by Kai Andrews

Employees are the heart of your organization – make sure you consider the human emotion when designing your new workspaces.

Glancing at the tsunami of 8x8 cubicles in your office, it strikes you: you’re ready for new workspace. In the war to attract and retain talent, having a modern space certainly doesn’t hurt. But are you creating your new space based on employees’ needs or the latest commercial architectural trend?

As you begin planning for “modern space” what does that new space look like? Surely this will result in excitement – who wouldn’t want a more dynamic workspace with better amenities. You plan and execute with best intentions in mind. You know that the “open space” concept is not the answer and you enlist an architect to build a balanced space based on commercial best practices. Yet, as employees move into the space, emotions flare. Your teams are frustrated, angered and sad with the change. What happened? More importantly, how could you have prevented it?

Chances are you likely failed to put your employees at the center of the design process. Your architects did not take into consideration what your employees do, how they do it, or when they do it. They did not understand your employees’ work styles and design space that aligned with your company’s culture. Instead, they built what they thought would be an amazing space, sparing no expense, only to find that employees did not embrace it.

Office space is a competitive advantage in hiring and retaining talent. Space also helps manage costs, optimizes your footprint, and enhances collaboration and team output. But negative emotional reaction is a visceral indicator of a design that is operationally and culturally wrong for your organization. Whether the new design suppressed creativity and individual lifestyle choice, or made it harder and more time consuming to do their work, employees don’t just react to paint and size, but rather how that space enables them to do their jobs.

Some things to consider in defining the emotional expectations of your employees:

  • Does it represent employees’ perception of the brand?
  • How does the master brand map to the local culture, such as geographical flavor?
  • What are the emotions employees have wrapped up in their work — is it a place of peace? A place of creative energy? A marquee showpiece that promotes a feeling of pride? Or, does it have the energy of being new and cutting edge?
  • An acknowledgement that employee emotions need to be front and center as employees seek identity, safety, comfort, privacy, wellness, energy, vibrancy, convenience, support and social responsibility in their workspace.

As you embark on your plans, here are some tips to consider in keeping your employees front and center of the design process.

Understand what each of your teams need in their new workspace and how that may change over time:

  • Each team will have unique work style needs. Understand their work processes, seek to optimize when possible, and incorporate flexibility and adjustment into your planning.
  • Understand how teams work together. This is an opportunity to relocate teams to expedite collaboration.
  • Design “neighborhoods” where common functioning teams are working together and can share their identity.
  • Facilitate expression in the design, encouraging teams or/neighborhoods to make space authentic and support their efforts to do so. This breathes pride and vibrancy into the environment.
  • Pilot and iterate before the full rollout.

Execute the plan and design and launch the new space with human needs at the center:

  • Constant communications will keep employees engaged and have them understand why, how and when the change is coming.
  • Use tools like augmented reality to showcase the new space, let employees experience it and remove the emotional barriers – they can see the space, sit at their desk, appreciate the amenities.
  • Design for modular spaces so that future changes or unanticipated feedback can be more easily addressed.
  • Plan iterative adjustments to address feedback at set intervals, and make the teams aware of these as part of the plan, so they know that adjustment is possible, and they will remain constructive

Sustain the transition for the long-term:

Encourage teams to establish their own norms in the space. These norms include anything from how teams agree to reach/locate one another such as through IM or text, to how teams support heads down work, such as a headphones on being a “do not disturb” sign.

Check in on teams on a regular basis to get feedback and then continue to improve the change.

Don’t assume that silence from a team (via feedback mechanisms like surveys or voluntary feedback forms) equals happiness. There are always changes.

Space change is necessary to win the war for talent and manage costs. However, don’t let poor planning and execution result in emotional responses that undermine all that you are trying to accomplish. The solution to this is pragmatic and relatively simple – don’t get caught up in the glamor of new space or the potential of cost savings while ignoring the most basic needs – human emotion.