SCG’s Work Laboratory
In 2014, Stegmeier Consulting Group moved its growing team into a “new” office space with a unique history. Our Berea, Ohio office was home to the Kramer House Hotel in beginning in 1880, the Central Hotel in 1886, and the Brady Hotel in 1902. From 1914 to 1940, the space was the Pastime Movie Theater. Today, the building’s second floor is a renovated, open concept office that maintains remnants of the past, such as the original 1880s fireplace.
We consider our new open office environment a work laboratory, and collaborating with select manufacturers, SCG is able provide feedback on furniture, acoustical systems, & other technologies applied in an unassigned, shared-space environment. In turn, our growing team of change management consultants are now experimenting with the impact of various open office products on new work behaviors and on individual & team productivity.
The Stegmeier team has hosted numerous tours of our work lab for clients, architects, interior designers, and real estate professionals. Interested industry guests and prospective clients are welcome to come by for a visit. Please contact us to schedule a visit or if you’d like to have your product or solution tested in our workplace.
Tips for Working in an Open Office Plan
Having advised many organizations on transitioning employees and managers from traditional, assigned private offices and cubicles into an unassigned open office, our team was familiar with best practices for working in a more modern, collaborative environment, especially since many of these activities are detailed in our founder’s book, Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments. There’s no better teacher than firsthand experience, however. Companies implementing an alternative workplace strategy without conducting any change management activities are essentially just shoving employees into a new office design and saying “good luck!” Besides thorough planning & regular communication, the following is a list of bare minimums that should be undertaken when moving to an open office.
Develop a set of guidelines or etiquette for conduct in the new environment. An hour long call on speakerphone? Eating a smelly tuna fish sandwich right next to a focused colleague? Having a team meeting in a quiet, individual work area? It’s important to set expectations for conduct in the new space, and it’s especially important for leadership to exhibit the right behavior in front of subordinates.
Simply providing employees with a list of rules and expected behavior grossly misses the point; get employees engaged in the change and empower them to lead the change. Help with the development of workplace protocols is something almost every SCG client asks for. Our skilled team of facilitators will typically work with an employee engagement group (sometimes called Change Champions), to detail the various scenarios and work settings they’ll encounter in the new space. From there, we lead an interactive session to begin formulating rules and expected behavior, with the goal of eventually creating an employee-driven document to guide conduct in the new office environment.
A finalized set of workplace protocols are delivered to our clients who can then distribute electronically and post around the office as needed. Since the document was co-created by employees, it is more easily enforceable and employees can self-police the new environment instead of running to HR each time there is an infraction.
Establish a uniform, visual way to indicate availability, openness to collaborate, and need for focus. With private offices, you can close the door when you’re busy. Even with high-partitioned cubicles, employees can remain somewhat hidden and uninterrupted to pop-ins. In the open, when someone needs you, they see you and can approach immediately. While an increase in collaboration can be a great thing, it can be an annoyance and even detract from productivity if you are in the zone or on a deadline.
Coming up with a way for employees to outwardly display their current status, especially a way that is universally recognized in your corporate culture, is essential to the success of working in an open office. In many offices, workers will wear headphones as a grassroots way to combat interruptions, but since this is not adhered to company-wide, the visual cue is not always respected. Employees will even keep earbuds in when not listening to music, solely to not be disturbed. There is a much better way.
At Stegmeier Consulting Group, we’ve developed a set of soft, red/yellow/green colored blocks that are place on every individual work setting. The block on top indicates a team member’s current availability. Green indicates an openness to collaboration (not that you are not working), yellow means you are concentrating on a task and would prefer to be left alone, and a red block tells colleagues that it is crunch time and that you should only be interrupted if it is urgent. With the blocks being made of foam, they’re great for throwing at people who may happen to break a workplace protocol!
Sound travels pretty well in an open office with benching systems, like ours, compared to a more traditional office that features a cube farm with lots of sound-absorbing material and private offices to contain conversations. A simple lack of walls allows sound to travel unencumbered, and the ample hard surfaces in our space (bare walls, large translucent [visual] privacy screens between desks, plain ceilings) tend to amplify the issue.
In an open plan, being distracted by noise generated by a colleague/the environment is a concern, but so is the (perceived) lack of audible privacy. This is typically one of the largest concerns raised as rumors swirl about a looming shift to an open plan (also why early communication is so important during times of change!) and often used as a crutch or excuse to demand a private office. “Well, in this department, our conversations are highly confidential, so we need private offices,” is something overheard a lot in our industry. It is the job of change managers to get employees to see that not every conversation is confidential, and those that are may not be confidential to those in the near vicinity. True confidential chats can be taken in a private space, which is needed, but not necessarily needed to be owned.
In many ways, people will speak more quietly in the open, as they’re cognizant of how sound travels. In our office, the whoosh of the HVAC system provides some sound masking, and we’ve installed foam acoustical panels on the walls of an echo-y conference room. Team members will often have headphones on, listening to music, as they focus on individual tasks and SCG-issued headsets allow for phone calls to remain relatively quiet in the open.
SCG Works in an Open Plan Office…
…but that doesn’t mean it is the right office design for your unique corporate culture. No matter what solution or workplace strategy you’re considering, SCG can help you weigh all the options so that you arrive at the solution that is actually right for you, instead of merely following a trend.
For our team, it is important to explore new ways of working, especially experimenting with work behaviors in a 100% unassigned, shared-space environment, because that is the direction a lot of our clients are heading in. By entrenching ourselves in this type of office plan, we are able to better serve our clients and can more authentically and empathetically lead their employees into a similar office environment.
Here are a few more pictures of SCG’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio: