Workplace Consolidation: Trip Ups, Triumphs, and Everything in Between

CallisonRTKL designer Joelle Jach walks us through the process.

workplace consolidation
Workstations in this recent CallisonRTKL project are organized into neighborhoods, providing a sense of community as well as access to natural light and support services. © 2015 Judy Davis/Hoachlander Davis Photography LLC

Workplace changes — expansions, consolidations, relocations — are common, but they can often be complicated. From culture clashes to furniture selection, any number of conflicts can arise when organizations undergo a major facilities-related change. Workplace changes directly impact both the facility and the personnel, so employees must be empowered with tools and information throughout the process to make sense of the changes affecting their workplace.

On its own, moving can be a substantial undertaking. Add in 100 employees, three separate business units with unique systems and configurations, and a new unassigned, activity-based workplace standard, and the result can seem a little hard to tackle. One of our recent clients, a confidential defense contractor, did just that.

By collocating three separate entities into one new, agile work environment, the client sought to create a unified office that supports cooperation, collaboration, and flexibility, all within a consistent corporate identity.

While the client’s new space is beneficial to its employees and its business, it is an example of a complicated consolidation process that brought many challenges and questions along the way. Wherever possible, team coordination and employee engagement aimed to combat these challenges and create a new work environment that would benefit individual employees and the overall organization.

workplace consolidation
Security issues drove interest in access to enclosed spaces within the workplace. © 2015 Judy Davis/Hoachlander Davis Photography LLC

At a glance

The scope of this consolidation was more than that of a typical project: located at three discrete sites, the business units did not previously interface with one another. Bringing these groups together under one roof meant consideration of individual cultures as well as the overall corporate identity. The new office was an effort to take advantage of collocating business units and to promote productivity and engagement through agile ways of working.

Culture shock

Differing operations and policies among business groups posed a major challenge in the consolidation. For example, employees in one location sat primarily in open-plan workstations, while those in other locations had large individual offices. Dress codes varied from casual to more formal attire. One unit provided free refreshments; one sold them to fund the employee engagement team. Some employees at one site purchased their own espresso machine and petitioned to have it located in the combined office without it being available to the general employee population. These large and small differences between business units highlighted the importance of finding compromises and establishing a consensus wherever possible.

Configuring IT capabilities throughout the space was a significant challenge throughout the entire project, as well. Three networks needed to be brought under one roof, and employees needed to connect to their respective networks at their individual workspace. Substantial coordination was required to configure the networks for employee use, and delays in initial configuration impacted many employees in the new office. Because technological connectivity is such a vital part of the workplace, enabling IT operations was both a challenge and a priority.

Landlord issues caused a delay in the issue of a certificate of occupancy, which pushed back the move-in timeline from the original project schedule. As schedule changes occurred, it became difficult to keep employees informed of the most current logistical information.

workplace consolidation
Collaboration areas support both informal meetings and team gatherings. © CallisonRTKL Inc.

Security was a main concern in the open environment; many employees were uneasy about information security in an open setting, which drove interest in access to enclosed spaces within the workplace. Security considerations for one of the business units also delayed this unit from moving into the space and being collocated with the other businesses, which caused a complication in move logistics and operational procedures.

Concerns around space configuration were similar to those of other projects moving from an enclosed to an open paradigm. The transition to unassigned workstations was difficult for all employees, and many raised questions about workspace selection, reservation protocols, and personal belongings storage. As the design was finalized and construction was underway, project leadership sought to familiarize employees as much as possible with the ins and the outs of their new workplace, in order to create a greater sense of comfort upon moving into the space.

Communications and change management

Addressing the differences between the businesses was the first step in trying to develop unified policies and ways of working in the new environment. CallisonRTKL helped form transition teams, each tasked with gathering and discussing information around a major project topic: IT, storage, office supplies, protocols, and environmental design. Each team included representatives from all three sites, allowing employees to become acquainted and discuss challenges and victories.

These teams and their work proved a vital part of the change management process: by empowering employees to ask questions, gather information, and shape their approach to the project, the transition teams promoted engagement across all sites and built excitement for the new workplace.

Leadership was also briefed regularly, which provided a forum for business line leadership to understand the changes impacting their teams and allowed them to voice concerns. Early in the process, communications focused primarily on agile workplace strategy and design details to get employees familiar with working in a new and different environment. As the move date neared, leadership updates focused more on move logistics and outstanding questions around the operations of the new office.

workplace consolidation
A flexible break room provides opportunities for lunchtime socializing and informal meetings as well as larger gatherings such as happy hours and potlucks that build community. © 2015 Judy Davis/Hoachlander Davis Photography LLC

Employee engagement

One of the most critical elements of the change management process was answering employee questions. Communications materials focused on clarifying design details, as well as logistical issues and operational changes affecting the entire office. Newsletters, FAQs, and a welcome book provided reference material in a variety of formats in order to reach all employees with pertinent information about their new workplace.

Closer to move-in, training sessions were conducted to refresh office information and give employees a chance to ask questions or voice concerns. Combining in-person and hard-copy engagements and communications helped to publicize the message to all employees, and it provided a forum where concerns could be voiced and addressed prior to move-in.

Putting it all together

While no two workplaces or projects are alike, they each face their unique set of challenges in a facilities-related transition. Some of these challenges are predictable, but many others appear at inopportune times and require hands-on coordination in order to ensure project success.

Of course, in a project like this, the challenges are not the only focus; bringing employees under one roof in an agile environment is a triumph and a beneficial outcome for the business. As this project shows, through communications and engagement, as well as an understanding of the pain points during a transition, workplace change can be more of an achievement than a challenge.

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