But I know better now, better than before
Mention open concept work spaces to someone and either you get a friendly recollection warm over their face or a nasty scowl followed by a shudder. It’s now been almost two years since we’ve opened our SAP Waterloo AppHaus space (re: WatHaus, Canada’s first!), and while I would love to report that we have converted our entire site into embracing this new way of working, that would be false. But sometimes when you’re championing change and are so focused on a perfected vision, you miss the incremental improvements that have been made along the way. So here’s to some of our wins and some of our losses for 2014:
- [WIN] whiteboard paint. A major tenet of our WatHaus space is that people need to be able to quickly brainstorm ideas wherever they may be, meaning we need to have accessible writable surfaces. We used whiteboard paint and covered walls, posts, and even desktops. Revolutionary? We didn’t think so, but at the time we were heavily scrutinized for using non-standard supplies. Come walk around our site now and it has become the de facto standard
- [LOSE] others feeling left out. By opening a space and stripping it down to cement floors, we created a weird situation where some felt left out at our site. Rather than empowering others to create similar spaces themselves, we were instead looked upon as a group with special privileges. I wish I could say these interoffice politics have ended, but I can say we are coming closer to overcoming them.
- [WIN] adoption by full time staff. We never had a problem with millennials in our space. They love it and can’t see why people would want to work anywhere else. We even use this space to recruit more millennials. What we struggle with is office dwellers breaking free of their walls. When I left for maternity leave I was worried I would return and find no fulltime employees left in our WatHaus space without me there to inspire bug them. When I returned I was pleased to see we had over half of our team permanently residing there (in addition to our awesome millennials).
- [LOSE] ambient music. I had dreams of a coffee shop atmosphere, complete with light jazz (or in my case 90s alternative) lightly playing in the background. What I soon discovered was that (1) people don’t share the same tastes in music, and (2) what may be ambient to some is really annoying to others to the point where they can’t concentrate. So I have learned to take bustling work noise over Radiohead to maintain harmony.
- [WIN] innovative development. Maybe a stretch, but I do think this space has helped our team embrace design thinking elements within development. If I look over the projects Emerging Technologies has accomplished in the past two years within our WatHaus they are pretty AMAZING! From LifeScanner to Vantage Drilling co-innovation, we’ve embraced user empathy and working effectively in multi-disciplinary teams that combine business, design, and development. The WatHaus has definitely helped to facilitate this innovation.
"Open space" has been used for the "SAP war rooms" at least for over a decade with about the same conclusions - some people like it, some don't. Personally I believe that the environment that accommodates personal preferences of every worker as much as possible would be more effective than "one size fits all" (e.g. working from home solves this issue altogether 🙂 ).
And let's keep in mind that some people might simply be more reluctant to speak up about the environment because having a job is more important to them than having a cubicle or not. From my experience, what people tell to the management sometimes differs from what they say at the water cooler. 😉