One place to start when a change in standards is being considered is a vision session, which includes people at the highest level of an organization — executives, human resources, information technology — who will "champion and embrace" the change, Lee says. Before anyone discusses standards and square footage in detail, she says the firm looks at the bigger picture of business strategies, philosophy, culture, behavior, technology and more. "It needs to be a top-down approach," Lee says. "Once you have a vision of where you want to go, the standards will materialize and develop."
It's also important to look at how employees lay out their day and how they allocate their space, Hirons says. He says that there are generally four types of work: concentrated tasks where people have their heads down, collaborative teamwork, comprehensive work such as training and work where there's social interaction. The last type is particularly important to Generation Y and organizations need to take note of that if they want those employees to stick around, Hirons says.
Another useful strategy is to observe the employees who will be affected by the standards, watching how they work and how they use their space, says Liu. That observation may lead to questions for the employees, such as why they do tasks in a certain manner.
Focus groups are another way to learn about employee needs and work practices. With focus groups, it's useful to keep managers and non-managers in separate meetings so the non-managers will speak their minds, Liu says. Other strategies are one-on-one interviews with management, and even tours of other facilities or furniture showrooms to give employees a sense of what is possible. Sketches and mock-ups can also be used to give all employees information.
All these steps help employees feel more comfortable with change, Liu says.
When it comes to developing standards, experts say it's important to have at least one high-ranking individual who will work to convince other employees that the standards are a good idea. This is particularly important when the standards will lead to change in the workspaces of individual employees. "If you have people representing the people who will use it, that helps with buy-in," says Liu.
One company is transitioning to a totally open office where no one will have an assigned desk. Instead, an employee may sit at any number of desks that can accommodate tasks such as e-mail or computer work, Haley says. There will be small rooms that aren't offices that employees can use for tasks such as conference calls. The move to such a task-based setting could be met with resistance from employees, says Haley. "There's a need to see that it's coming from those in leadership," she says.
Indeed, major changes in workplace design require leadership from the top. Consider a facility manager who observes that not all desks in the office are always occupied. If an employee in a department travels three days a week, there's no reason that person can't share an office or desk with someone who is in the office on those same three days. "It's using real estate smarter, but the facilities manager needs to have a champion to have this happen," Lee says.
When a company adopts a single standard, it's important to ensure that the change doesn't make employees feel as if they're just cogs in a machine. In those situations, it's important to use color, materials and light to help give a space a more personal feel, Haley says.
Communication, experts say, is key to having new furniture standards implemented. Lack of communication makes employees lower in the hierarchy suspicious of the changes and that leads them to feel as though they're less valued.
"Human nature is that people don't like change, so the more you communicate, the higher probability of getting a buy-in from people," Lee says.
Organizations should decide in advance when there will be communication with employees and what the communication will say, Lui says. The communication could be an e-mail by senior management saying that an evaluation is taking place and that, potentially, a new furniture standard could be put in place that would benefit all employees. Organizations should be upfront about the possibility employees will have less personal space, and also note, when applicable, that the change will lead to better amenities.
"Just keeping them informed helps keep the rumors down," Lui says.
Desiree J. Hanford, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who spent 10 years as a reporter for Dow Jones. She is a former assistant editor of Building Operating Management.
Furniture Standards Change as Office Hierarchies Flatten
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