Office Neighborhoods Best Practices from Industry Leaders
By Aleks Sheynkman
Director of Engineering
Neighborhood seating brings a strong advantage to the workplace. While supporting an agile workplace environment, it promotes collaboration and lowers costs to the organization itself.
Yet, change is not easy for everyone. When an employee has been notified she will no longer have her own desk, for example, reactions may vary. You need to be sure you’re planning for resistance, to make the transition as smooth and successful as possible.
We’ve gathered tips from experienced space planners in the industry to create a core set of best practices when it comes to moving employees into neighborhood-style configurations. Take these into account to reduce opposition, promote interest and foster the embrace of this new approach to workplace seating.
1. Notify in advance
Worse than change is sudden change. Often, workers’ natural instinct is to oppose a disruption to the norm outright, which can make your plans to convert to neighborhoods dead on arrival. Instead of springing it upon them, it’s best to give your employees time to absorb the news.
With a longer runway before adoption, employees reaction to a change may vary. It takes some longer than others to accept the fact they’re not going to have their own desk anymore, but given the right time horizon before the change, it’s easier to get even the biggest opposers on board.
So, when’s the right time to make the announcement and roll out the new seating changes? Experts say letting your workforce know roughly 2 months ahead of the transition is optimal.
2. Schedule Q&A sessions
Change begets questions. Without answers, you could end up fostering resentment within your workforce. The best way to quell fears of change is to be open and honest with your answers. For this, nothing beats a good ‘ol Q&A session.
Host a Q&A session (or multiple) from the time of the announcement up until right before the change. Encourage the team to come up with questions about the transition and be sure to explain in detail how the process will work. Let workers express their concerns and work out solutions together to address specific issues that might arise. The key here is to be thorough and honest in your answers, to set the right expectation for the shift.
3. Learn your employee needs
Before blindly disrupting your workplace, take the time to learn about your employees. What do they do during the day and what would help them accommodate these actions? Do they talk on the phone often and need a quiet place to do so? Scribble on whiteboards? Meet in relaxed shared spaces vs. meeting rooms? By identifying the unique work habits of each group, you can create suitable shared spaces and improve personal work abilities.
Make sure you communicate these types of considerations, too! It’s smart to let workers know the potential for improvement after a neighborhood transition. Take the time to explain activity-based workspaces to them and how these can be leveraged for better productivity and smarter accommodations.
Finally, be sure to understand the impact this transition will have on your business. The average business lease is ~5 years, which makes utilizing facilities to their fullest imperative. Look at the needs of your company and workers, and adapt space to fit those needs—whether it’s expanding your picking and packing space, creating multipurpose meeting rooms or even scaling down available space and the costs that come with it.
4. Be clear about the benefits
Once you’ve learned what your employees care about in their work environment, it’s easy for you to plan for a space that fits them better (learn more about space planning software). Be sure to communicate how they’ll now have access to more versatile, comfortable shared areas to inspire their creativity, foster collaboration and get to know their peers.
In communicating benefits, also be sure to contextualize how the change will benefit employees specifically and help them realize that they’ve been factored into this decision, rather than in spite of it. The bottom line should always be a callback to one simple premise: how the change benefits the needs of your employees personally.
5. Executive buy-in
Leadership has a strong influence on employee behavior. By having true executive support for the project—in which executives understand the importance of this change to the organization—employees will be more likely to collaborate.
Leadership can also shed light at a departmental level. No one quite knows the habits and needs of its employees like a departmental head. Getting these authority figures on board with the change and properly communicating the benefits to them will enable them to then pass the positives on to their subordinates. Coming from a colleague—even a superior—the details of a change of this magnitude may seem more valid.
6. Create a welcoming feeling
Understanding benefits isn’t always enough to help get workers on board with a drastic workplace change, like the shift to neighborhoods. To push appeal over the top, it’s a smart idea to invest in the physical presentation of the workspace itself. In other words: make sure the new workspace has a captivating design and that the ‘wow’ factor is high!
Think of it this way: this is your opportunity to show that the new arrangement brings added value to the employee that wasn’t there before. Tangible changes can drive interest and acceptance in a way theoretical value propositions can’t. When other employees want to move to a neighborhood because it’s new, cool and exciting, those who opposed the change may find themselves celebrating it!
7. Strengthen the feeling of belonging
Above all, employees want to feel like they’re welcome and valued in the space where they work. Announcing a major change that doesn’t involve them, yet affects them, may leave some feeling like they’re not welcome. It’s important to nip this in the bud by strengthening recognition of each individual’s inclusion. Some basic examples include:
- Add the employee name badges to the neighborhood to show her she is part of something big and let her see who also lives (works) in her neighborhood.
- Have a group activity to personalize the team space. Industry experts cite decoration contests as a fun team-building activity.
Reminding your employees that they’re valued and welcome is an important part in making sure this new desk layout sticks and fosters the same positive company culture you’ve worked hard to develop.
8. It’s all in the marketing
The delivery of an idea lays the groundwork for the expectations of what that idea becomes. If you get your workers excited about the prospect of a new neighborhood style seating arrangement, they’ll be more apt to accepting it when the change finally occurs. Marketing its benefits and setting the right expectations can put you in a position to quell the fears of employees who might be resistant to change.
Taking it a step further, make those involved in the change feel special as pioneers in the next generation of seating arrangements and the transition to a more collaborative work environment. If they’re excited about the change, others will be too as more changes follow.
Neighborhood Transition Checklist
- Notify employees ~2 weeks in advance
- Schedule Q&A sessions after announcement
- Learn employee needs for new workspaces
- Clearly communicate the benefits
- Get executives and departmental leaders on board
- Create a welcoming feeling after the change
- Strengthen the feeling of belonging
- Market the benefits of the change