Another Act of Miniaturization

Karen Davenport has implemented a consolidated workplace model at Advanced Micro Devices’ Austin, TX, campus that saves space and money while encouraging collaboration

Karen Davenport
Karen Davenport

The years 2013 and 2014 were pivotal for Karen Davenport. At the time, her employer,  Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), the second-largest manufacturer of microprocessors and related computer technologies in the world, was looking to consolidate all its employees at its Austin, Texas, campus into a smaller amount of work space, and as the company’s director of global real estate and workplace services, Davenport was tasked with figuring out the logistics of the effort. What she eventually saw was an opportunity to refresh the company’s office environment there while creating significant savings.

Davenport’s team noted early that there was a high vacancy rate in the company’s existing Austin floor plan and room to improve its footprint. “It’s about the way we utilize our space, not just how much of it there is,” she says. “We look at our employee base and think, ‘What can make them more productive?’”

After bringing in consultants, conducting focus groups, and analyzing the strategies of its competitors, AMD and Davenport came to the conclusion that the guiding principal of the campus’s redesign, next to productivity, should be cost savings. The company conducted several rounds of employee feedback, and the staff of each building on campus was given a choice between having a more open, collaborative workplace with more square footage per employee or a closed space with more areas of privacy. (No one would have a private office, though, and all hierarchical space considerations would be swept away and replaced with a more democratic office layout.) In the end, each group chose the space that best fit its work needs. The engineering team, for example, chose private, smaller workstations, and the marketing and administrative staff requested an open environment.

Regardless, both options offered the opportunity to consolidate existing floor space. “The smaller footprint allowed more people on the floor,” Davenport says. “Teams are more cohesive now and able to work more closely together. To be honest, it was a good refresh, and people appreciated the ability to be involved in the decision making.” And, in turn, the contraction allowed the company to lease back 60 percent of its office space, which enabled a sale that generated more than $100 million in cash and led to an annual operating-expense reduction of approximately 30 percent.

The cost savings was the easy part, though. Employee satisfaction and related productivity needed more attention from Davenport and her team, so they found ways to prepare for ruffled feathers as employees resettled into their new environments.

On moving day, for example, to ensure that employee stress was kept to a minimum, the team provided breakfast, a greeter, and a dedicated room where staff could go if they encountered any problems. “We served thousands of breakfasts,” Davenport says, laughing. “It was the best money I ever spent, though. It’s the little things that mean a lot because it’s not just the furniture or your cube but your path to get there.”

Davenport, consulting with Elizabeth Frisch and her team from corporate-performance firm the Thrival Company, also encouraged development of management and employee feedback channels throughout the process as a preventative measure. “Managers may not like an idea,” Frisch says, “but they can 100 percent support the idea if they are given an opportunity to give feedback and they clearly see [that] it will deliver on their vision and strategic goals.”

“All feedback is good,” Davenport adds. “You can’t ignore anything, or it will come back as a problem later in the process.” Frisch reported to Davenport directly throughout the project, and she came away with great respect for Davenport’s approach. “She is grace under pressure,” Frisch says. “Karen’s gift in her facilities role is strong technical skills combined with her ability to manage a thousand particles and stay focused on the end goal.”

Advanced Micro Devices reduced its footprint at its Austin, TX, campus, allowing it to lease back 60% of the property.
Advanced Micro Devices reduced its footprint at its Austin, TX, campus, allowing it to lease back 60% of the property.

Consolidating AMD’s Austin work space pushed Davenport to reconsider the campus’s on-site amenities as well, from the coffee to the layout of the parking lot. “It’s good for me that I own the whole thing because you can’t just shuffle everything around then leave it for the managers to deal with,” she says. “You have to be there for the aftermath.” After the move, Davenport’s team conducted several surveys and dealt with individual problems, and it also enlisted the help of human resources personnel to correct any lingering issues.

Davenport envisions an even more creative approach to global workplace environments at AMD over the next few years. “There’s still underutilized space that’s crying out,” she says. “Typical cube vacancy is approximately 60 percent throughout the day. People are either travelling, in a meeting, or talking with someone.” Additionally, large conference rooms host meetings with an average of only three attendees.

Davenport sees the next step in creative space usage as one toward mobile and shared work spaces. “My team is dispersed,” she says. “When I come to the office, I touch down and do what I need to do in shared spaces. I have a small laptop and go from meeting to meeting. The rest of the time, I work remotely and don’t really need my own specific workstation.”

She acknowledges that a mobile work environment might not work for all employees—depending on their responsibilities and temperament—but she says it could provide increased flexibility and productivity for those whose duties allow it. “One size doesn’t fit all,” she adds. “We needed to create cost savings, and the way we do that will be different for each location.”

Her experience has taught her that it’s important to make sure that each individual is happy and that one’s work space matches one’s needs, not just the company’s desire to save costs. “That’s what makes it interesting: the happiness factor,” Davenport says. “Otherwise, it’s just mathematical.”

In her time with AMD, she has also subsequently combined the real estate, space planning, project management, facilities, EHS (environmental, health, and safety), and security services departments into one team, called “global real estate and workplace services.” “To further improve the customer workplace experience, I wanted to provide a customer-relationship focus,” Davenport says. “We are rebranding ourselves from being called ‘Facilities.’ At the core, we’re all operating to provide a productive, healthy, and safe workplace.” 

The departments on campus were given the choice between open and closed environments for their new spaces.
The departments on campus were given the choice between open and closed environments for their new spaces.