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Genentech is building a way to work better


Genentech, recognized as the first biotechnology company in history, is a leader in basic and applied research in human genetic information. A member of the Roche Group since 2009, Genentech’s South San Francisco campus now serves as the headquarters for Roche pharmaceutical operations in the United States.

Founded in 1976, the company expanded rapidly ultimately spreading across 65 buildings in and around the company headquarters. Over 11,000 employees work on site in many buildings spread around its urban campus. For years, the company has offered private buses, which transport about 50% of the employees to and from work, and also between buildings on campus.

In 2013, Genentech’s Workplace Effectiveness team began to investigate new approaches to work environment design. Several factors drove the need for workplace change. These included external factors such as the changing workforce demographic and the challenges of working globally plus internal factors such as a desire to energize the workplace, maximize the use of technology, and use real estate resources more efficiently.

Genentech’s Workplace Effectiveness team decided to take a scientific, data-driven approach to work environment design. “Instead of basing decisions on traditional design, we are experimenting with a science-driven methodology in order to discover better ways to support work today as it evolves with technology and globalization,” said Ann Bamesberger, Genentech’s Senior Director of Workplace Effectiveness.

“Through space utilization surveys and observation, we learned that 50 to 70 percent of our people are out of their designated workspace on any given day,” Bamesberger added. “Rather than continuing to put money into real estate that is not being used, we began looking at ways to help our people become more efficient, more innovative, and develop holistic work environments that encourage the use of technology, practices and spaces that nurture both connections for better problem-solving and choices for working better.”

Optimaze, working with a team of Genentech workplace planners and designers, began the task of work environment transformation. Optimaze served as lead consultant on the project, providing a methodology, pattern book, analyses and recommendations to guide the process.

A new research method

The Optimaze research methodology involved several steps:

  1. The executive team was interviewed to identify business objectives and desired outcomes.
  2. Once the objectives were identified, the company conducted a series of workshops with business managers and individual contributors to determine the work practices needed to achieve those objectives and develop ways to measure them. “We measure the work environment’s ability to enable the behavior,” Bamesberger said. “That way, it’s not about tastes or preferences or hunches, it’s about responding to the data.”
  3. Additional workshops were held with staff to identify and explore the toolsneeded to support the work practices identified. These workshops drilled down to specific details, using the Optimaze Pattern Book kit of parts, with social, technological, and physical enabler options. “People came to the workshop and co-developed the total work environment with us and, as a result, change management is minimized as the system is intended to support desired work practices, articulated by the work group itself,” Bamesberger explained.

Rapid prototyping

The Workplace Effectiveness team is currently testing several prototypes with user groups within the company. Rapid prototyping encourages choice and experimentation. “We don’t expect to get it right the first time,” Bamesberger  said. “We’re committed to tinkering with the prototype until we get it right.“

Prototypes aren’t just about what a work environment looks like physically, she added, but include decisions about team agreements and tools, and the best technology toolset to adopt. “Instead of informal, ad hoc team agreements, our prototype teams have explicit, formal team agreements specifying understandings for work locations, times, technology use and resources,” Bamesberger said. Teams are fully trained in a technology toolset and they are provided with a choice of places to work from a menu of places. “We are utilizing technology, spatial relationships and team commitments to support connections and choices, ultimately with the intention to support better work outcomes.”

Work Better

The result is a new workplace model called Work Better. Data driven, with metrics architecture, the model translates research into action. ”We focus on work practices,not standards based on job levels,” Bamesberger said. “Optimaze continues to bring us the experience and solid research approach that have been perfect for an innovative science-based company. They are able to adapt their experience and tools to Genentech’s specific needs, and they combine a clear logic with a real sensitivity to Genentech’s unique culture.”