By: Roger Marquis, Director of Business Development, Spacesmith

The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) defines change management as “the practice of applying a structured approach to transition an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits.” Going further, ACMP states, “The more seamless the transition is for an organizations’ people, the more effectively and efficiently the organization will be in achieving the benefits of the desired future state.”

So, what does change management have to do with workplace design? Plenty. 

Small or large, start-up or mature, B2B or B2C, for-profit or non-profit, public or private, when an organization realizes it may be time to renovate or modernize its existing workplace, or relocate to a brand new one, the need to manage the resulting changes will undoubtedly present itself to the company. And, because changes to the workplace will be brought about and/or recommended to the company by an architect or designer, who better for the company to team with to help explain these design-based changes to those who will be most affected – the company’s employees.

Here are examples to illustrate the point.

When a new office layout is developed there will be a change in how employees move through the space and interact with one another. When a new kitchen amenity space is added there will be a change in how employees take meals and socialize. When a new lighting system is installed, or more natural light comes into the workplace, there will be a change in how employees literally see their work and feel emotionally. When new collaborative space is added there will be a change in how the innovation process works between individuals and groups. When a new conference room management system is deployed it will change how staff members reserve and make use of conference space.

As we can see in each of these examples, change for the employees will be inevitable. To help mitigate any negative thoughts or feelings employees may have towards these or other design-based changes, an architect or designer can provide the company with information (e.g., research findings, best practices, etc.) to support and explain the reasons behind each design recommendation or alteration. This, then, ties in directly with the statement in the first paragraph and supports the goal to make transitions as seamless as possible.

At first glance, when looked upon individually, the workplace design changes mentioned above may not seem like much but, when looked at collectively, these new designs will bring about a set of changes that are many and varied. In fact, it may get to the point where not only individual employees are affected by the new workplace design-based changes, but the company’s culture in and of itself might experience a dramatic shift. Take, for example, Spacesmith’s project for Abrams Books.

When Abrams Books, a leading publisher of art, education, and story books, started to rethink its office layout and design, and move its book editors from 90 private offices to an open plan, an unexpected exercise in change management ensued. As the company started to discuss the logistics of moving the editors from their private offices to the open plan, one group at a time, the editors very quickly made their thoughts and opinions known to the company’s leadership – they were not happy. Upon hearing so much negative feedback to the open-plan design, Abrams’ leadership decided it best to relocate the entire office all at once, this way no one group of editors had to be the ones to give up their private offices first. (There were other reasons to relocate as well, but this was key.)

As Spacesmith teamed with Abrams’ senior leadership and department heads to create the new location’s office design, it knew what change meant to the editors and other employees throughout the company and planned accordingly. For example, with the new open-plan design came the need for new workstations and storage systems. To get buy-in and acclimate employees to new workstation and storage concepts, Spacesmith brought staff members to various furniture showrooms to test drive different systems and mock-ups. Based on Spacesmith’s program research and analysis, it was discovered that more collaborative and quiet spaces were needed, so this informed the design of various conference rooms and communal spaces, as well as the installation of phone booths. Research also bore out the need for a larger assembly space for all-employee meetings, which resulted in the design of a conference room with a retractable wall partition.

From the very beginning of the project, and even post occupancy, Spacesmith garnered input and feedback from Abrams’ employees through surveys, interviews, town halls, and in-person observations, all as a means to 1) design the space as needed and desired, and 2) to help Abrams manage the changes that were to come about.

While it is often a hidden component of renovating an existing workplace or designing a brand new one, it’s in the company’s best interest to find ways to make the transition from old to new as efficient and effective as possible. Through the examples above, it’s easy to see the value and usefulness an architect or designer can provide when it comes to managing workplace design-based change.