“Stop. Collaborate and listen.” I think Vanilla Ice had some great words of wisdom for some of today’s leaders when thinking about what to do with their office space. Well, he had it almost right; I would reorder his words to stop, listen and collaborate but I’m guessing the jam isn’t as fresh that way. For fun, though, let’s break it down that way.
Let’s start with “stop.”
I’ve been in several meetings with leaders lately who feel an urgency to take action with respect to changing their office space. However, it’s clear they don’t fully understand the “why” underlying that urgency. This pressure is almost palpable, yet they have no idea what direction to start walking.
The Navy SEALs are commonly attributed with the saying, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” My advice for leaders who find themselves in a situation in which they know they need to make changes to their office space is to repeat the SEALs’ saying often. They need to stop, slow down and organize themselves. It’s OK to sign a lease extension or extend a remote work policy a few more months to better understand the next steps. Without understanding what you are trying to achieve and why, having a designer do 100 different test fits on space is a practice in futility. Thus, the first step for a leader really needs to be to stop, or at least slow down.
Once a leader has allowed herself to slow down a bit, the next best step is to simply listen and document. Listening to your own gut as a leader is a great thing and backing up your instincts by listening to as many other stakeholders around you as possible is a better bet. Find out what your workforce cares about. Let’s say, for example, you want your workforce to come back into the office and they are not doing so. Go figure out why. The answer might be different than what you think.
On one of our recent projects, the leadership team assumed people liked working from home because it was quiet and without interruptions. Once we asked questions and analyzed the data, we found out people actually did want to come into the office a few days a week but were reluctant to do so because they didn’t want to pay for parking. Many of the employees were hired during the pandemic and had never experienced the burden of paying for parking. Thus, leaders needed to reframe their problem. It is easier to solve a well-defined problem and doing so creates a win for everyone involved.
End with “collaborate.”
Once a leader has gone on her listening tour and has fully defined her problem(s), it is best to crowdsource the experts. I definitely mean architects, interior designers, real estate brokers, IT and HR specialists and their workforce.
Engaging your workforce on what the future of work needs to look like within your organization is critical these days. People want and need to be included in determining their destiny as it relates to the future of their work. This is truly the epitome of an inclusive workplace and can be the difference between talent staying or leaving.
So, to all our leaders out there, here’s some advice: Stop, listen and collaborate, then if there’s a problem—yo!—you can solve it. Word to your workforce!•
Julka is founder of Indianapolis-based DORIS Research, which uses design thinking to organize workspaces.