Over the years, I’ve been involved in two corporate department remodels, once as one of the primary designers of the new office space, and the other time as a department chair when members of my staff worked on the layout and logistics. Neither was an enjoyable experience, but I learned important lessons along the way. Here are my primary takeaways:
1. Have size and space guidelines, but don’t be rigid
One of the remodels involved attorneys, who insisted they needed private offices because of attorney/client privilege issues. But some of the lawyers were not high enough in the corporate hierarchy to warrant private offices in the corporate guidelines. The attorneys won that argument.
In the other remodel, some Human Resources managers received private offices and others at the same pay grade did not. The decisions rested on who spent significant time counseling employees. Those who did not get private offices had access to small conference room near their cubicles.
The biggest issues actually involved administrative personnel, some of whom dealt with significant amounts of paper and needed more space than the guidelines permitted. In retrospect, more individuality would have been a good thing.
With today’s move away from cubicles to more open space environments, these issues may become even more significant. Have a philosophy, but allow for exceptions when warranted.
2. Keep technology needs in mind
The legal office redesign I worked on came at a time when personal computers were just beginning to be used. Some lawyers were technologically adept, and others had never used a PC. But we mandated space, equipment, and Ethernet connectivity for everyone.
In both of the remodels I was involved with, file storage was a critical need. Over time, the move to paperless work environments are likely to accelerate. These days, large monitors, wi-fi access, or portable tablets may be the critical features necessary for efficiency.
But what will the technology of the future require? Involve your IT personnel in anticipating what your office will need in the next five years at least . . . the next decade if you can see that far into the future.
3. Natural light is important for morale
One of my departments moved to space that was underground. We did everything we could with pale colored walls and good lighting, but we couldn’t avoid the feeling that we worked in a cave.
The other department moved from underground space to space with windows. The temptation was to put managerial offices against the windows, but we avoided that. We kept the windows open to all, which made our support personnel feel much more valued. Those managers who had enclosed offices had to step outside to get a view (which was only of a parking garage anyway), which helped keep them less isolated from their staff.
4. Give your planning team leeway to make decisions
There are a myriad of daily decisions involved in relocating a department. How to lay out the space, what color paint, fabrics for the furniture, just to name a few. The planning team should be empowered to make most of these decisions—or at least to narrow the options. That’s why they’re on the team.
If the department head reserves all decisions for himself or herself, the planning team will end up demoralized, management time will be wasted, and the plan will be idiosyncratic and unlikely to stand the test of time.
5. Involve all employees in the process
Just because there is a planning team doesn’t mean that other employees should have no say in the process. Hold a kick-off meeting where everyone can voice opinions. It will help the remodel team to know which issues are emotional for employees.
And have a few milestone meetings or send out periodic updates to the whole department. Keep people informed on the progress and timeline and what decisions have been made to date.
6. Make it fun
One of the planning teams in our remodel called themselves the “MOO-ve” team. They adopted a cow logo which they included on all their communications. At least we had something to laugh about as we sorted through forty-plus years of files before the department relocated.
Those are six lessons I learned during my work on office relocations. Here’s an article with another list of lessons learned. And for articles on the nitty-gritty of planning an office remodel, see here and here.
What have you learned when relocating an office?