The International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) Facility Fusion conference is an annual gathering of industry innovators in the facility management world, exchanging ideas on the fast-paced, ever-changing nature of the workplace. As a specialist in change management, and one of the founding members of the Workplace Evolutionary leadership team for IFMA, I chose to present a topic I feel is a pertinent reminder of why we do what we do as workplace strategists, in a time of rampant technological advancement and aggressive shifts in the real estate market. In the end, it’s all about co-creating a better work experience, leading by example, and engaging people in the planning and design process in meaningful and timely ways with empathy. Forgetting about the end user in the process takes the eye off the target, misses key opportunities for engagement and can have a detrimental effect on the result.

In addressing “remembering the people” from a design perspective, I posed five simple questions:

  • What are we designing?
  • Why is “change” the verb?
  • How do we engage people?
  • When do we engage people?
  • Who leads the change?

What are we designing?

The workplace is not a thing, it’s an experience! There’s been a fundamental shift in expectations about what we as designers are actually designing. This workplace evolution is best summarized as a shift from the workplace-as-a-product or thing (e.g., office building) to the workplace-as-a-service (ala WeWork) and currently toward the workplace-as-an-experience. So, we are now in the business of designing experiences which raises the bar on expected outcomes well beyond a product or a service, and redefines the involvement of end users as consumers in a co-creation process.

Why is “change” the verb?

When we hear the phrase “change management” most people understand it to mean managing change. Next time you hear the phrase “change management” simply reverse the verb and restate it as changing management! That’s what I mean by “change is the verb!” New work environments that support new work styles require new management styles. New management styles require leadership. Putting a hip or cool “work café” into a workplace solution will not be successful unless employees see managers leading the way by using it themselves. Management needs to model desired work behaviors. All eyes are upon what they do more so than what they may say. That’s why we emphasize new work behaviors with changing management style and behavior as the key element.

How do we engage people?

When trying to learn a new language, skill, or behavior, learning is accelerated when people can relate it to a topic about which they are passionate. Whether learning language, writing, reading, or math skills, this is referred to as interest-based learning. If we want people to adopt innovation or adapt their work behavior to a new environment, we need to understand their interests and concerns as individuals. Everyone is not affected by change in the same way, nor do they adapt at the same pace. So we need to identify stakeholders as audiences with unique interests and concerns. For example, managers moving out of dedicated private offices into an open plan environment are affected very differently than people already accustomed to working “in the open.” We need to engage people and their interests and concerns in ways customized to what’s uniquely at stake for them.

When do we engage people?

We strongly advocate the principle that the change management process must run from beginning to end in parallel and integrated with the design process. Change is not something we “sell” to end users once a design solution is already fully developed without their input. Genuine engagement must go well beyond persuasion and influence used to get people to accept innovative ideas involving new choices about how, when and where to work. The change process begins during the pre-design “programming” stage engaging end users in a dialogue about imagining alternative workplace solutions that better support the way they work. When people see their ideas reflected in proposed design concepts, they don’t need to be “sold” on new ideas.

Who leads the change?

Leading requires changing hats. Trying on a hat makes us more aware of what fit and style make us feel more or less comfortable. We have more to learn about why a hat makes us feel uncomfortable. Trying on hats other people wear allow us to understand them and ourselves better. When we think of hats we wear similar to roles we play, sometimes simply changing hats (or roles) requires empathy and makes all the difference in bringing about and being open to change. Whether you’re a designer embracing workplace as an experience, a manager embracing a new management style and modeling new work behaviors, a facility manager responsible for maintenance and operations, or any other player in the workplace creation process, we will all succeed more together by trying on the hats of others. This empathetic process is what we refer to as human-centered design. Mahatma Ghandi said it best… “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”