I recently watched a CEO navigate tough questions from his employees about work space design. A new building is opening on their corporate campus next year and the employees are none too happy about the open-office plan that’s being built out.
The CEO, put on the spot, first hedged and said all the employees had to do was “give it a try” when the new space was built. When pressed with more questions on the subject, he became visibly flustered. He resorted to rationalizing the plans based on the expertise of the architectural firm who’d designed the building: “The architects we’ve hired for this project are the best in the business, they know what they are doing. We will move into this new, state-of-the-art space and it will work for us.”
He even vowed to work in the open-office designed space himself.
What he didn’t say were any of these things:
“We’ve consulted with many of you and this is what you told us would help you work better.”
“The architects know our industry. They’ve studied future trends in our work.”
“We will place people in the new space based on their collaboration needs, balanced with their needs to do independent work that requires deep thinking.”
And the promise to work in the space himself: laughable.
My expectation of a senior leader is that she or he is doing deep thinking, having tough conversations (sometimes concerning staff who might be collocated in the open-office space) and listening intently as his or her top staff provide critical briefings for strategic decision making. These activities are best left to office space without distracting background noise, curious eavesdroppers and opportunity for misinterpretation.
In short, best in a place with a door that closes.
That’s not to say that is the best working environment for all job functions. Developers, creatives and project managers have different needs than a CEO.
It’s all about the design of the experience of work and his employees are the ones he needs to design for.
: Commission a study.
: Do some interviews.
: Study the workspace design needs of your employees.
: And then design.
My advice to the CEO (who is not a client of mine . . . yet), is to do some research. Research about what his employees need to best do their work. Then, and only then, take a stand on how the new space will best support the organization from the standpoint of the organization’s needs, industry trends and the need for collaboration (or not!) for those that will occupy the new space.
And that’s a message he can stand behind.
This month on the blog, we continue this theme and explore the future or work, including how we use space.
Scroll down for a link to the latest post.