Change Management - A Hidden Component of Workplace Architecture and Design

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, “…by integrating with other disciplines like strategic planning, project management, organizational development and process improvement, change management provides value by enabling people to adopt the change and operate in a future state. 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 architecture and 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 new one, the concept of change management, and its associated challenges, will (not maybe) present themselves to the organization. Because changes to the workplace will be brought about or recommended to the organization by an architect or designer, the architect or designer needs to understand the concept and best practices of change management and incorporate them into the services they offer in order to ensure a successful project outcome.

Here are examples to illustrate the point. 

If a new office layout is developed there will be a change in how people move through the space and interact with one another. If a new kitchen amenity space is added there will be a change in how employees take meals and socialize. If 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. If new collaborative space is added there may be a change in how the innovation process works between groups. If a new conference room management system is deployed it will change how staff members reserve and make use of conference space. In each of these instances, change is inevitable and to mitigate any negative feelings, emotions, thoughts, outcomes, etc., that employees may have towards them, the architect or designer needs to work with the organization’s leadership to properly communicate these changes and why they are being made (i.e., benefits, advantages, positives, importance). It can also serve to lessen the disruption or ill feelings caused by the design-related changes if employees themselves can have input in the upfront design decision-making process. 

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 organization’s culture in and of itself might experience a dramatic shift. Take, for example, Spacesmith’s project with Abrams Books. 

Abrams Books

Abrams Books

Abrams Books, a leading publisher of art, education, and story books, was outgrowing its current office space, and needed not only a larger office, but one that better supported and facilitated the independent and collaborative work done by its many book editors. Upon hiring Spacesmith to help relocate and design the company’s new workplace, Abrams’ leadership decided to replace the existing 90 private offices used by the book editors with a more open and collaborative plan. The private office count went from 90 to one, with the sole office to be for the CEO. To go along with the open-desk plan, new conference and collaboration spaces were created, a new pantry and social space was added, phone booths were installed, and the reception space was redesigned. There was even the use of design accents that highlighted the company’s new branding elements. 

As Spacesmith worked through the research, analysis, and programming stage with Abrams’ leadership and key employees, it incorporated change management best practices to keep goals and expectations in check, as well as to ensure that the employees themselves understood the how’s and why’s of what was to become their new office space. For example, with the new open-plan design came the need for new workstations and storage systems. To get buy-in and acclimate people to new workstation and storage concepts, Spacesmith brought staff members to various furniture showrooms to “test drive” different systems. Another example relates to the company’s need for space to conduct town hall meetings. Spacesmith worked with Abrams to devise a design whereby a movable wall partition was used to separate the boardroom from the adjacent pantry/lounge area. When the wall is expanded, the boardroom is totally enclosed and separate from the pantry/lounge. When the wall is retracted, the boardroom spills into the pantry/lounge and provides enough room for all-employee meetings. The key to these and other examples was open and honest communications about the design-related changes to take place, and the inclusion of Abrams’ staff in the decision-making process. 

While it is often a hidden component of renovating an existing workplace or designing a brand new one, the success of a project will largely depend on how an architect or designer chooses to work with the end-user client and pro-actively manage the design-related changes that will be experienced throughout the duration of the project and into the future.

Roger Marquis, AIA Associate, Business Development Director

Roger Marquis, AIA Associate, Business Development Director