Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Values Driven Office Workplace Design...It's Not About The Furniture.

Recently, a client asked me how I recommend going about selecting workstation furniture and equipment for their office as part of a process to reorganize a couple of growing departments.  They had heard good things about a variety of the vendors and their service in our area and needed suggestions on how to start the process.  Until now, they had largely purchased equipment on an ad-hoc basis, going to office superstores and the occasional office furniture dealership for what they needed, piece by piece.

However, they weren't totally happy with the end result and the overall appearance and performance of their workplace.  Frankly it looked a little tired and there wasn't a cohesive plan in place going forward and set of standards to work with when changing or adding new staff.  In fact, pretty much all budgets for this had been on hold for the last two to three years just to weather out the recession and economic curve balls.

But now things were starting to look up with sales projected to rise, albeit modestly this year and a department needed to be reorganized in a part of the building with others to follow over the next few years etc.  What advice did I have?

First things first.  Let's celebrate the fact things were looking up for this company.  Maybe this is a harbinger of better times ahead.  And, it's also great the client is asking questions like this before starting this process.  Better sooner than later.  But let's not get the cart before the horse.

Here's why

Space matters.  Whether you know it or not, your workplace is a tangible business resource supporting and enhancing daily business operations while in the best of cases reinforcing your corporate brand and ethos for the positive, and the worst of cases, for the negative.    Your workplace is your company and what it's all about.  It supports your people and their work throughout the year.  It can be a special place creating a unique work community focused on a set of common goals and values.  And, it can rapidly grow out of date, reflecting in its design and equipment choices and layout ways of working relevant ten years ago but not today.  Like this blog's name, high performing organizations must cultivate organizational and physical design excellence to truly lead in their business space.

This is what I suggest you do. [Remember, this process may need to be abbreviated, adapted or evolved to match your company's level of comfort and experience in organizational and workspace design, leadership style and time-frame.] Join together with other executives in your company, or key managers or area leaders and set aside time for a goal-setting brainstorming conversation for your new space and confirm a few things together before taking things further.  Or if you're a super inclusive and process oriented company invite as many staff as possible.  Bring in your facilities lead, and your go to architect, interior designer, workplace strategist and possibly your work space solutions partner as part of the conversation.  Regardless though, find a great facilitator / steward to work with to help lead the way through the day.

Before you meet though you have some homework to do to maximize everyone's time on the day of.

  • Find your most up to date company mission statement, sustainability and/or social responsibility goals, your marketing collateral you use on proposals.  Do you have a company annual report of some kind?
  • Based on your business needs going forward, make staff projections for two and five years down the road with all of your departments, your on and off site staff.
  • Bring any existing space or design standards used in allocating offices, workstations other physical work resources.
  • Find your latest organizational chart.  Update it if you need to. 
  • Bring financials with you which tell you as much about how well different work groups are performing, how much your rent is, your existing lease contract.  What makes your organization tick by the numbers.
  • Establish a thumbnail budget for this project work.  Don't worry, this is really an order of magnitude.  Or if you're in negotiations with a landlord either to stay in your existing space or go to new, do they have a tenant-fitup budget they're contributing to your move or change?  (remember, if you don't ask, they may not volunteer this)
  • Find your existing building drawings and plans, and any new drawings or information if moving or adding additional space.
  • Ask everyone to write a sentence or two about their goals, hopes and dreams about their new workspace
  • Ask  everyone to bring a few images which resonate with them about other workplaces which excite them.

When you've collected all of this information, set aside a solid block of time over one day.  [Wait a minute, my friend begins to balk, I just wanted to select a company to supply workstations and equipment for my next space project.  Why this extra work?  Can't this be simpler?

I answer by saying, if you take your operation and design of your workplace seriously, better that you intentionally examine your mission, values and see how they inform how you work now and how you think you could or should be working closely to align the needs of your business and your work community.  If you don't, I feel you're leaving your brand and money on the table.]

Hold a brainstorming workshop where you pin up on the wall your "history" and visual "data" you collected.  It'll be impressive!  Remember it's not about where you've been but where you're going together today and over the next few years.  Don't get hung up on the past.

  1. Introductions, Review Company Mission & Values: Go around the room and introduce oneself. Have your leader or leaders recap you company misson, values and brand statements.  Have them share a brief vision of why you're here and what you hope to accomplish for today and the days ahead  with this effort.
  2. Set ground rules: Have a moderator / or steward set up the half day, describe the ground rules and process of brainstorming, insight collection, synthesis and articulation.
  3. Hopes & dreams: Meet in small groups and take turns discussing the hopes and dreams for the new workspace everyone brought to the meeting.  In your large group, have the moderator and a scribe collect impressions from all of the breakout groups.
  4. Review work processes and your operations: Have your operations lead(s) provide an overview on how the work flows from department to department describing the typical project or product lifecycle. Have a scribe chart out this process for all to see and buy into.  If you're a manufacturer, chart out your raw materials, supply chain, production facilities, packaging and distribution, sales channels, retail or B2B sales, end of usable product life, recyling, landfill.  If you're a service provider, chart out how you provide services, who you interact with.  What's the ecosystem you work within?
  5. Overview of workplace trends: (Maybe do this over lunch?) Have your architect, designer or workplace strategist present an overview of current trends in workplace design, business collaboration and technology.  Do a facilitated quick litmus test, assessment of your current workspace in how well it currently performs in the following ways:
      • Communicating the company mission, values and brand
      • Common space effectiveness:
      • Worker collaboration:
      • Workstation or work area performance:
      • Acoustical and visual privacy:
      • Environmental & sustainability performance / LEED ratings:
      • Technology integration
  6. Examine your demographics: Take a moment and identify your typical customers, employees and community stakeholders?  Are there common characteristics such as age, background, economic status, education, geographical locations, lifestyle?  What are the differences?  Chart these out and describe them as clearly as you can using your scribe.  Develop a clear picture of who interacts with you.  
  7. Generations at work: Have your HR leader and architect, designer or strategist identify the different generations working together and their general tendencies, space and working style expectations.  Review together how your workplace design can be designed to accommodate various styles and processes to deliver peak performance and worker well-being.
  8. Assess then re-imagine your work community and roles:  Examine your organizational chart along with your mission, values and branding statements.  Do they align together structurally?  Set aside your Org chart and develop the ad-hoc operational chart showing how the work actually gets done?  Rename departments according to the actual work they do and how they support your mission, values and brand.
  9. Examine Financials & Staffing Projections: Review revenues and expenses, projected staffing numbers by department.  Look at 2-5 years out, then 10 if possible. Are these numbers sustainable?  What does this mean to you when saying this word?  Does "growing" mean getting bigger or does it mean growing more effective and productive with less?  Will you be hiring from younger generations in the near future?  Where will they be coming from?  What part of the country? backgrounds? Tech saavy?
  10. Create a project mission: Re-examine the hopes and dreams you started out in the beginning of the day with and test them against the information discussed over the course of the day.   In small groups form a project mission statement connecting to your company mission, brand and values against this process.    In your large group present the statements and blend together into a common overarching project statement.
  11. Develop specific project goals: Identify a thumbnail of the following which will help develop the project brief.  Do this quickly.  This is a beginning step.
        • Basic timeline & budget goals?
        • How to best align workspace with company mission, brand and values?
        • Mood and ambiance of the workspace and how it connects to the past and indicates towards the future?
        • Sustainability / green design / energy efficiency goals / Pursue LEED or not?
        • Number of staff over what time frame? 
        • Kind of work they're doing? Who needs to be near who?
        • Types of workspaces needed? Open, closed, privacy, group areas, variety?
        • Types of work styles accomodated?
        • What kinds of common spaces are needed?
  12. Summarize day's accomplishments / where to go from here: Give thanks to everyone for participating, summarize what was accomplished, Review of all the meeting process on the walls, set expectations for steps to come, timeline and process, who's to be involved and how.  
With all of this, maybe I've given away the farm by laying the above process out and sharing it freely like this.  I don't think so.  It's a matter of what you do with the information and how to incorporate it into your process which counts ultimately in the end.  As you can see, it's a lot more than just choosing furniture and chairs. It's about cultivating an organizational culture and mind-set centered squarely on innovation and expansive thinking.

Some of you may not  have time to do this whole day process but consider as many of its elements in your work together with your work community when developing your next project as possible within your frame of reference, budget and capacity for change.  You won't regret it!

No comments: