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Facility Solutions: What Employees Want in the Workplace


February 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 2
by Paul Seibert

Staff desire support for collaboration, privacy, mentoring, individuality and the use of their own devices

February 18, 2014

Credit Union Management magazine’s Web-only “Facility Solutions” column runs the third Tuesday of the month.

What employees want in their workplace is evolving rapidly. A number of recent studies tell us the driving factor of this rethinking is not only the workplace, but the work itself.

Fifteen years ago, workplace studies told us employees wanted more privacy so they could get more work done and increase accuracy. In the end, employees want the work environment solution to have shared, mobile, and virtual components to support collaboration, plus private areas for when they need to work with high concentration.

Today’s employees want their workspace to allow them to be visible to their bosses and have easy access to their coaches.

An emerging trend is a shift from requiring employees to use a firm’s computers to allowing staff to use their own devices. A study by Clifford Nass, author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, looks at acceptance of new corporate software. When the researchers allowed employees to test the program on their own personal computers, acceptance of the software rose.  

Employees also want to express their uniqueness and have this celebrated by their employer. They would like to choose how they work depending on the assignment, need for engaging with other staff, research requirements, and need for quiet time.

How does all this translate into action a credit union can take with its facility design?

Supporting Collaboration

Most staff like open floor plans in support of collaboration, but don’t like cubicle farms. Credit unions can look at other ways to create collaborative environments, such as changing the heights of panels to allow more visual access and communication while strategically placing sound-absorbing surfaces. Consider grouping desks in a team configuration that changes with new assignments. Even remember that many people like working and studying at Starbucks surrounded by people.

In a phone center, the focus is on the phone or video system and collaboration is between the staff and remote member. At the same time, staff needs access to each other to share knowledge and solve problems. This requires a more enclosed work area. At the other end of the scale is the marketing department, where sharing a common work surface may provide the creative environment needed to generate ideas and keep a high level of collaborative energy flowing.

Staff needs opportunities to communicate in different ways. Are there areas in the lunchroom that can double as impromptu discussion centers? Can a small niche in a hallway or halfway down a stairway provide an area for a quick chat? Is there a tall table next to the coffee area that can be used for a standing conversation?

Supporting Privacy

Credit unions can provide small conference rooms of different configurations, such as movable conference tables, full height write-on walls for illustrating ideas, and monitors for video conferencing. In our office at EHS Design, we use three different meeting configurations through the process of prototype ideation: a typical conference room to set people at ease and present the structure of the day; a room with chairs on wheels to allow quick break-out groups; and bleacher seating for team presentations. Different configurations help break old patterns of discussion and encourage collaboration.

An often-discouraged method of creating privacy is to allow staff to plug into their music and create their own mental space without outside interruption. This method, however, allows staff to choose when to collaborate and when they need privacy to get work done.

Sound privacy is needed at different levels. In a phone center, sound control should ensure members cannot hear other staff in a “bull pen.” In the general office, the need for sound privacy may be intermittent. One solution is to provide staff with individual white noise generators to provide privacy when needed.

We do not want staff in open office areas talking on their cell phones. Instead, credit unions can provide a private area—other than the stairwell or outside in front of the building—where employees can go to make personal calls. This can be a small room with a door or even a phone booth-sized space.

One feature being included in many branches as well as operations centers are “hoteling offices” that can be used by visiting staff or by onsite staff as needed. These are often less than 100 square feet in size and can double as small conference spaces.

Supporting Mentoring

Collaboration from the top down is a strong desire of most employees. Ways to achieve this include positioning managers’ offices in the middle of the floor plan to make them a part of the open work environment while still providing privacy when needed. Sliding doors rather than swinging doors suggest accessibility and a wider-than-usual opening, suggesting a connection to the team.

Managers’ work spaces can be designed for partnering conversations rather than dictatorial direction. A rounded desk surface or a rolling round table reduces physical barriers. In the CEO’s office, different levels of communication are suggested by different types of furniture groupings: a desk or round work surface for traditional conversations, a conference table or lounge seating for group discussions, and two lounge chairs or a bench for more personal connections.

Taking a conversation out of the office can enhance mentoring, as well, by moving to a space that is neutral in terms of ownership. A hoteling space, for example, can provide an effective venue for mentoring.

Supporting Individuality

Allowing expression of individuality in an office can be tricky. There is a fine line between a few tokens of personal expression and personal décor overkill. We need to be professional. More productive than staff-controlled decoration for expressing individuality is allowing employees to have more choices in where they work and how they communicate with others. Some staff are more productive if they can move to different environments during the day. This may be in the corner of the lunch room, sitting on the edge of a stair, at a coffee bar rail, or in a private conference space.

Supporting Personal Devices

Many staff are transitioning to tablets for their personal work and bringing personal devices to the workplace. A number of our credit union clients have purchased tablets for their management teams and work groups to increase mobility in the office, allow staff to take their work with them, and engage with community if desired. Tablets also allow staff to move around the office with their virtual workstation in hand and be productive everywhere they go.

The goal of every workspace design should be to maximize staff performance and satisfaction in balance with specific job functions, regulatory requirements, security, facility efficiency, and delivery of a consistent brand/cultural experience. The message is about the need to look beyond cubicle farms for solutions. Our expectations of staff are increasing and their expectations of the job experience are changing. We can use workplace design to ensure we meet everyone’s goals and evolve with change.

Paul Seibert, CMC, is VP/financial design at CUES Supplier member EHS Design, Seattle. http://www.ehs-design.com

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