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Silicon Valley college district investigates work environment options


Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Foothill–De Anza Community College District offers credit classes for about 64,000 students each year. As one of the largest community college districts in the United States, Foothill-De Anza provides a wide range of courses for its students at two campuses.

The District has an opportunity to renovate an older building on the Foothill College campus to bring their Educational Technology Services (ETS) staff together in a new kind of work environment.

– Today, staff are scattered all over the place in a wide variety of office settings–some in temporary buildings, said Art Heinrich, Architect and Director, Bond Project Management at Foothill – De Anza Community College District. The District’s goal is to consolidate about 2/3rds of the staff into a single 14,000 square foot building, housing about 43 people and areas to interact with faculty and staff.

As part of the planning process, the college contacted Optimaze, Inc. to run business intent interviews and workshops with members of the ETS staff. Armed with the data from these exercises, Optimaze consultants developed sketch scenarios to envision ways to use the physical space in the existing building.

Identifying the need for change

Business intent interviews uncovered several key drivers. Business leaders expressed a desire for improved collaboration with an environment that promoted greater interaction both within and across their groups, as well as between ETS and the department’s faculty and staff customers. They wanted to embrace some of the best practices of other organizations and develop a work environment that would help them compete for Silicon Valley tech talent. Such an environment would be a substantial departure from what they have today.

– We’re hoping to achieve a way to think differently about space, said Joseph Moreau, Vice Chancellor of Technology at Foothill-De Anza Community College District. – Traditionally we think about space in terms of possession, but we wanted staff to think about this whole building as their space.

Once initial interviews were completed, Optimaze held a series of workshops with members of the ETS community to learn about current works behaviors, tools and work practices needed to be productive, and to identify future needs. – We wanted to look at what our staff tolerance was towards moving in the direction of more open and collaborative work spaces and didn’t want to end up with a building full of unhappy people, Moreau explained.

Positive results

When the process was complete, Optimaze consultants presented their findings to the District’s design team. – The Optimaze process gave ETS employees a sense of ownership, Heinrich said. Another plus was the fact that the Optimaze consultant had an IT background, and this really helped with credibility. – This let us know that we’re talking the same language, Heinrich added.

Moreau summed up “three really good outcomes” of the Optimaze consulting process:

  1. Awareness-generation. The Optimaze team helped our staff better understand open and collaborative concepts. We built a common vocabulary and learned what the space would work like, feel like, and look like.”
  2. Data-driven results: “The Optimaze report gave my management team solid data about how people felt about the space they worked in and what was their tolerance for change.”
  3. Conceptual framework: “The process provided an overall concept for the building design using the concept of neighborhoods.”