Blog - Renovating or moving offices? Time to make the most of it.

Sunlit modern office space with yellow stairwell stating 'Ideas Start Here"Moving or renovating your offices is a massive task that can often seem like an unwelcome hassle.

When done thoughtfully however, it provides a great opportunity to get your team working even better together.

I’ve noticed that when I visit businesses that have renovated or relocated to a new office, that the move has usually been handled by a predictable set of certain people depending on the size of the organisation.

And how successful they are – and the move is – often depends on their approach. So who are these people?

  • In a small business, the move is generally organised by the business owner or their PA
  • The office manager tends to take the reins in a medium sized organisation
  • And in a larger organisation, a project manager from an office fit out company is likely to be in charge.

In rare circumstances, – and I can count these on one hand – the organisation involves all of its staff members in the process. This low level of active engagement surprises me, because in my experience, it’s this process that presents the opportunity to really get people working more productively and effectively together.

Some of the reasons I’ve come across for this lack of involvement include:

  • Management’s belief that people may simply not be interested
  • Concern that there’ll be difficulty in reaching a consensus on what to buy, or
  • That it comes down to a matter of time, which might be a tight timeframe, or a view that talking about the move or renovation is not something that staff members should be ‘wasting’ their time on, or simply that people would be unwilling to give up their time to contribute.

All too often, these assumptions seem to be made without actually asking people if they would like to be and/or have time to be, involved.

What’s the problem with this approach?

Unfortunately when individuals or at the very least, staff representatives, aren’t involved either during and/or after the process, there are inevitable frustrations that people have had ‘no choice’, or that “no one ever asked me”. Perhaps someone has had to give up a really comfortable chair for a new ‘not as comfortable’ model, or they’re now sitting in a darker corner, when they really need more light than the colleague who prefers the lower lighting, and so on.

And all too often, these apparently harmless changes lead to underlying resentment about the new arrangements, but as they’re in a brand new office (for which we should all be grateful), most people don’t want to appear ungrateful, so prefer not to say anything formally. Instead, they just mumble and grumble to themselves and others.

Conversely, people are more positive about the whole situation when involved in the planning and decision making.

And if you’re worried at this point that time, cost and quality decisions might get rapidly and wildy out of hand, keep in mind that you are not asking them to design the whole office, only the aspects and elements that directly affect them.

How to engage your staff in a new office set up

There are many ways to engage people that will not break the bank. It might be in having some choices about new furniture acquisitions, such as desks and chairs, how/where the furniture could be positioned, staff room options and other areas which can make a workplace a pleasant place to be. For example:

  • Get people to think about the tasks they do. Do they need to sit in a team? Be close to their team? Do they need quiet space?
  • Ask them if there are any positions that cause them discomfort. If so, they might need different desk types or chairs.
  • And while you might be trying to avoid what you perceive to be an unnecessary expense, remember that it’s cheaper to buy the right equipment from the outset than replace new furniture again once you’ve already purchased a generic across the board option.
  • Is there somewhere that you could locate printers and copiers where they will not interrupt anyone?

Unsurprisingly, in my experience it is these parts of the design, which may not necessarily be well managed by fit out companies. Generally working with one person, they don’t look at individual needs, and as a result, can make wrong assumptions.

Designing for a one size fits all solution, they fail to consider the out of range very tall or very short people, the actual tasks people do when using spaces and furniture, and whether the furniture selected really works for those tasks.

The tide is changing, globally and locally

To be fair, I know from experience that thinking about ergonomics and workplace flow at an individual level is a specialist area, but one that many people might not necessarily recognise as such.

In recent times though, it’s been heartening to see organisations prepared to change their thinking.

An interesting workspace design model developed by the Herman Miller group in America, called the Living Office, which is all about bringing humanity back to the workplace, is raising the profile of how involving people in the office design process makes a difference.

One of their recent case studies profiled DPR Construction, a company that was relocating to a new office in Reston, Virginia. DPR had developed some innovative building methods that improve safety, technology and efficiency, and they wanted to showcase and reflect their approach in their own new workplace design.

Having been challenged in their existing premises with an office space that was inhibiting collaboration and recognised that this was inhibiting growth so sought some help from the Herman Miller design team. They stated that they wanted their new office to “better reflect their empowering and collaborative culture­ and to encourage more inter-generational exchange of ideas that helps fuel DPR’s creative engines”.

Project executive Chris Gorthy, was surprised to learn that this approach was about far more than furniture when he visited Herman Miller’s West Michigan headquarters. “I thought that the trip was going to be more about selling us on furniture, but what it did was sell us on placemaking and what the workplace could be,” he says. “Herman Miller helped us think about the verb versus the noun of each space—thinking about what people do and designing the environment around that.”

If you’re interested in reading more about Living Offices, there are many interesting examples here you can follow up with.

Closer to home

On a local basis, Christchurch Hospital staff members were able to go and visit a test laboratory with a set-up of some of the new equipment and fittings to be used in the currently developing upgraded hospital. This helped to ensure that if something, for example a type of bed, was found to be difficult to move or use, the chance to change was there right at the planning stages. This approach saves money and improves effectiveness and overall, people’s health long term. It’s an obvious win for everyone.

I have also had a client who took all their entire staff to see a new office outfitted with equipment they were looking at getting themselves, before ordering it. This helped staff to engage and to give feedback, and, most importantly, be a part of the whole process. When they did move into their new office, everyone was very happy with the new office and the fact that they had had a say in its planning.

What can you do to make the most of your move?

As you can see, it’s not difficult to engage your people when you are making one of the most major changes any business can make. So what can you do to make the whole process a great way to move forward for everyone?