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WORDS & MUSIC II: when space and behavior work in harmony


Last month I began a series on creating office spaces that work in harmony with behaviors and protocols. We started by looking at the problem from the perspective of DESIGNERS and offered four tips: 1) Get engaged for change  2) Balance quiet and clamor  3) Pay attention to people who aren’t talking and 4) Find champions. This week I focus on USERS with some thoughts about how they can be proactive in creating effective workplaces.

Be a Positive voice:

Nobody likes a whiner but most everyone appreciates the advice and coaching of an expert. When it comes to getting your job done, you are the expert. No one knows more about it — not the designer or even your boss.  But while you are the expert on your workplace needs, you probably aren’t that experienced in translating those needs into solutions. The design team is your partner in making that leap. Rather than insisting that panels be a certain height, ask open questions like, “Where will I be able to make a conference call with 3 other people?” or “How will the space be designed to support mobility?” If the design process your company is using doesn’t include input and feedback from users, seek out your company leaders and help them understand the importance of this dialogue.

Move it around:

One of the best trends in space design is the movement toward lighter scale, mobile furniture. Of course there are still some fixed elements, but more and more of the office is intended to be easily reconfigured. The best designs allow the workers themselves to make these changes without using tools but sadly most people don’t take advantage of it. I had a client who had a large rectangular meeting table that was made up of 6 small tables on wheels.  The room was always set up this way regardless of what type of activity was being held. I took it on myself to rearrange the furniture every time I was there and before long they were doing it too. The moral is to push and pull everything that moves into what you need to support your work at that moment.

But “moving it around” doesn’t just apply to the furniture. To work effectively you’ll need to move yourself from setting to setting. The self-sufficient offices and workstations of the 90’s trained us to sit in one place all day. In the modern office, frequent movement is essential because your workspace is probably too small and too open to accommodate everything you need to do. By moving around you’ll not only find that you get more done but you’ll feel more invigorated as well.

Be a Good Neighbor:

It’s not just your imagination — your coworkers are closer and more visible than they have ever been. Remember that if you can see and hear them, they can see and hear you too. To work well, everyone will need to cooperate and foster behaviors that limit distractions and give people the space they need to function. I have a colleague who steps away from the bench where 5 people work to receive or make cell phone calls. Others keep their desks cleaner than they ever have before to avoid spilling over in to another person’s space. It sounds so simple but if we respect each other and treat one another the way we’d like to be treated we’ll all be happier and more productive.

Give it time:

Change is a process and it doesn’t end with moving in to a new space. In fact, that’s when much of the real work begins. Some of the features you used to take for granted (like walls and a door) may be gone and you’ll need to find new ways to work. My bet is there will also be new kinds of spaces, many that will work better than the ones you had before. Explore them all and find the places that fit your individual work style. Use the change management process to provide ongoing feedback about how to keep improving the space. You probably won’t feel completely comfortable in a few weeks or even a few months but eventually you’ll adapt to the new office. And if the designers have done their job well, the space will adapt to you.

Do you have additional ideas on how to help users thrive in their new office? Share a comment below — we’d love to hear from you. In my next blog post, I’ll conclude the series by providing some ideas for leaders.

| By Michael Fazio

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“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot