meetings alone; while 73% of meetings have just 2-4 people in them, 53% of meeting room space can accommodate more than 7 people. Clearly, there’s room for improvement.

    Georgia-Pacific looked at its own data and discovered that its conference rooms, which could hold up to a dozen individuals, typically had at most 3-4 people in them at a time. Once the company realized this, it made data-driven decisions about the best ways to lay out meeting spaces. Georgia-Pacific redesigned each floor so that they had the optimal mixture of rooms of various sizes.
  2. Offer plenty of options. “When you let introverts be introverts and extroverts be extroverts, employees are bound to find more job satisfaction.” That was one of the main takeaways from the EMS Workplace of the Future Forum Europe held last fall, where we looked at how to create better, more vibrant workspaces. David Watts of CCD Design & Ergonomics emphasized that everyone has different working styles, and offices that allow for these differences are the most successful.

    Such is the case at the Georgia-Pacific offices, where the company has embraced the idea of offering a variety of workspaces. Employees have the option of working in the space that best suits their needs, whether it be a seated or standing desk, a focus room for performing tasks that require individual concentration, huddle rooms for small group work, or a conference room for larger meetings.
  3. Plan for technology. One of the keys to a successful digital office is making sure the technology in place supports your flexibility goals. Analysts at Forrester have identified this hurdle as a key impediment in the move to a modern workspace, saying that “often, organizations have an insufficient understanding of how employees use technologies in their daily work, leading to inappropriate decisions about the choice of technology and how to implement it so employees will find it useful.”

    Employees at Georgia-Pacific are empowered by technology that gives them the necessary mobility to do their jobs. They can access resources seamlessly when moving around using a mobile app, which allows them to book workspaces from any location. Wireless headsets with sufficient ranges enable workers to pop into focus rooms to take phone calls, and desks are equipped with all the devices needed to turn a laptop into a full-feature desktop computer system, complete with dual monitors and webcams, simply by plugging in a USB cord.
  4. Start small. The Atlanta headquarters building is home to roughly 2,700 employees (with a portion working remotely or at production facilities). The company began the shift to a more modern office by renovating only a small section on just one floor. Doing so allowed them to test out the proposed technology, furniture and layout — and allowed employees to get comfortable with the change before it happened.

    “They had fears of incredibly tiny desks, and were just imagining the worst," noted Shawn Kennedy, an IT architect at Georgia Pacific. “Once they saw it, the overall response was, 'I can't wait.'"
  5. Communication is key. As hinted at above, one of the biggest barriers in the move to a modern office can be employee resistance. For many, change can be scary. But with the right approach, including plenty of communication, you can turn employee resistance into employee engagement.

    One of the ways in which Georgia-Pacific helped overcome employees’ fear of the unknown was by creating a website that featured plenty of videos and demonstrations. Individuals could see ahead of time what changes were proposed and arm themselves with the knowledge necessary to adapt. In addition, project leaders sent out regular communications in the forms of emails and fliers to keep everyone in the loop.

Georgia-Pacific’s experience shows that a redesigned workspace can better serve the needs of today’s changing workforce. Is your organization making the switch to a more flexible workspace? If you’re interested in seeing the trends shaping the modern workplace, we invite you to download our eBook, Top Trends in Workspace Optimization 2018.