It is well-known that the workplace has undergone extensive changes in the last two years. While discussions of the pandemic may feel exhausted, this topic still impacts people personally and professionally. Some have questioned whether things will one day return to normal; but, business leaders have discovered this may never be the case.
Work standards have changed across the board. Employees are now requesting hybrid work models, health-conscious protocols, and new designs to safely welcome them back into the office. Many leading companies are responding to this demand; a Steelcase study reveals 96% of leaders are shifting their workplace strategies to support employee retention, engagement, productivity, and overall success. The benefits do not end there, though. Improving work environments has also been shown to enhance customer experiences and increase company profits.
Evolving workplace culture is at an all-time high, it has turned the workplace into a “living laboratory” of sorts. In other words, it has become a testing ground to explore new concepts in space design, furniture layout, technology, and work styles. According to Steelcase, a holistic approach is essential to improving work experiences. It’s not just about creating an attractive environment; space and behavior are linked, which can influence work processes and culture. By creating a better work experience, organizations can boost job performance, collaboration, innovation, and other factors.
It wouldn’t be responsible for businesses to invest in these workplace improvements without the data to back it up. Companies want statistics before investing the resources into a new space. Steelcase has found 93% of companies are using pilot or prototype work experiences to gather research to build the best designs possible to elevate employee experiences.
Pilots and Prototypes
Pilots and prototypes are the foundation for gathering data. It is a practice of trial and error that encourages participants to refine and evolve the variables to reach desired outcomes. While their purposes are similar, the scope and scale are different—prototypes are typically smaller while pilots are broader.
More robust pilot programs, for example, might require investments in high-end technology to test out ways to enhance workplace performance or atmosphere. Comparatively, prototypes may simply involve arranging furniture to see how people respond to different layouts. Contrary to popular belief, pilots do not need to be expensive or highly planned; they can be informal if necessary.
Businesses that implement pilots and prototypes can achieve a variety of benefits, including:
- Reduced financial risk by allowing companies to test concepts before investing in workplace solutions.
- New insights about potential challenges, which helps with formulating solutions to overcome hurdles.
- Enhancements to the company culture. Investments aiming to elevate employee experiences show care and support. Enhancing the workplace engages personnel, which can increase retention rates and attract new talent. In addition, pilots and prototypes set the tone that your business is a forward-thinking environment that encourages learning and continuous improvement.
There is a hierarchy to implementing these types of workplace changes. The levels of change include:
- As is: Minimal change, such as rotating furniture to refresh the space.
- Refine: Moderate change that may include investments in new furniture to encourage employee collaboration.
- Redefine: Significant changes to the culture, processes, tools, and space. This can include new technology and furniture to improve business practices.
- Transform: A complete overhaul of the space and a cultural shift. The idea of “reinventing” a space can support positive behaviors.
Identifying Behaviors in Collaborative Workspace Design
As previously mentioned, building a new work environment is not only about an appealing office aesthetic—it is also about shaping behaviors. Before beginning a pilot or prototype, identify the desired behavior from the proposed change. For example, if a company wants more employee collaboration, it may invest in collaborative business office furniture to support this effort. Behavior defines the overall culture and promotes success, making it a key factor in a pilot or prototype.
Four elements must be considered to develop strategies that shape effective workplace experiences: process, culture, tools, and space. Shown below are some critical questions to consider.
- Process: A set of actions to get work done.
- What are the processes that need to be supported?
- How do we gather results?
- How will these results impact future decisions?
- Culture: A set of organizational values and norms.
- How much do we want to change the culture?
- What are the characteristics of an ideal culture?
- What behaviors do we want to encourage?
- Tools: Technologies and other work aids that support workplace processes.
- What technology do we want to test?
- How will this technology influence the behavior?
- How will we measure the impact of the technology?
- Space: A physical area where employees work.
- Where will the pilot or prototype be located?
- Which work modes will be present?
- How will we design the space?
Building a Pilot or Prototype Work Experience
After identifying the desired behavior, the next step is building the variables: group, location, length, measurement, and message. Guidelines and the desired outcome should be made clear, and feedback should be strongly encouraged among the participants.
- Group: To begin a pilot or prototype, companies must select a small group of credible and willing employees to try a new workspace concept for an identified time period. The group should represent all areas of your organization to make sure that the data produced is accurate. Company leaders are encouraged to show enthusiasm and engagement so that employees follow their lead.
- Location: The location varies; it could be a small office space or take up an entire floor. To build excitement and curiosity, choose a highly visible space so people passing by can see what is in the works.
- Length: Like location, this varies as well. For simpler ideas, 30 days is typically efficient for gathering data; for more comprehensive concepts, 90 days is adequate. It is important to avoid significant changes to the pilot or prototype during these timeframes to ensure accurate data is being collected.
- Measurement: To collect actionable insights, select a method for how the pilot or prototype will be measured.
- Message: The study is on display to the entire organization, ultimately sending a message about business priorities and values. Be mindful of how you want your message to be interpreted by those watching it unfold.
Once completed, make sure to thank your group for participating. Gather the data to see what you have learned and what the next step looks like for your business. Regardless of the results, understand that pilots and prototypes never truly end. The spirit of experimentation and continuous improvement should live on within your organization.