March 31, 2016 – By Carrie Rossenfeld


The transition from traditional office space to collaborative and activity-based work environments requires preparing employees to use the space successfully and addressing pushback to assure maximum productivity, H. Hendy Associates executives tell At a time when users of all stripes are transitioning to collaborative space formats, we spoke exclusively with Heidi Hendy, principal, and Drew Carter, information technology director, at H. Hendy about why change management is such an important part of the process for success in this space. What is change management, and why is it important in collaborative and activity-based work environments?

Carter: We try to stay out of corporate-speak as much as we can, but change management is about the human side of change. You can project-manage things all day long, but many companies are so focused on the actual product and are not getting the full benefit of whatever they’re implementing. You can’t get that without walking people through that change. With behavior, it’s not true that if you build it, they will come. You have to model it. With office space, it’s very entrenched with how we use it—it’s territorial. It’s used as a background setting for work, a status symbol, and symbols are the most powerful things you can have in affecting behavior. People will typically only focus on what they are losing, so you have to identify where those points of resistance are, address fears head on and get the people on board with that change. Otherwise, you can build spaces all day long, and you won’t get the buy-in. How can companies ease the tension around workspace change and build support within a team to leverage the intended benefits of the new space?

Carter: Typically, what we do is understand that it has to be tailed for any organization. There isn’t any one single approach to get there. You need to figure out what their angle is, where they want to be and assess their culture. How are they working? What’s important to them? What do people fear losing? What do they value? Then, bring that back to the executives. It starts at the top, but it also ends at the top. If the executives don’t support this, we can’t go forward because their behavior directly signals employees on what’s important. It is key for us to get the executive support, and they need to lead by example. They need to model this for their teams and organizations. As soon as these organizations see the executives walking the talk, they follow by example. We have seen activity-based space that’s underutilized because employees feel that if they use it, they’re going to seem like they’re not working. But once an executive has an informal meeting in that space, that all changes. What are some of the problems employees encounter during the shift to more-collaborative workspace, and what can be done about them?

Carter: Not knowing how to use the space is one problem. If they don’t understand the rules of the road or the etiquette of how collaborative environments work, it can trip them up. Also, if the technology hasn’t been really developed to support that environment, it can defeat it. It really starts with communication—if it’s not communicated, people don’t know how to respond, so they revert back to their old behavior in the new space. The way they work, use technology, etc., has to be demonstrated and trained and reinforced. This way, they are aware of what’s happening, they’re buying in, and they know how to work in the space and will continue to work this way.

Hendy: As Drew said, getting shared vision and commitment from the executives is huge. And, an activity-based workplace needs to be designed around the organization. I read about these failures in Forbes, and they come to the conclusion that productivity can’t work in the open. I believe first off, looking at status and culture is important, but also, how was the space designed and tailored to that organization’s needs? In a majority of the cases that failed, it was not designed that way. Technology and infrastructure are also hugely important—a lot of clients want to have a more flexible environment, but they don’t know how to do it.

Carter: With a lot of organizations, the people are so involved in their day-to-day that it’s hard to do anything forward looking. There are technology issues—people can’t just freely roam because how could they get their phone calls. But now there’s an app that integrates the phone system and connects to each employee’s smartphone, freeing them up. When their plates are full, they can’t see the distraction, and that’s where we come together to help design this new environment, educate, train and provide the tools. We help bring all of it together to help organizations get the full benefits of this type of change.

Hendy: Human behavior has changed, but sometimes resistance is due to the fact that the new environment is not easier, so you get the physical resistance that may apply to how their performing their work. Change management is looking at what could go wrong and coming up with solutions. For example, if logging into a computer is a two- or three-step process, then it’s DOA—it has to be easier.

Carter: We want to make things easier to do. We want technology to be more fluid, more integrated into the background. For example, when you open your refrigerator, you expect it to be cold; you don’t think about how that process happens. Similarly, you don’t want people thinking about how they are going to get attached to their phone or their information; they just want to come in and do it.

Hendy: This is a huge part of the failure process. But what are the issues? What could come up for employees, and what could stop the organization from working more productively? We need to remedy those situations before we make the change. What else should our readers know about change management in this environment?

Carter: I went thought this personally. Bigger office space is so entrenched in our culture—this is my space. It has status or value, so I have status or value. All of office space is built around this idea of making people feel important or valued, not making the space work for the organization. It was a culture shift I had to go through—this is what I’m giving up. We had to make the shift from “me” space to “we” space. That’s a huge shift that a lot of companies are not even really aware runs outside of their world view. It starts to make more sense when we bring this up, and losing their office becomes less importance. We see this in both younger and older employees, but there are some generational aspects to this. Some Baby Boomers embrace the shift; it resonates with them, and they feel freed up by this idea that they can work anywhere.

Hendy: There is a new protocol for these offices. We went to a completely open office, and I’m totally engaged now with the whole staff. I’m hearing everything that happens, and there’s accountability both ways. We’re communicating immediately; the CFO sits right next to me. With that, there’s a protocol that changed on how we use the old legacy-type office. Now, when you have private conversations, you walk into on-demand rooms and are able to have those quick conversations. You need to program that out; what size spaces and what do they need to accommodate it? There are privacy areas where you can’t text someone or touch the person on the shoulder when they go into these new zones.

Carter: The net effect is how it has flattened communication. The executive team has a more direct sense of how things work in the organization. Now, management is more accessible, which builds trust. You’re empowering people to make better decisions and communicate when there’s a problem. This happens in real time because the feedback is more direct.

Hendy: There’s an understanding that this protocol in the office is going to be mandated. They’re working the way the space is designed to be worked in. This was the case with Brandy Birtcher of Goodman Birtcher in his collaborative-office space—his presence was needed, and once he got involved, he realized that he was learning, too. Companies are finding that they are able to get their product out to the market 30% to 40% faster. You can move around a lot when you get into the digital space. There has to be a balance between security and focus to collaboration and engagement. But the space must be tailored to the organization. People want to get their job done, and they want to do it right without interruptions all day long. Change management is so we can understand the resistance and address it, understand where they are in their training and address it and help them understand how the space should be used. If you do all three of those things, you will have success. We will find over the next couple of years that change management becomes an integral part of development space. You can’t do activity-based space without unleashing the employees.