Two colleagues from the Administration of former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam have teamed-up with a new consulting firm focused on a timely topic – workspace needs as employees are either returning to offices or preparing to do so after months of remote work due to the coronavirus.
Baskin Strategies was co-founded by Reen Baskin who, among other roles, served as Deputy Director of Customer Focused Government (CFG), and Terry Cowles, a long-time Deloitte Partner who was Director of the CFG initiative.
The two launched the firm in November 2018 before COVID-19 caused the rapid flight of individuals from offices to remote work. As stated on the company’s webpage, their focus is on what the two call “Leading Work Solutions.” The concept involves “implementing employee flexibility, modernized policies and collaborative workspaces” to “increase workforce productivity and reduce square footage needs across your owned and leased facilities.”
Both Baskin and Cowles emphasize the old adage that “form follows function,” namely that the job functions, both in terms of employees and customer service, are considered first. “Space is simply an actor,” Baskin explains, adding, “A company should lease space based on the work being performed.”
During their time with the CFG effort, the two led something called the State of Tennessee Alternative Work Solutions Program. Many saw it as a real estate initiative designed to reduce the footprint of owned and leased space and, in some respects, it was, but there was more to it.
“What made it so successful was the people side . . . the increased job satisfaction and productivity,” Baskin says in retrospect, emphasizing those two important outcomes. Now, with so many people having been forced almost immediately to work remotely since mid-March, Cowles notes that “the work environment has changed forever,” yet he wonders how prepared employers are for something he refuses to call the “new normal.”
The mid-March decisions to quickly vacate offices were based on health and safety considerations – all very valid, but not on the long-term strategic needs of the business. “No organization took it (a strategic evaluation of remote work) as they were forced to act so quickly due to the pandemic,” Cowles says. More important, many employers lacked policies that clearly articulated ways that employee performance would be evaluated.
Now, as offices begin to reopen and employees return to their former work sites, Baskin and Cowles say the timing could not be better for an evaluation of what is truly best for all parties – employers, employees and customers.
“You’re going to see a (long-term) increase in employee flexibility,” Baskin predicts. “Employees now have a taste for it even though it was forced on them,” clearly implying that many will be reluctant to work full-time in an office environment.
Sorting through all of the options is where Baskin and Cowles are focused. The firm’s “Leading Work Solutions” process starts with a thorough analysis of each employee position to determine the appropriate type of flexible work arrangement.
“We believe employee flexibility should be based on the job function being performed,” Baskin and Cowles say.
In addition to an analysis of workforce flexibility options, Baskin Strategies also provides consulting in performance management (personalized productivity measures and performance metrics), workspace analysis (size, style and type of work area), workforce flexibility implementation (managing the process), workspace optimization, and real estate optimization.
If companies are concerned about social distancing, for example, Cowles says, “We’ll show you how to make that same number of people fit into the existing space.” If there are office standards such as square footage, depending on level of position, “We will unravel all of that based on what each position needs.”
In the end, Baskin says it’s all about maximizing an employer’s return on investment in its employees and its space.