I began my career as an interior designer, but soon learned that my true talents and passion were in business development and, more recently, in workplace strategy—helping people find the resources and solutions that fit their needs. A few months into my new job as the Director of Business Development for Perkins+Will Boston, I signed up for another role, one for which I had a lot of enthusiasm but little direct experience: helping to lead, along with my colleagues Yanel de Angel and Kim Wong, a renovation of the office.
Having spent years listening to what clients want, I understand why renovations can be a compelling idea. They can attract talent, accommodate more working styles, increase efficiency, align values—in short, renovations enrich the culture. For Boston’s effort, which we’re calling “Office Re/Fresh,” we hope to do the same. Below are three of the chief topics that we’re directly addressing in our own project. Not coincidentally, they’re similar to the ideas I hear from my outside clients.
It’s hard to imagine an organization today that is comfortable with making top-down decisions. To accurately identify problems and create the best solutions, clients know to value input from employees at every level, not just those in leadership positions. With Re/Fresh, we’re doing to the same in hopes of facilitating transparency, integration and a flatter hierarchy. A diverse committee of about twenty employees—from design to marketing and operations, in various roles and levels of seniority—meet regularly to make decisions on design and programming. When a team generates innovations worth keeping and sustaining, there’s a good chance they’ve come from such inclusive methods.
Identifying improvements to a space is one thing. The tricky part can be clearly communicating the process to an entire organization. That’s why the process known as Change Management is a crucial part of renovations—people don’t just learn about the changes, they actively support them. In Boston, several Change Management tools deepen support for the process. For example, the entire office receives a weekly email recapping the week’s events, announcements, and any Re/Fresh-related social media activity. High-visibility areas are now a pin-up space for ideas and event summaries. We don’t just communicate at regular intervals, we make information available for employee’s perusal during employees’ down time.
Generating buy-in also means conducting a series of office-wide workshops to identify needs, share inspiration, and study possible solutions. When everyone has a say in the process, everyone’s needs are held up as valuable. In a recent design discussion, instance, staff submitted images of their ideal workspace. As an office, we discussed which images we liked and why, then imagined how we could translate them into our own space. In a renovation, setting cultural standards is often as important to buy-in as any physical changes. So in the coming months, we’ll be holding a de-cluttering event and an workplace etiquette workshop.
Whenever an organization spends money on a renovation, its leaders naturally want to know: was the cost was worth it? But without knowing the full scope of “before,” it’s hard to know the “after.” Collecting benchmarking data is a crucial step in successful renovations.
We tackled benchmarking with two tools: a Space Utilization Survey, and a Leesman Pre-Occupancy Survey. For one week, a handful of employees took surveys of the entire office every half hour, generating nearly 10,000 data points over the course of 5 days. The studies yielded several key findings that we plan to address. For example, on average, only 48% of workstations were in use. At peak, we used 70% of our workstations. Clearly, we can establish strategies to help us use our space more efficiently.
We also cataloged employees’ opinions on the pre-renovated space. We learned a lot. For instance, many people believe that our space supports individual routine tasks, yet very few feel there’s a good place to take a break or have a private conversation. At the end of the Re/Fresh, we will conduct a post-occupancy survey to assess our progress and address any discrepancies we uncover. These results, coupled with our Space Utilization Study, constitute a highly accurate “before” snapshot.
One of the most heartening aspects of this whole process has been getting to know the strengths of everyone in my new office. I may be an unexpected choice to help lead a renovation, but if experience is any guide, we have a whole lot to look forward to.