EP 65: Workplace Transformation, with Lauren Bachynski

Feb 12, 2020

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EP 65: Workplace Transformation, with Lauren Bachynski

On this episode of THRIVE—now sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Lauren Bachynski of Steelcase discuss workplace experience design and how agencies can begin to think differently about the impact on productivity and culture, as it relates to creating intentional physical spaces for their teams.

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 EP 65: Workplace Transformation

Duration: 21:53


Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we’re going to be talking about Workplace Transformation primarily in a physical sense, maybe a little bit of the research behind it and how it all leads to larger benefits for our agencies.

So my guest today is Lauren Bachynski. She is one of the applied research consultants with Steelcase and I’m sure many of us are familiar when we look around our creative agency offices with all of the furniture and everything there, probably coming from Steelcase in many cases. So welcome Lauren. It is such a pleasure to have you on the show today.

Lauren: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

Kelly: So a mutual friend of ours introduced us, someone also that works at Steelcase and was sort of teasing this idea to her talking about the fact that this isn’t really a conversation that a lot of people think about. They don’t think about how the design, just how are our physical office environments really affect our culture. They affect the depth or the breadth of communication that we have, the quality of the communication that we have with one another. The physical comfort that we experience throughout the day. Right?

So there’s so many things that go into this and I think some people in the industry sort of refer to it more as like workplace experience design, but it’s really about transforming the organization. Right? I think it extends so much further beyond just like the physical environment. So what do we mean by organizational transformation with respect to these physical spaces?

Lauren: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question and it’s definitely one that a lot of organizations are grappling with today. And I would say that there’s two primary aspects here. The first one is that, the physical work environment is really like an artifact of that organization’s culture, whether intentionally designed or not. It sends a lot of messages about who the organization is and what it values.

And the second thing that I would say is that it not only plays a role in who the organization is today, but also what it will become in the future. So we always say that space shapes behavior and behavior over time becomes culture. And so the work environment can play a really important role in sort of fostering and enabling some of the behaviors that are going to enable that transformation.

Kelly: Yeah. Can you repeat that? That was a great soundbite. About the transformation.

Lauren: Yeah. It’s space, shapes, behavior and behavior over time becomes culture.

Kelly: Yeah. I love that. I love that. I think that’s so true. And I think starting with the physical space is certainly like a good foundation, a good starting point. That’s great. So I guess talking about maybe some of the statistics or maybe some of the research done around productivity, maybe employee attrition, or retention, hopefully and even profitability. Where can we sort of find some quantitative measurement here?

Lauren: Yeah. Well, what I would say is we get that question a lot and how we generally answer it is that, those things really depends. We want to understand like the metrics that are important to that organization in how they measure productivity is going to be very different than how another organization would. So I wouldn’t say that there really is any standard measures or predefined solutions, that it’s really on a case by case basis.

And that the approach we take is that we really want to listen to understand. And that we’re able to combine both, that understanding with a lot of experience in years of research, working with other organizations to develop a set of measures, a set of variables, a set of metrics that create a really representative of like what is the ideal state or like the best, sort of like the best case for that organization.

Thinking about not just sort of comparing yourself to a norm, which may in fact include an average that is based on a lot of organizations who may not be well leveraging, who may not have a good work experience, who may not be leveraging their space well, but instead of really determining what is ideal for that organization and then using that as sort of the bar going forward.

Kelly:  Yeah, no, that’s a great point. Sort of like creating your own metrics based on what’s important to you.

Lauren: Absolutely.

Kelly: Yeah. So I guess my next question would be like, I’m just curious, what process do you sort of implore in Steelcase? Like when an organization comes to you, they’re looking to improve their workplace from the initial outreach to the actual installation. I don’t know if you call it installation, but to that end product or that end environmental designer transformation. Like what does that process look like?

Lauren: Yeah, no, it’s a great question. Again, I mean, we really begin this process with trying to understand what the organization’s needs and goals are. And then we want to develop a tailored strategy around that. So at a high level, we have a user centered process that is very sort of like holistic in nature. No two projects look the same. 

Kelly: I could imagine.

Lauren: Yeah. We’re always adapting and customizing that to the specific needs of that organization. But that being said, in terms of sort of that higher level process that we follow, the first step is really diagnosis, which is really trying to understand through a number of different research activities, how people are working in the organization today and how they need to be working in the future. What is that desired future state? And then understanding the scope and the scale of the gap between the two.

We then move into a phase which is all about working with leadership and sort of defining what their critical success factors are and what their goals and objectives are both for the project, but for the organization more broadly as well. It’s really important to have sort of those two levels, so that the goals of that project are very much aligned with where the organization is going more broadly.

We then go into what we call like an engage stage which is with employees. So it’s very much like a top down, bottom up approach. And we typically engage users for like a cross section of the organization, across roles, positions different work groups to make sure that we’re getting all perspectives at the table. And that’s where we really start to gain a really in-depth understanding of the organizational culture, how people are working, what are the unmet needs.

And then from there, we go through a deep sort of analysis and synthesis of all our findings and inputs. And with that, we develop a set of key insights and those key insights inform the recommendation, the workplace strategy going forward, but also the change management effort that’s going to be required. That’s usually a really important part of the process.

From there, we deliver those recommendations to the key stakeholders involved. And then we go into a guide base, which is essentially the change management phase and looking at how we can really address the different considerations to make sure that the solution is successfully adopted and implemented.

And then we’ll finish with a measurement phase where we’re going back and we’re measuring how that solution is performing and what improvements we’re seeing and what are we learning and where can we continue to make refinements to ensure that we’re really ending up in the best place possible.

Kelly: Yeah. And that last phase, the measurement phase, is that a combination of qualitative and quantitative?

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s often a mirroring of sort of what we do in the diagnose phase. So the diagnose will often do to your point. But we’ll do the more qualitative, which is typically interviews. We’ll do them like workshops with the more quantitative, which is typically like surveys, utilization studies. So we’ll typically go back and then we sort of have to have the pre to have the post. You know what I mean? So you can sort of compare the findings of both.

Kelly: Right, right. I just think it’s so interesting because I could imagine a lot of the agency owners and leaders who are listening or watching this and sort of, I’m thinking like, wow, I thought Steelcase just kind of made office furniture, you know? And it’s, I could imagine in their minds like, wow, I didn’t realize that all of this went into it. And if I actually want to affect change in my organization on pretty much every level, including my own leadership and change management, then this is a really, really viable option.

And I don’t think a lot of people think of it like that. It’s like they think of it potentially as like another vendor or looking at just like the design of, or the aesthetic of what the options are, right? Color and form and things like that as opposed to, okay, this is really strategic in the same way that a creative agency is strategic with their clients, right? With their deliverables. So yeah, I think that that’s going to be a pretty big takeaway from this. I mean, that’s awesome.

Lauren: I mean, that’s often something we hear again and again, which is that, people, it’s sort of like build it and they will come, but in our experience, we know that that isn’t that, that it doesn’t really work that way, but you need to really have a broad and holistic approach. I mean, we generally think about we don’t think about workspace. We think about work experience and we think about sort of different elements that are incorporated into that.

So you certainly have the space, but you also have the culture and the behaviors of the organization. You have the work process, you have the tools, and technology and all four of these things are like deeply connected and interrelated. And it’s really hard to affect meaningful change in one of those areas without touching the other ones. So we really make sure that we’re through all the phases that I just mentioned. That’s always sort of like the lenses that we’re looking through from the research activities themselves to the synthesis, the frameworks that we use to synthesize that material to our final recommendations.

Kelly: Do you have an example that you could share of like specifically at like a creative organization or agency that has gone through the process that you just talked about and really saw some kind of significant improvement? Whether it was quantitative or both? 

Lauren: That’s a great question. What I would say is that I’ll use the example of actually maybe a more traditional organization, but that organization was really trying to implement sort of a more creative approach within the organization. So I’ve been working more recently with a large airline company who has a number of, they’re implementing a process called Agile within their technology department.

And we’ve been working with them to study how these teams are working within these spaces and just start to develop the space that would best support not only that process but also like the ceremonies and the rituals and the interactions that are inherent in it. And in tandem with that, it’s been interesting because Steelcase has been going through a very similar change with our technology teams. And an interesting thing about Steelcase is we really like to experiment on ourselves.

So we’ve been testing the same thing in our Grand Rapids headquarters where we’ve been prototyping and studying different spaces to look at how these teams work and how to really support that. So we’ve kind of taken the research that we’ve done with this organization and we’ve taken some of the research that we’ve done on ourselves and kind of merge that and to develop sort of some recommendations about what this space might look like.

And what’s been really interesting about the entire process is we’ve been doing this closely in alignment with their teams kind of working as a partnership and we’ve applied the Agile process actually to even how we’re approaching doing that. So we’re taking the solution and we’re prototyping it through like multiple different cycles of learning and measurement and iteration.

And what’s interesting about it is the intention is that there’s never a final or a fixed solution, that there are always constantly an iteration. And so, it’s really interesting to kind of work with them on this and to kind of see how they’re taking. They’re not only trying to find the right environments to support these teams, but the kind of creative approach that they’re taking to finding them. It’s been really fun.

Kelly: Yeah. It’s such a great example because so many of the agencies that are active listeners or viewers of the show definitely employ some kind of Agile methodology, whether it’s from a development sense, which is pretty traditional or in other senses in the work that they do. So it’s a great example and what I love about it is that you are actually taking layers of Agile methodology, right?

And then on top of that, creating sort of like an agility to the way that you’re putting this together with the client. I think that’s great and I’m sure that what that means at the end of the day is that even though it is constantly iterative, the outcomes of what the client ends up with is going to be that much more effective because of the way that you’ve applied this research and are constantly working with them in partnership. So yeah, really, really interesting case study.

Lauren:  Yeah. It’s been great to be a part of it.

Kelly: Yeah. So as we start to wrap up, what would you say is the best piece of advice for creative leaders who are currently sort of considering the impact of workplace transformation for 2020 and beyond?

Lauren: Yeah, so I would say understanding and internalizing how the workforce is changing. I think the younger workforce is really representing a significant shift in terms of like the values and expectations that they’re bringing to the workplace. And I think, some of the things that we’re seeing is definitely a greater desire for purpose-driven work. Greater sense of community, more flexibility, greater autonomy in how they’re working, but also, the area of supporting greater wellbeing and work life balance has really seemed to like very top of mind.

Kelly: Yeah. I was just going to say I love to use work life integration instead of balance. Just because I feel like it’s really hard to kind of visualize, especially for creatives. It’s almost like, it’s difficult to visualize these two things being on like opposing ends of the spectrum, but trying to be like balanced as if we think about like the scales of justice for example. So like more of like a meshing or an integration. And every time someone says in the show, I always say it, so I didn’t mean to cut you off. Go ahead.

Lauren: No, no, no, no. That’s a great point. I’m going to use that. But no, so I mean, I think what’s interesting about it is this is kind of all happening at the same time that like creative firms, organizations more broadly are having to think hard about how they’re differentiating themselves in a marketplace in which unemployment’s at an all-time low. And in which talent scarcity is kind of increasing.

And I think something that a lot of creative organizations have been thinking about for a long time, that like other organizations are really just kind of coming to is that as work becomes increasingly automized through technology and digital transformation, the value that humanized work brings is really the hunch. Creativity and innovation and engagement.

And so, starting to think about how this very high order level of thinking needs to be supported differently. There’s really sort of like a renewed emphasis on wellbeing, but not physical wellbeing. I mean that’s obviously important, in terms of the ergonomics and the physicality of where you work, but also like the emotional and the cognitive aspects of wellbeing. And how do you really support engagement? How do you create psychological safety within a work environment?

What is the right degree of stimulation so that people can really focus and concentrate deeply for sustained periods of time? So I think the workplace has a real role to play. I mean, it is the context that enables those in which those behaviors and processes happen and has a really important role to play in fostering that. And I think it’s kind of brought a renewed emphasis to our role in that and also like the importance of thinking about some of those things moving forward.

Kelly: That’s great. That’s great. I think that that’s really helpful. And again, back to what I said earlier, I don’t think, or again, it would be my assumption that a lot of creative leaders, creative agency owners and I would put myself when I owned an agency, I’d put myself in that same sort of head space. I don’t think that I would have ever thought about all of those things from that perspective. For me, it was just, hey, we need office furniture. Where do we buy office furniture? Right?

Where’s that commercial furniture vendor, what does that look like? And we’re basically looking at price. You’re not thinking necessarily, and almost, I would say even more than that, you’re looking at the physical space of your building that you own or lease, whatever your space is that you rent. And then looking at, well, what are the dimensions that I need that I can fit into this space?

So that yes, it’s comfortable for the employees, but more so like how many can I fit in without it feeling like, there is a small level of or decent level of consciousness about the environment, but it’s certainly nothing to the extent that you’re talking about. That was just my experience. So this keeping in mind or starting to bear in mind all of the things that you’re describing, I think that is, to me, the definition of transformation for sure.

Lauren: Yeah. Well, you’re definitely not alone in that. And I think it’s only now that I think workplace is starting to be recognized for the design of their work environment, is starting to be recognized as the strategic tool that it is and then it can play, like culture, it exists. Sort of getting back to this idea of it being like a physical artifact of the organization. You can do that intentionally or unintentionally, but either way you’re saying…

Kelly: You’re doing it.

Lauren: Exactly. So it’s like, how can we really leverage that to its fullest extent.

Kelly: Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for being on the show today. I really, really appreciate your time.

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