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How to Design a Workplace for Wellbeing: 2 Critical Factors

Want a workplace where employees thrive? Try incorporating these two principles.
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The Follett Corporation--a fifth generation family-owned business--underwent a facelift this year. While the office redesign started as a strategic attempt to consolidate buildings, it wound up revitalizing the entire organization.

Aspen trees appear to grow independently of one another, but just below the surface the trees are linked by a root system that ranks among the largest on the planet. This metaphor was not lost on the new Follett CEO, Mary Lee Schneider, as she imagined what a dynamic and connected organization could look like.

Like an Aspen tree's interconnected root system, Follett has completely reorganized itself from a once functionally fragmented company separated into five different buildings into one that enjoys a pragmatic consolidation of buildings. More importantly, it now has a cohesive identity and a renewed sense of wellbeing.

Follett provides technology, services, and content (print and digital) to both K-12 schools and universities around the world. Schneider decided to make the Follett offices better reflect the company's work. They are the center of where education is being delivered because the materials they provide reach students in over 60,000 K-12 schools and on nearly 1,000 college campuses. It was time their workplace reflected their values of learning, transparency, and progress.

Here are two principles Follett used, and why they worked:

Get People Talking

Separate buildings created a feeling of fragmentation among Follett employees. In order to unify the company around a single vision, they knew they needed to bring everyone under one roof.

Armed with designers from CannonDesign, "developing 'the story' of Follett's business evolution became the inspiration for the workplace, as well as the change management trigger that has cultivated the connection among their employees," said Meg Osman, the Client Leader for the Follett transformation.

CEO Mary Lee Schneider wanted Follett's work to evolve and discovered that she could use the work environment as a catalyst for this change. Armed with a change management perspective, she asked "How can our environment not just contain how work gets done, but be a catalyst [to evolve] the business?"

The problem with decentralized workspaces is that they operate in a "clunky" and inefficient way.  When you want greater efficiency, more innovation, and stronger collaboration, you have to completely reimagine how your environment functions.

Schneider leads with the value that "we're better together than working separately." Her ultimate desire was to get people out of offices and talking to one another.

Follett's new space features connection points & Huddle Rooms. They have themed rooms like "The Hive" where learning happens and "The Cloud," which houses the IT department. The rooms give a sense of belonging to a smaller division, but also characterize the relationship of that smaller division to the larger company.

It's a similar concept to Google's belief in workspace designs that encourage employee interaction, or as they term it, "casual collisions," which create the possibility for innovation throughout the day by reducing isolation and increasing connectivity.

Follett's goal is to create that close-knit feel without slipping into the downside of open workspaces that can reduce worker well-being. To accommodate both focused work and interactive work, Follett offers both public and private spaces. Although the floor plan is 95 percent open, it features quiet spaces, or "enclaves."

Give People Choice

In order to adapt to the growing mobile workforce, Follett uses a radial workstation design that lets employees control their work environment. They are able to decide what they need throughout the day as they move through different tasks and projects. Real estate is determined by functional need, not office hierarchy.

A typical floor is designed with about 10 different types of work settings to choose from--from formal to informal, individual to highly collaborative. Everyone now has access to private space for conference calls and impromptu meetings, in order to limit distractions in the open environment.

This flexible arrangement is also supported by adaptive technology. WiFi, mobile workstations, laptops, and cloud computing give employees as much freedom as the layout of the space.

This mobile set-up allows Follett to work as a dynamic organism. As Stowe Boyd points out in "Metaphors Matter: Talking About How We Talk About Organizations," an organization that functions like a dynamic organism is better able to change and adapt. It can shift quickly to meet growing needs.

By giving employees the ability to adapt over small day to day shifts in to-do lists, noise, and environmental needs, it also gives them a greater sense of autonomy when it's time to address larger concerns, like project ownership.

The net result of the new office design is that Follett employees are strengthening their relationships and their sense of autonomy--both critical factors for wellbeing. 

Have you experienced similar benefits from an office redesign? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Last updated: May 1, 2014




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