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.

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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.

The Five Generations

An introduction on the Five Generations and the differences between them.

The Five Generations, eh? It’s a hot topic for those of us in the work place field, though is still taking many unawares. So, in a very small nutshell: we are at the dawn of a new age where five generations will be working side by side in the work place. It’s a huge topic with many peripheral debates and an awful lot of generalisation however, in the spirit of simplifying things, consider this a starter for ten.

Courtesy of graciejboutique

The Five Generations, according to ‘What’s It All About, Alfie‘ principle:

Traditionalists: born between 1938 and 1948. The so-called ‘hanging in there’[1] group with an estimated 5% (1 million) of this generation still working in the UK; this is estimated to diminish to 1% by 2025.

Baby Boomers: born between 1949 and 1967; the dominant working group with 14.9 million people.

Generation X: born between 1968 and 1980; the increasingly important group of 11.4 million workers poised to take over the reins.

Millennials, or Generation Y. Helpfully, this generation is the last to be born in the previous millennium, not those born since we hit the 21st Century. Born between 1981-1999 this is a quickly growing group of 15.8 million people. The youngest will be eligible to enter the workforce in some form this year (2015) . This generation soon ‘[…] will account for nearly half the employees in the world.’[2] By dint of volume they are an ‘enormously powerful group that has the sheer numbers to transform every life stage it enters’.[3]

Generation Z: are those born since 2000. There were 11.5 million of them in 2010; and their numbers are still growing. Currently in education, but will be eligible to start entering the workforce part-time in 2016.

Note: Absolute generational dates are frequently debated though give a good basic framework.

The reason why people (i.e.: work place junkies like me) are getting in a twist about this is that it has never been experienced before. It will impact all areas of business, from how managers communicate with their team to how businesses are run, from IT provision to levels of nurture managers will need to provide. It’s a game changer.

Boomers hold the majority of senior positions, with some Traditionalist executives alongside[4].  These are the knowledge keepers, the business drivers, the leaders – and roughly 10,000 of them will turn 65 today, with 10,000 more each day for the next 19 years[5]. They are the outgoing generation, albeit over the next twenty years.

Generation X are close at Boomer’s heels, but there are more Millennials, many of whom are in management positions already, than there are Gen Xers.

Logically, everyone else will be upwardly mobile, bringing inevitable change and challenges around preferred communication styles, IT adoption, work mobility and employment styles. The challenge is that each generation has its own way of seeing life and living it – and it’s never as clean-cut as we would like it to be because everyone is different.

Below are some fairly significant generalisations, but its a start:

Traditionalists: Hard working, financially conservative; change and risk averse; hierarchical, logical and loyal; obey and set rules with a ‘command and control’ leadership style.

Baby Boomers: An egocentric generation; work is a defining part of their self-worth and evaluation of others; ‘Live to work’; seeks collaboration and team building; culturally diverse ideals.

Generation X: Independent, resilient and adaptable; feedback and recognition; ‘Work to live’; comfortable with authority though not impressed by titles; ethnically diverse approach.

Generation Y: ‘Digital Immigrants’; Taught to question authority; distrustful and cynical; rapid adapters craving challenge; emotional resilience; flexibility is key for work life balance, dress code, management style and location; work is an extension of themselves, not a definition; global perspective with easy integration with diversity; exceptional multi-taskers that seek continuous learning and challenge; feeling of entitlement.

Generation Z: ‘Digital Natives’; entrepreneurial with strong focus on social and environmental issues globally and in the local community; Highly welcoming of diversity and less likely to subscribe to traditional gender roles; highly adaptive and seeks change. The cut-off date for this generation has yet to be identified therefore the full framework for Gen Z is not set and values, morals and behaviours are still emerging.

The crux we are all facing is that generational preferences are considerably different; communication, hierarchy and work, to name a few, are frequently polar opposites. And they are all in the work place at the same time, forging ahead in business with different agendas and approaches.

As the man (well done, Bob) said: Times they are a-changin’.

————————–
[1] Boomers and Millennials Whitepaper, Orangebox 2014
[2] Working with Five Generations in the Workplace, Forbes April 2011
[3] Overcoming Generational Gap in the Workplace, United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund
[4] Volkswagen AG; Samsung Electronics; Warren Buffet etc.
[5] ‘Baby boomers Retire’, PEW Research Centre, Dec 29 2010

BackStory. Ish.

An ‘About me’ and how I came to be in this field.

Shortly after graduation I was invited back to my alma mater to teach. The brief was to devise a module that extended the curriculum. This was how space planning landed on my radar.

‘Plan your work, work your plan’ is something I believe in. You make your opportunities.

The plan included working for petrol money, learning AutoCAD in my personal time with a three-month deadline, commuting 80 miles a day, driving adventures in Bristol’s nerve-shattering rat-runs and building a experience-backed CV with intent. Within 6 months Project: Office Furniture called me for an interview.

These days, work revolves around work space strategy, efficiency and effectiveness to support the business through times both good and challenging.

And I love it; work is serious play.

Back when I started this blog in 2014, there were very few blogs about workspace. And as a blog is easier to run than a website, this blog was born. It will share learning on how space is used says more about the end user than they realize; about how you can give some fun back and encourage end user behaviour by the way you lay out a space; how a person’s psychological make up is the centre of our work space world, all while discovering that the desk has been immortalized in song (way to go Harry) so that’s what I’m going to write about.

Join me, it’ll be fun. Honest.