Turn the Beef Around

An example of how a change in workplace strategy benefits people, place and budget and can be quite different to people’s perceptions.

A long time ago in a galaxy campus far, far away….we broke the mould.

In a rather traditional company I had managed to influence a director to take a calculated risk and adopt agile working. Not long after moving day,  a letter was published in the internal newsletter:Picture6

I notice Team X has got a new office that is different from everyone else’s. As the company goals include cost reduction and our values include equality for all staff, please can you explain the costs, how this office compares to the rest on campus and  what consultation took place? *

These are some  everyday misunderstandings about what is needed to adopt a new workplace strategy.  Designing a different type of workplace does not have to be expensive, time-consuming, or unfair.

  • Costs can be mitigated by clever design and by getting your collaboration groove on with other workstreams.
  • Programmes can incorporate engagement requirements  (yes, they can). You might need to support hard-core construction PMs through a learning curve.
  • Quality can be maintained, you’re going to have some criticals that must be achieved, but the rest, as they say, is gravy.

—–

*This is paraphrased verbiage of an actual though rather more challenging letter. The response covered the below:

  • The Director took active ownership of leading the change and achieved Board-level buy-in.
  • The staff engagement model was thorough, well framed and end-to-end.
  • The project cost 15% less than a traditional project.
  • The SqM PP met the campus standard.
  • The space was future-proofed for the next three years while maintaining standard quality for existing staff.
  • Homeworkers chose to come into the office just to enjoy using the space.

A year later:

  • Reduction of churn requests from 50 per year, down to two.
  • The annual staff survey saw an 11% increase in workplace satisfaction.
  • The project was the gateway to changing workplace strategy at an organisational level.

 

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Creature Comforts

Changing ways of working is about changing the mindset, adopting new tools and finding ways of what works for the individual.

I love caddisfly larvae.  This is probably down to reading Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’ back in my dim and distant kindergarten years. The only time they are prettier and more charming than hermit crabs is when man interferes but I admire their ability to make a home for themselves out of selective detritus. Possibly a bit like the average desk user….

desk image - organised chaos

Many, many moons ago I had an allocated desk. It was a regular sized, regular desk, with a phone, a chair, a pedestal and a pinnable area.  It had just enough clear surface to house my laptop, my forearms and a re-purposed tile sample as a coffee mug coaster. My excuse was how my workload needed to be managed. There were a series of trays (in/out/pending/not sure), really big projects had really big files that sat separately. There were reference books; the company culture, company standards, a few novels I’ve been given but not taken home. The pinboard was covered in….stuff. In my defense, it was all work-related stuff; no family photos, no toys, no plants, no Star Wars figurines balanced across the top of the monitor in regimented chronological order.

At the end of the desk was a 2.5LM storage unit. It was full. Full of samples for old projects, printed reports, paper catalogues and trade magazines. There was even a pull-out filing rail holding a filing system for all work in progress or had been completed in the last 12 months. Once an active job had been completed, it would be filed. Every Christmas I’d go through the files and shred anything created before the previous Christmas. In effect, at the end of each year there would be 24 months of filing to go though.

Then there was the stuff in, on and behind my pedestal. Moods are fickle. Fancies vary. Where one end-user had seven pairs of shoes in her pedestal (not including the commute’s gym shoes and the pair of heels she had on her feet) mine related to breakfast fads and fancies, which happened at the office because, sometimes, caffeine just isn’t enough.

fb post - stuff on desk

A pretty bad FB update….the clothes were (slowly) en route to a homeless shelter.

One day I had an epiphany. It coincided with a lessened workload therefore space to think. So I chucked everything out. Everything.

  • Filing? The business had more computers than people, a network and our team had online filing. Who needs to keep paper copies, too? It all went. All in one go.
  • Trade Mags? Scan & electronically file anything you’re going to use, URL bookmark companies/products of interest, register for online magazine issues and chuck the paper copies into the recycling bin.
  • Samples? I used them once in a blue moon. Off it all went to the local primary school to help out with their arts and crafts.
  • Trade catalogues? They change every year. Trees give you oxygen, you should love them above the printed page. Recycle what you have and never accept another paper catalogue or price list again.
  • In/Out trays? This turned into an A5 notebook for actions to complete.

These days, I have reduced further still.  Six months ago I was getting through a standard A5 book a quarter. These days I’m working on reducing this to one book per half year as I wean myself off the unbelievably cathartic, deeply satisfying and emotionally rewarding act of crossing items of a list. Admittedly, sometimes with lots and lots of crossing-out along with accusations of having a marginally psychotic gleam in my eye. I blame the caffeine.

asana monkey thing

There have been years of trying different task management platforms, of looking for ways to combine a preferred way of working with whatever is available (and free), all in an effort to streamline effectively – and not have to carry everything around.

There’s an online project management tool now replacing that A5 book of mine. It cross references by task and by calendar giving multiple ways to track progress. It rewards every ticked item with flying unicorns, narwhals, hummingbirds, rainbows and some kind of flying monkey-buffalo thing. Silly? Possibly. But it does give one an enormous sense of gleeful satisfaction.

These days, everything is on GDrive. Nothing is kept on my laptop. The obvious positives are that I/the team can always access everything – and we can work anywhere.

One of the more challenging aspects about workplaces is that people ‘nest’ their desks, like I used to; it marks their territory and gives them comfort. Generally, a heavily personalised/covered desk is a sign that the end user will find any change to their workplace challenging, even if they get to keep their desk. It is hard to let go of all the ‘me’ that surrounds them; but letting go is liberating and confidence building.

I like caddisflies not just for their larvae’s case-making abilities but also for the fact that they start in one medium (water) and move to another (air). They are not constrained by what they are born into but are released as they grow. They let go of that which becomes unnecessary and take flight.

 

Plan B

Encouraging flexibility in creatures of habit (the end user).

When we start messing with people’s work spaces, we start messing with their heads. There’s no other way around it, and it has to be acknowledged.

This is why workplace is about people, not spaces.

Spaces are easy. People are not; they are the sum of their own experiences and chemical wiring which is different to yours.

Each and every one of us has preferences that meet our own personal interpretation of pleasure, be it comfort, risk, safety, adrenaline, exposure, shelter, luxury or parsimony. If you find a good coffee place (good being subjective to your preferences) you go there the next day. If it is shut on the third day, you feel let down, right? Pleasure rituals are formed hard and fast.

I am often asked how, in a shared office environment, to stop people using the same space (desk / sofa / nook) each day. The answer is: you do not. You are not going to stop people creating preferences. Should you care if Bob repeatedly sits at the same desk? No more than you should care if he decided to wear his Christmas socks in June. Does it affect his productivity and required levels of engagement to deliver his role? Possibly, it depends on the set up, or position, of the desk….and how he’s made.

Engagement sessions at the start of the project may not reveal Bob’s singular preferences. But that’s ok. And the reason that’s OK is because not only are you going to be actively listening to everything your focus group discussions raise, including reading between the lines, you’re also going to be creating a wide variety of space types, with a variety of furniture, providing choice to cater for the broad, magnificent specimen that is office-bound humanity in as many guises as is viable.

But Bob’s going to set up home in a specific location which will then become ‘his’. How is that fair?

sheldon's spot

Plan ‘A’ – not always available (source:edition.cnn.com)

Now I’m going to assume that Bob’s just a creature of habit, that he’s a pretty easy going, if a little oblivious, guy with a perfectly understandable aversion to mornings. He likes his morning routine: it’s easy and he doesn’t have to think (we’ve all been there).

What does matter, and needs to be discussed openly, without identifying Bob, in a pre-move workshop is: What happens if you come in and someone has taken your favourite spot? The answer: Always have a Plan B. In a first come, first served environment jut because you like a particular space does not mean it is yours and yours alone. You have a choice of spaces, many of which are going to replicate your preferred spot in some form. Are you going to be mean and deliberately target Bob’s seat? Well that’s an interesting proposal Mr/s Workshop Delegate. Group, what are your views on that? Does it tie in with company culture?

To help identify Plan B’s, and support Bob in his quest for the perfect spot, the first day of a new, shared working environment should be more about trying out different spots, having a series of stand-up ‘space introduction’ sessions where you learn about how to meet an individual’s practical necessities, as well as the fun cool things. And Day 1 of the new office should start on the following day.

So when I walked into the office to find my new boss sitting at ‘my’ desk (the perfect desk, the flyby* desk, the ‘back against the wall’ desk) on his first day the voice in my head was shocked and horrified. So I just sat next to him and got on with some work.

 


*Flyby: People walk past it before they notice it, or you, are there.

How Workplace Change is Like a Novel.

How you engage will impact the acceptance of change – it’s all about how you tell the story.

Long ago and far away I had a boss whose mantra was ‘Do it right, do it once’. This is critical within workplace change. This is because we are dealing with human frailties; each participant brings a different variable to the table.

Now I’m not saying design by committee; reducing everything to the lowest common denominator is a non-viable investment and delivers more disappointment than joy. What I am saying is: know how to engage.

Change is effectively a story about a journey that creates itself in the telling.  Confused? Walk with me a while….and let’s explore two tellings of a story that changed the world.

Story 1: It’s a story about a huge battle. There are swarming crowds of humanoids having a fight, lots of yelling, slashing, and strange, war-machine type things. There’s a big stand-off at the end between two of them, they both die. The end.

Do you care? Neither do I. Life is too short to invest in something that can’t be bothered to invest in you.

Let’s try that again.

Story 2: It’s a story about the innate goodness of people, of friendship and how a journey walked together forms the tightest of bonds. It’s about characters that slowly reveal their sometimes bruised lives, letting us connect and learn what forms their motives and inspiration to continue against all odds. They walk to stand against the absolute horror of oppression and murderous tyranny. They speak to you of the possibilities of a life not worth living while showing you the way to vanquish it. And 63% remember story 5% remember statswhen characters die, you grieve.

They are the same story told in different ways. Story 1 lands you in at the end. There is no context. It does not let you connect with characters and root for someone. It treats you like a commodity.

Story 2 treats you like an individual, introducing you to characters, experiences and emotions that you can identify with. It lets you immerse yourself in the tale. And once you have connected – it stays with you after the final page. That’s why this tale spawned a vast global market (and on reflection it’s a pretty good synopsis of a good number of other books or films that stick with you).

And this is what we get when applying this to a workplace change context:

Scenario: A business has traditional approach to workplace, everyone has a desk. Managers have offices. Space is territorial. The business direction is to expand headcount within the existing building footprint. Significant changes are required to meet business objective.

Workplace Strategy: Based on data analysis (utilisation studies, compliance assessment, densities, headcount forecast, business strategy including IT and Personnel). Decision-maker level meetings take place to discuss opportunities, including relocating headcount to regional (and significantly more cost effective) offices, risks and impacts per options. The Decision-makers arrive at a decision (for this exercise let us assume this excludes regional relocation) based on cost efficiency and speed of delivery, and the new workplace is installed. The employee’s engagement is limited to the grand reveal – and the glories of the rumour mill.

I can tell you now that people who have limited (usually zero) experience of a non-traditional working environment will not have a clue how to use the new workplace.  Where is their ‘home’ for the day? Where are their friends sitting? Where does the boss find their team – and ensure they are actually working? Where do they find the boss? Effectively, where is my ‘tribe’, where is my leader?

It’s Story 1 all over again: the end user is a commodity; the concern was to complete a piece of work and short term financial gain. Someone, somewhere gets some glory (hence the grand reveal) and everyone is dragged along for the ride. I have witnessed instances of resistance and conflict caused by this method.

Badly landed workplace change will result in it being declared a non-viable option, a failure. The end users have been trained that agile working means their worth to their employer is diminished, this will affect morale. Be mindful of your well-poisoners, they can instil an equality of misery more swiftly and effectively than you can instil a positive view of the new workplace.

There is little you can do to come back from a Story 1 method. The emotions associated with work have been negatively impacted; damaged. And people have been bluntly, clumsily, told what to do with the expectation that they will obey. Trying to persuade people that something they have experienced, and been hurt by, is actually a good thing, no really it is – is nigh-on impossible. It’s the old ‘fool me once’ adage in action.

Let’s invest in a scenario that will work:

The powers that be decide on the same workplace strategy as before. Behind the scenes selected stakeholders from across the business (respected, level-headed influencers with a balanced outlook) are approached to be part of the concept working group. Group members include the key stakeholder and appointed workplace strategist/consultant. The group establish a communication strategy.

The Board then make an announcement to all employees, outlining why the change is happening, what the framework is, and when it will start. Why is important. Provide context and understanding. Representatives (approachable, responsible, possibly resistant to change because, let’s face it (and to quote my school chaplain) ‘there’s none so devout as a convert’) are sought for change workshops. Expectations are managed. Frameworks of influence defined. Then you ask a simple question….and listen.

Just. Listen.

This workshop is not about you, it’s about them. It’s a ‘safe place’ where they get to voice their likes, dislikes, frustrations, hopes, fears. Listen to the tone. See who holds the floor and the ear of others. Are there any introverts in this group; with 30-50% of the

Photo: Quietrev.com

Photo: Quietrev.com

workplace[1] being introverted, one hopes so. Identify where there may be challenges – within the workshop group, the end users and the business’s processes. Nudge the conversation back on course, gently nipping rambling in the bud. Use your skills to obtain quality information.

Then, protecting anonymity as best you can, feedback the barometer; Personnel may need to develop management skills or change performance measurements. IT may need to get some investment PDQ. And exactly what is going on with the coffee machine on the 3rd floor?

Do this in each workshop, defining the parameters of each workshop on the outset. The first three drive out the workplace plan.

The second three, are to establish a ‘Charter’ of workplace use. This requires a different selection of people and includes ‘training the trainers’. This ensures a wider inclusion specifically including line managers – after all, how are they to support people in the brave new world if they are learning how it works themselves?IMG_3166

The ‘Charter’ is essentially how end users want to use their workplace. Is it ok to leave used coffee mugs on the meeting tables? Can we have the desks cleaned for us? Can I use my earphones? What about personal phone calls? Should the sofa area be bookable?

The Charter will be unique to each area of the business, it is critical that the end users lead this, thus reinforcing their feeling of ownership and contribution to this change. The Charter will be guided by the culture and moral compass of the business and the employees. Your role is to facilitate the conversation, to enable managers to feel confident leading the change post-completion, and to ensure timing of completion coincides with that of the workplace installation.

This is Story 2. Relationships have been forged. A journey travelled. We’re all in it together (including the bosses), we have not only survived but we have influenced direction; we have been heard. And when the big finale comes, we are ready for the dawn of a new day, for those first steps into a new workplace and we feel able to live here. We know how we are expected to behave. We understand our community.

And like many a good novel, there is an epilogue:

It is also critical that the leadership understands that the existing culture will take time to change so agile working is the norm. Changing the workplace is just the beginning; the workplace behaviour change will need to be regularly coached for many months after completion until the change is absorbed into the culture. Where habits return to the old method this is because the change “[Began] with a vision or story, but [failed] to put in place the management tools that will cement the behavioral changes in place.” [2]

[1] Susan Cain, www.quietrev.com and author of Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/07/23/how-do-you-change-an-organizational-culture/

Bob and the Auditors

To resist change effectively, you need tactics and insider knowledge….

We battle-weary commuters come to know the patterns of our rush-hour comrades, not least because they mimic our own, right down to seat preference; anything over a year of taking (nearly) the same train, and targeting the same seats, leaves you knowing many of those you travel with by sight. Or you may break through the etiquette barrier and actually start conversing.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bob, works in the city doing strange, incomprehensible things with global finance. He has more understanding about what I do – not least because he has an allocated desk, works in an office environment and has a rigid hierarchy structure reinforced by the provision of enclosed offices.

Recently, Bob and I met while striding down the platform to ‘our’ carriage.

‘Glad I saw you,’ he called out across the herd of stampeding wildebeest that are commuters on their home run, ‘I need your help. But we’ll talk when off the train.’ He performed a ‘never know who is listening’ finger wiggle at his head, narrowly avoiding clocking those nearby with his old-school attaché case.

A few minutes later we sat opposite each other. Initially, I was lost as to how he needed me. Our professional lives are polar opposites. I have no global interests worth financing (apparently, holidays do not count). Our work place theory debates have ended with his comedic sneer and a mock raised eyebrow. Then I twigged.

‘Oh God,’ I said, ‘You want to know how to stop the change, don’t you?’
‘Yep,’ he said, grinning, ‘You’re going to be my informant!’

Dang…..

His office has the work place consultants in. Strangers have been seen slowly walking through the offices, stabbing away at tablets while wearing broad, not exactly reassuring smiles while they scrutinise.

The train arrives at the terminus, our home station; we are last off the train and drag our heels up the long platform.

‘We’re having a storage audit,’ Bob said, ‘they want us to go paperless.’ He pulled a face. Bob went on to tell me that his field has contracts as thick as phone directories and as plentiful as the tomes stored in  L-Space. They refer to them ‘Oh, quite often’; his tone of voice and body language hinted otherwise.Bob's contract

‘I’m not bothered about a desk,’ he said, ‘I can work anywhere, but the contracts are a different thing. Is there a way I can argue for keeping them, what’s the lingo?’

“You want me to give you insider information,” I said “you want to know how to use their language against them as a resistance technique?”

Bob does not squirm very often (nerves of viperously competitive steel, that man) but I warrant that he does not get questioned about his work preferences that often, either. At least not by someone who knows this field, knows how to push his buttons and has a friendship that means a work place related grilling can be far more robust than those I have at work.

It turns out that his employer wanted everyone to transition to agile working; the cost efficiencies were attractive. Only the hand at the consultant’s tiller didn’t seem to be very strong.

Everyone has gone to non-allocated desking, however there are now more desks than there are people, the majority have successfully pushed to retain non-standard desks and chairs citing:

‘Questionable unique needs.’ said Bob.
“Despite the fact that the best solution for adapting to a desk lies with knowing how to use your chair properly.” said I, with dogmatic fervour.

Ultimately, allocated desking remains, albeit unofficially.

It’s a merry dance we lead, encouraging people that change has its benefits. In brutal honestly, I have probably heard every reason going why people cannot change and why the work place should remain static, or even revert to times gone by. There are times when I have been momentarily stunned, and times when the only way to stifle a laugh is to bite down hard. And the unfortunate fact remains that for every end user’s timed-to-the-minute report proving why change is not possible, any work place consultant worth their salt has a way around it.

When change reaches the individual, it needs a darn steady hand on the tiller to deliver that change effectively for the business, the stakeholders and the end users. Given the choice, none of us want change – unless we are leading it.

In my experience the best way to deliver change is for the client to have strong leadership in delivering the change message – and a commitment to sustaining work place change beyond the length of the project – combined with a bottom-up engagement and communication strategy. Engaging with a select, fair and representative group of end users ensures they feel more part of the process and are more ready for new working methods. The consultants will need a clear instruction of end goal, remits of the end users areas of influence, and a steely determination to challenge resistance while they guide people forward.

One person cannot carry a successful change, but they can certainly whip up support for resistance.

So, did I become Bob’s informant? Of course I did, the man stands his pub round without prompting.

What’s it All About, Alfie?

Where I aim to make the language of work space, and fork force, trends more accessible.

Daily I talk about subjects that cause many a furrowed brow. Subjects like Incubators, Accelerators, Millennials, touchdown, free address, five generations….  These are subjects that work space obsessed folk such as myself trip merrily off our tongues without a moments thought, we all instantly know what the other person is talking about.

When it comes tquestiono bringing new, far-reaching concepts to an organisation, this is not often the case; in communicating work space change we are divided by a common language.

In these interesting global times it is increasingly important to talk openly about the human element of doing business. Employees are a cost, the buildings they inhabit, a cost. Inefficiencies in both are being sought out, and addressed, as businesses position themselves to survive – preferably thrive – in these turbulent times.

Though how can you talk about work space, and work force, change if the consultant is using words that do not mean anything to you? For example, one of the buzzwords of our time is ‘generations’; significantly, the five generations. This is a massive subject; more of which in future posts.

A quick search for ‘What are the five generations’ resulted in several HR reports on motivation and management, an excellent intro piece by a mechanics site and the ever reliable Forbes.com. Not much about their impact on the work space itself.

This, and the educational journey I walk with many people, have led to the tongue in cheek Tag called ‘What’s it All About, Alfie?’ where I aim to make the language of work space, and fork force, trends more accessible.

Desk = Worth.

How we view our desk has a direct correlation to how we view our ‘place’.

desk - old

The chances are, if you’re reading this at work, you’re at your desk. That would be ‘your’ desk, allocated to you.

The desk is a fascinating institution that represents us more than we may realise. Having a desk says you have worth, that your employer recognises you as an individual. It can indicate if you have – or are assuming – a position of authority, are aloof or approachable, if you have trust issues or how confident you are. It can tell us something about your work/life balance and how you might handle change.

Think back to when you first had a desk, that day you were told ‘That’s your desk, that’s where you sit’. Would this be your first office job? What about when you started school?

So, here’s my example:

  • Junior School: Allocated desks. Sometimes in alphabetical order (mine was that kind of school….).
  • Secondary school: They took our desks away! We had lockers, and shared desks. And we demonstrated the power of human habit and created migration patterns with our desk use.
  • University:  Lecture halls were more like the Mobile habits we want to instil in people as adults. We design students had work tables; cue more migration patterns.

The desk is all about us as individuals. It’s about the ‘me’. My desk, my space, my things, my place. The desk is the one thing in our working lives where we can be sure to express ourselves, mark our place in other people’s awareness and firmly anchor ourselves in our understanding of our validity as employees. It is the physical manifestation of your employer stating you have worth as an employee, as such you are entitled to some of the employer’s territory.

Conversely, a desk of our own can be about our fight against The Man who tells us what to do and when to do it, it’s about sticking it to our need to be working stiff for lack of a private income, it’s about stamping our ownership on part of our employers environment.

That is not to say the desk is a bad thing, quite the opposite, it has a vital part to play in any field – and it’s not going to go away. It simply may not provide us with what we actually need to do our job effectively, efficiently and happily.