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Your workspace is a reflection of your culture

I have been working on what is now my third Office Move project within my working life. These have all had one very interesting thing in common, designing the workspace in a way that changes behaviour across the organisation promoting new ways of working.

I have been working on what is now my third Office Move project within my working life. These have all had one very interesting thing in common, designing the workspace in a way that changes behaviour across the organisation promoting new ways of working.

The environment we work in can have a massive effect on the way we do things. From being able to walk over and talk to a colleague to feeling senior leaders are either isolated or approachable depending on where they are in the office.

Back in the day when I started working most of us worked in open plan except managers. They all had their individual or shared offices. The higher you were in the hierarchy the more private your office and the bigger it was. It was the quintessential status symbol. These symbols permeated even down to whether you could have a car parking space, (as a lower down the chain employee back then I had to pay to park near the office, ironic as we were paid less). The culture in this organisation? Come on, have a wild guess?

In the education sector, you also tend to get status symbols within the work space. The Stockwell Street project I worked in had this major shift of breaking down these symbols but also promoting collaboration between colleagues and across Faculties. We moved away from lecturers and academics having individual offices to more open plan and break away spaces. There were still a few status symbols for Heads of departments but there was an overall open door policy that was promoted. This shift in culture took time and a lot of help and support for staff who were used to having space of their own. The emotional attachment and the sense of achievement from being so entrenched in the old way of working needed to be address and needed to be addressed in a delicate and sensitive way so a lot of work was done before the office move to work on this. Months after the move, we talked to staff and they all mentioned how much easier it was to collaborate with each other and students. They felt it was more vibrant and energetic and although some missed having their book shelves they overall saw the benefits of no longer being separated by walls.

Is open plan always the answer? No. In this case we also learnt there were not enough spaces for the more private chats away from students where lecturers would be able to talk openly about concerns or worries or even just create real connections with colleagues. We created a staff common room, which actually went further in creating collaborations between different Faculties and the conversations started to help with innovative research. I always think that open plan is great to break down hierarchical symbols, create more collaboration and a bit more of a buzz. However, if it is a call centre environment for example you need to make sure to have some sound proofing around each desk  so the caller has a better experience. However, you can play with the way people work in regards to their shifts and times to be away from their desks to interact by creating more relaxing or open parts to the office.

Each space can be designed depending on what is needed and the culture you want to create. This is what we’ve done in our last project. Every inch of the design was thought out in how will this space help the organisation and support the way we want to work? The approach has been much more agile with full understanding that there may be a need to change or evolve depending on how we use the space in practice. However, within days of the moves and refurbs we have seen the difference in how people feel, interact and work together. In this case even Exec sit outside an office making them much more visible and approachable. There is enough formal and informal meeting places that if you need to take a quiet phone call you can and there are even writable walls for teams to have impromptu brainstorms. Now describe this environment and culture in comparison to the first? Which one would you rather work in?

Office moves and refurbishments provide such a great opportunity to rethink the type of organisation you want to be and what your office says about your culture. The ripple effects are endless from opportunities for collaboration, employee engagement, and even employer brand that may help you attract the best and brightest talent that is right for your organisation going forward.

Cinthya Quijano, Director of Change Differently Ltd
Twitter: @sustainableOD, LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/cinquijano

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