Office moves: requirements v preferences

Beyond any move logistics – which are critically important to get right – other conscious choices and decisions need to be made in preparing people for an office move. Typically before a move, in many real estate moves or office space redesigns we ask people to complete a survey on work style (are they deskbound, etc.). Then we gather 'requirements' on what they'll need in the new space. However, there is a tension here. People will base requirements on what they know, or what they are assuming or have heard from others about the new space. What we get from 'requirements' gathering is, for the most part, uninformed by actual experience of working in new space styles and new work ways. People have little ability to make informed choices and decisions on what they don't know or haven't experienced. Addressing that knowledge gap is essential in order to get informed requirements that help us meet any business goals related to real estate and/or carbon footprint reductions combined with business process streamlining and delivering the business strategy.

Although the 'requirements' tell us something e.g. "I need a lot of flat workspace because I have large drawings to lay out", often over-looked are the personal preferences that should be factored into the space design ("and I like standing up half the day while I'm looking at drawings and sitting down some of the time."). Having personal preferences met plays a big part in keeping people motivated. Clearly this should not be done on an individual by individual basis but by ensuring that space and furniture is flexible and adaptable in order to enable, as far as possible, personal preferences to be met.

Many of these preferences are context specific – people cannot express them until they are actually in the space and see how it is working. But in the project I am working on we are learning a lot about how preferences start to come in to play once people have moved to the new space and some of these we will be able to accommodate and act on in designing future space and making furniture purchase decision that arrive at a solution that meets both individual preferences and work styles.

In asking people what they would change now they are in the new building they say things that can be relatively easily grouped:

Workspace comments come thick and fast focusing on temperature, light, noise, storage, personalization of space, and furniture combinations. Typically people say things like:

Temperature: We need ways of tailoring individual preferences around light, heat, and noise. We should be able to adjust our local environment using smarter systems to control them.

Light: I have a preference around having natural light and having a shade system that automatically adjusted window blinds for heat and light gains would make a lot of sense. We could make gains in lighting efficiency by teaching people more about the individual contributions they could make to save on lighting.

Noise: These open environments are very noisy. There's a lot of interruption if you are sitting in a desk near a walkway because people just stop to talk. Then there are people on their cell phones when they walk by. I'm having to learn how to tune out people and develop strategies for indicating that I don't want to be interrupted. (Listening to music on headphones helps with this).

Storage: Storage issues could be resolved by perhaps bigger lockers and a good method of coat storage. And if we've got visitors they need somewhere where they can put their stuff for the day. Keys make life difficult – people walk off with them. Combination locks work better.

Personalization of space: I miss having my "personal" items in the space – photos of my children, a lucky stone someone gave me. They help me feel grounded in the day. I'm having to learn new ways of getting that personal kind of stress buster. We need to develop a sense of place. Plants and pictures would make a big difference. Something that builds that community feeling.

Furniture combinations: I love the furniture. The variety allows for alternative ways of working. With this variety of choice comes comfort in being able to choose over a traditional workstation but that is available if needed. Having adaptable furniture is very good. I like the way everything is on castors so we can move it all around easily.

The technology and equipment people receive to help them be efficient and productive in the new space is another aspect to consider in preparing for the move. Heavy laptops, slow internet connections, unstable wifi, lack of systems compatibility, too many passwords, lack of financial support for mobile working and insufficient knowledge of what tools and help are available are often cited as anxieties in this phase of preparation for the move. Types of comments on this include:

People were very anxious when we were told we'd be hoteling. We thought we'd have to be staring at our small laptop screens all day. We didn't know we'd get monitors for each workspace and be provided with headsets to cut down on noise. We knew we'd be telecommuting more but we didn't really get enough education about the new technology and tools available that would make this easier for us.

The ways people interact with each other in the new space (real or virtual) is a further aspect to debate in the preparing for the move. Many people suggested (after their move) that there should be organization wide set of basic protocols, or at least a building wide set, for working in the new types of open/collaborative space, which should be communicated to new joiners and any visitors to the space. Others are very keen to build their new communities through social events, communication forums, and a variety of other methods of engagement, participation, and fun.

We needed policies and protocols in place for the whole building prior to the move. We must have the same protocols apply to any new individuals that come into space after the initial move. Right now, new people don't know what to expect and they haven't received any information on protocols. People are just working to their preferences and not to any group norms.

We've got a great opportunity to start community building and collaborating across the two departments now that we're housed in the same space. We need a whole battery of formal and informal methods of developing camaraderie and the sense that this is a good place to work.

Summarizing in planning for office moves the physical space and furniture requirements should, of course, be gathered but bear in mind these are based on knowns and not unknowns or possibilities. In any event requirements gathering should be balanced by preference options, and making space and furniture decisions that optimize the possibility that individual preferences can be met is in the best interests of everyone. Your views?