Jodi Williams and Stefana Scinta, CallisonRTKL’s top Workplace Strategists and ‘Change Management Punching Bags’, share their most memorable stories about helping clients prepare for and adjust to new workplace environments.
You might have heard the expression, “who moved my cheese,” but have you ever heard, “my cheese will collect in that chair”?
Every workplace design project includes an element of change. Whether it’s a major overhaul or minor adjustment, these transitions can be difficult to navigate. Office leadership often depends on internal or external change management resources to help engage staff, ease resistance, and guide them through the change unscathed.
By design, change management programs focus on the aspects of a transition that typically encounter the most resistance: a move across town, a shift from a mostly-closed to mostly-open work environment, a departure from assigned seating. Each project is different, but employees undergoing change often share similar apprehensions. While these topics tend to drive the conversation during staff engagements, every project has at least one person with an unusual issue or particularly vehement objection that no one saw coming. While these issues can pose a substantial challenge during the project process (particularly those with no conceivable solution), they tend to make great stories after the fact.
The CallisonRTKL strategic services team provides change management services for public and private sector clients – large, small and everything in between. We’ve heard our fair share of unexpected, confusing, or conflicting concerns. Some of our favorites are listed below:
Good workplace strategy is rooted in research; we interview people about how they work, then follow up with studies that verify, quantify and further analyze workplace patterns. Often, presentation of this quantitative assessment helps convert the non-believers. Occasionally, it enrages them further. “The survey is skewed! The badge data is incomplete! The computer logons were manipulated! The observers only walked by when I was in the bathroom!”
Panel height is a hot button issue, but not always for the reasons we expect. We are used to fielding questions about noise, storage, and where to hang a coat or tack a calendar. One can imagine our surprise when an employee bemoaned the loss of his six-foot-high, door-less cubicle as a private place to change his pants.
Questions about the cost of a project are par for the course. Most often, inquiries come from managers concerned about a potential impact on their department’s budget or operations. For others, attention to cost is selective: those who use a project’s price tag as a reason to lament a move or renovation are sometimes the same people demanding height adjustable desks, dedicated pantries, upgraded technology, and reimbursement for an imaginative variety of workplace costs that the change will not impact. “If you’re going to take away my office, the least you can do is start paying my tolls!”
Me, My Stuff, and I
How do you break the news that employees might have to downsize their collection of mystery electrical cords in their new reduced footprint? How does one part with a Koosh ball collection ten years in the making? Most people have a desire to personalize their workspace, but we occasionally run into someone whose “personalized” area is more akin to a hoarder’s paradise. Our favorite was the engineer who tried to develop a program of requirements and design for a computer lab large enough to accommodate his own video collection, complete with an extra-large viewing monitor.
Email? What Email?
Whether it’s due to lack of time, limited interest, or willful resistance, some people simply do not pay attention to communications. Regardless of how many times information is repeated via different avenues, some people still blame the project team for leaving them in the dark. “I don’t have time to read my email!” “I didn’t know we had an intranet!” “Of course I saw the flyers in every bathroom stall and elevator car and building entrance and my personal mailbox, but I didn’t know what they were about!” “Yes, I went to the meeting, but I was busy looking at Instagram stories of cute dogs.” “Sure, the site tour was great, but I snuck away to get a snack!”
In general, younger staff tend to have an easier time adapting to and embracing a shifting workplace environment. It is understandable when someone who has worked 25 years to get the corner office has a tough time giving it up. What is less understandable is when a fresh-out-of-school millennial objects to a cubicle on the basis that he is “an adult, with an adult job.”
It’s Too Loud! It’s Too Quiet!
We all know that noise can be a major distraction in the workplace, and as such, offices typically offer design features that help alleviate excess noise: acoustical materials, neighborhood space planning, electronic sound masking, etc. What stumps us is when the same folks who complain about noise lament both its presence and its absence. “When people talk, it’s too loud! When people work, it’s too quiet!” “The sound masking is too loud AND it doesn’t mask my colleague yelling about his gout!”
Everyone is Special
As designers and change managers, we’re often told that we simply do not understand a group’s specific needs and desires. Although good workplace design is typically based on an enormous amount of information gathered about each group, we cannot fault those who worry that an outsider might not appreciate their unique work flow or responsibilities. One issue we did not see coming was a group of technical writers delivering a not-so-gentle critique of a newsletter draft, which was said to be written at a reading level so low the staff would take offense and refuse to read it. Note: we tested the newsletter and it rated an average reading level of grade 11.5; 1.5 grades higher than the New York Times and comfortably superior to most major American news publications, which average around grade 8.
In-office dining is always a popular topic and employees love to make predictions about the smells and/or cleanliness of their future space. But food can also serve as the basis for more creative commentary. Among the more memorable is an employee who decided that the new task chair chosen by the project team was unacceptable because it had too many holes in which cheese would inevitably collect. Not dirt, dust, or food more generally, just cheese.
When it comes to workplace change, those who want to complain will always find a reason to do so. And we’re happy to say that when someone feels the need to voice outrage that home-based employees won’t have access to the office vending machines, we’ll be there to listen.
We’re going through a workstyle and workspace change right now at my company; I’m part of the team managing it. The points and stories brought up here are so eerily accurate that I got the cold sweats, most especially the ”every one is special” thing, and the resistance caused by not wanting to give up personal desk collections. I don’t envy the writers, but keep in mind you’re doing good here! I’d never go back to a traditional workspace, since I transitioned to a clean-desk, unassigned flexible workstyle.
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