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Navigating the windfalls – and pitfalls – of workplace redesigns

Modular…Agile…Biophilic…Minimalist. Do any of these words describe your workplace environment?

If not, chances are they may in the future as more organizations are exploring and implementing workplace redesigns that feature characteristics often used to describe architecture, motion or art.

There are a variety of reasons why organizations are deconstructing fortress-like cubicles and meeting rooms and embracing new floorplans that feature hot desks, collaborative pods, meditation rooms and restorative zones. In addition to realizing efficiencies through smaller footprints, many companies are trying to spark greater collaboration among their employees while also appealing to a wider demographic of existing or prospective staff.

Assisting organizations with their workplace redesign is gradually becoming a growing part of our business. Like other firms navigating this space, we’ve learned that there are both windfalls and pitfalls that can result through a redesign which co-working specialist WeWork acknowledged in an article posted on its website.

What follows are some of our observations and recommendations.

Canvass the masses

While some organizations have pursued a redesign simply because it’s trendy, it can often have negative results as highlighted in a recent article in Benefits Canada.

As a change firm focused on people, we prefer to use a stakeholder discovery process to learn more about an organization, including the interests and preferences of staff. This can help mitigate common concerns that are raised about noise, privacy and wellness during a shift to an open-concept workspace.

We highly recommend getting feedback and ideas from staff across the organization – from the frontline to the C-suite. In addition to surveys or interviews, demos and walkthroughs of potential furniture and floorplans can be an excellent way to gauge what will resonate with staff before an expensive investment is made.

Surveys are also valuable as they may uncover that hot temperatures and hot yoga are of greater concern than hot desks, resulting in a redesign rethink.

Capture the culture

A thorough stakeholder discovery process can not only be valuable in influencing the future design of a workplace but also serve to highlight and reinforce the culture of an organization.

An excellent example is an outdoor retailer that we have collaborated with that used employee feedback to not only guide its environmentally friendly new headquarters (LEED Platinum) but also the decision to include fitness facilities and plenty of bike racks to mesh with the essence of its brand.

I experienced this first-hand when I had the opportunity to participate in an impromptu meeting at their office in one of the camping tents that are sold at their retail locations. Needless to say, it was quite the experience!

Engage the experts

Our firm considers itself to be people experts and we’re humble enough to admit when we’re outside of our lane and need to call in a consultant. This applies to the actual “design” aspect of a workplace redesign.

Even more important is having these experts collaborate with our clients from start to finish, ensuring that the feedback and ideas generated from the stakeholder discovery process result in a final layout and mix of furniture that meets or exceeds the vision of management and staff.

This is easier said than done sometimes, though. On one occasion, we encountered an executive who approached their redesign more as a pet project than a strategic objective. Not surprisingly, the end result was disappointing as the duration exceeded projections and staff were left uninspired and frustrated by the final outcome.

Baby steps instead of the big leap

For many organizations – especially larger ones that have had a consistent layout for many years – a workplace redesign can be jarring. After all, it’s a place many of us spend 1/3 of our life during a normal work week and we’re often creatures of habit.

That’s why we often recommend a pilot or phased rollout. It allows organizations to gradually roll out their new design in smaller, more digestible chunks – often by business areas.

This strategy also provides the opportunity to develop collaborative resources for staff to help them adjust to their new work environment and processes. The content can be adjusted for future rollouts based on how it resonates with staff.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there are many opportunities – and challenges – in pursuing a workplace redesign. From collaboration to culture, proceeding with this shift can serve as either a defining or declining moment.

While there are no game plans that can guarantee a successful workplace redesign, we strongly believe that you can enhance your odds by putting people first in the development process. After all, people are your most valuable asset. So, why shouldn’t they be part of the equation?

Are you considering a workplace redesign? Email us at to discuss your scenario.

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