Being a GeekWire supporter comes with all kinds of benefits. But the thing that really gets me excited is the opportunity to select the finalists for the Geekiest Office Award, presented at the GeekWire Awards each spring. (Please email me if you’d like to be considered! We are starting tours now and would love to make your office a stop. Reach out to CLaBelle@Knoll.com)
For months, I get to tour local tech offices, get to know their teams, and learn how they work. While the tech office trope certainly comes with some legitimate stereotypes – here’s looking at you, kegerator – the most fascinating part is seeing how each company’s identity manifests itself in its space. It’s hard to describe how obvious it is when that manifestation is done well, though an article I read recently from the Harvard Business Review managed to do so very well. Read: “How to Make Sure People Won’t Hate Your New Open Office Plan.”
The bluntness of the title exposed a flaw in our way of thinking about the office: that the open plan is a solution, rather than a tool. The article is worth a read, but for the sake of time, I’ll sum it up. The success of your open office is contingent on a concept called place identity, which describes employees’ feeling that their space aligns with their personal self-image and creates a sense of belonging. A strong sense of place identity actualizes the results that we expect from an open office – higher engagement, improved communication, and a sense of belonging – but relies on the buy-in and emotional support of employees.
Place identity impacts the way people feel, but more interestingly, it changes the way people perceive the physical attributes of a space like sound, privacy, and lighting. It’s no diet pill, but it works.
In short, the article spells out what it takes to build place identity:
- Communicate your vision, and how it relates to your organization’s mission
- Be excited in the face of change;
- Empower others to make their space their own.
A Living Example: TINYpulse
In a twist of fate, a friend shared this article the day I visited TINYpulse’s new office in Lower Queen Anne, and as I toured the space they had moved into only two days prior, I couldn’t help but view their experience through this new-found lens. TINYpulse has a unique advantage due to the nature of their product, an application that manages ongoing employee feedback and sends quick, scheduled survey questions to gauge employees’ satisfaction.
Naturally, as dedicated users of their own platform, they are no strangers to open dialogue. I was surprised to hear that the entire staff meets bi-weekly to review the feedback submitted and analyzed on their own platform, and concerns are addressed publicly and head-on. Transparency is a critical value at TINYpulse, so when it came to moving to a new office, the ingredients involved in strong place identity were already there.
Communicating their vision
Employees were first engaged nine months ahead of the move. In their words, this gave them a chance to find out what was most important to people. For example, it became clear that large conference rooms were too often being utilized by small groups or salespeople needing a quiet place to talk. The solution was fairly simple; the new office integrated several smaller team rooms and private phone rooms to address the needs employees actually had for private space. The result: employees felt heard, their needs were met, and everyone is able to do their jobs more effectively.
Generating excitement and enabling collective ownership
No one enjoys answering the same question 30, 40, or 50 times, an inevitability in the face of a big change. Even so, TINYpulse’s HR Generalist Hannah Jones became aware of how her responses to frequently asked questions could impact the entire operation. Staying positive and conveying excitement about the move as a whole reflected in the positivity I experienced from employees when I toured their space. Even in an unfamiliar environment that wasn’t quite lived-in, people were on board. They were excited, and because they had been a part of the process, they felt the space was theirs.
There is a lot to unpack on the topic of place identity. While TINYpulse’s process reflected the article’s principles rather unintentionally, the success of their move was inextricably tied to their implementation. The pace of our work today isn’t all too accommodating of methodical, inclusive initiatives; but before you make a financial investment in your workplace, invest the time it takes to do it right.