Looking At Your Workplace With A Diversity and Inclusion Mindset

There’s no one way to approach Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.  However, we’re very lucky as Workplace Experience professionals to be able to take an active and vital role in improving the setting for these initiatives.  If you work at a company that is embracing diversity and inclusion, the below is simply a group of thought starters based on previous experience, pain points, and ways you could easily push forward to make spaces that better accommodate all users.   The focus below is mainly on inclusion, but we will be following with more blogs on Diversity as well! 

Room Schedulers and Wayfinding

I started my career when we were still using paper schedulers at Google.  That feels like a long time ago.  Today most companies have a room scheduler on every room that looks something like the below.  

 Conference Room Booking System by TEEM

Conference Room Booking System by TEEM

Unfortunately the way these are typically mounted (too high for people in wheelchairs), the way the display is designed (no accommodation for color blind users), and the way the casings work (do not have Braille to accommodate blind users) - is sub par in terms of inclusion.  How could we change this and easily make it better?  A few suggestions are to simply move the scheduler down on the wall, create displays using already known best practices from UX design, and to simply add Braille to the physical sign.  Some quick sketches of how this might work are below  - but please forgive my terrible skills at drawing:).  Again these are just a place to start!

 

 

 Move the scheduler down to a lower position for wheelchair accessibility.      

Move the scheduler down to a lower position for wheelchair accessibility.

 

 

 Adding typical UX standards for color - blindness accommodation is easy!  Also adding Braille will help your meeting rooms feel more welcoming for blind users.  Yes, it’s a legal requirement, but often one people get wrong and don’t update often. 

Adding typical UX standards for color - blindness accommodation is easy!  Also adding Braille will help your meeting rooms feel more welcoming for blind users.  Yes, it’s a legal requirement, but often one people get wrong and don’t update often. 

Conference Room Seating  

As space planners we typically try to maximize the number of seats we can fit into a conference room.  This helps our ratios and helps us to make sure that the room feels full.  But if a room is already tightly designed, and it’s not easy to move chairs around already, what does that mean for a user in a wheelchair?  Could you imagine having to come into a meeting, or an interview, and attempt to move a chair out of your way?  It doesn’t seem very welcoming at all.   

But what if you thought about designing your conference rooms differently?  What if you left a spot at every table for users?  You could easily make sure that this is done by leaving one space open, and adding a simple symbol to the end of the table.  This will help people know that this is a dedicated spot, and also let your facilities team know not to place a chair there as well.  A simple example is below. 

 

 

 Leaving space creates an invitation. 

Leaving space creates an invitation. 

 Place a symbol at the end of the table to help note that this is a dedicated space.  Bonus if it’s the new more inclusive ISO symbol.

Place a symbol at the end of the table to help note that this is a dedicated space.  Bonus if it’s the new more inclusive ISO symbol.

A Mindset for Inclusion

As I said a few times above, this is just a beginning. These are simply thought starters that are based off my own experience and pain points I’ve observed.  So how can you think about Inclusion and go further?  I’m a big believer in research and that you should do your own to figure out the best way forward for your company.  As a start I’d suggest the below: 

 

  1. Research what the legal requirements are in your region - Are you ahead of them or not even meeting them?  Are they progressive, or are they falling behind the rest of the world?  What standard should you use as your base?
  2. Consider each area of your space and think about ways in which they could be more inclusive. 
  3. Put yourself in their shoes.  Use empathy to think about how users with difference physical abilities will utilize your space.  Empathy is a powerful tool. 
  4. Try it out!  Why not create a prototype for your idea and quickly implement it.  You might find that it is well received and then have the buy in to keep pushing forward with further initiatives. 

 

There’s no perfect way to start, but starting is the hardest part.  Once you start thinking about your space with an inclusive mindset, the rest will follow.

Open Source Furniture

Open source software is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone for any purpose.  Open source software may be developed in a collaborative public manor.

What if we developed our workplace furniture the same way? So many companies are trying to solve the same problems.  How do we make our desks better for employees, how do we improve the chairs they use, how do we make conference room tables better (cable management, point of sight, etc)? What this results in is everyone creating a random half solution and only solving part of the problem.  How can we use the OSS model to drive better solutions in shorter periods of time?  My thought process on how we can achieve this is as follows.

 What if you could quickly create new furniture solutions for your teams?

What if you could quickly create new furniture solutions for your teams?

1.  Select a furniture partner who’s willing to create a custom solution with you and works with many other similar companies.  

This first step is truly important.  There are many furniture dealers in the world, and not all of them want to be involved in custom solutions work.  Many of them just want to provide the systems that they have always offered from their major partner (i.e. Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth, Knoll, etc etc etc).  However, a good furniture partner will be willing to create custom solutions for you.  You also want them to be working with companies who are scaling or building offices at the same pace you are.  That will result in more iterations on your initial design, faster!  The next step is setting up a session with your furniture partner and their industrial design partner.

2.  Identify what solutions you need, what parameters they need to meet, and how much you want to spend.

Let us say for example, you want to create a better workstation solution for your team.  Your goals are to save money, improve ergonomics, and have something that can be rearranged by employees.  Once you sit down with your furniture partner and their designer, they will be able to take these parameters and create a first round of a solution for you.  Once you go through this phase and create a base prototype solution, and then a few more iterations of design to get your initial product, you can then create your first version, “V1.”  You will likely want to create a physical prototype, to work out the final kinks, and then order a true set of the V1.

3.  Order Your Initial Product and Allow Your Furnituref Partner to Use The Design For Other Companies

This step is crucial.  You will have given your furniture partner permission to use the design you created, V1, for other clients.  Those companies can then take the V1 edition and customize it, and make iterations of it.  Each time the product will improve, and each time there will be something added that you might not even have known you needed to solve for yet.  Depending on how many companies your furniture partner is working with, this can really speed things up.

4.  Try out V4

If your furniture partner is doing a lot of projects (lets say each one takes 4 months) and they did 3 versions of this system in a year, you should end up with your V4 the following year.  V4 might look mostly like what you initially created, but it will have gone through many functional iterations since you began your efforts. Enjoy the fruits of the thought / design processes of others! 

 

Shorten the Process

Typically this kind of process would take a much longer time.  Companies spend years sweating over the details of a furniture system.  They do focus groups, committee meetings, more focus groups, surveys, testing, and other methodologies to get a “perfect product.”  However, many of these still only meet some of the criteria for a client.  You will wind up mashing together systems that aren’t from the same company just to meet the base needs of your teams.  By short circuiting this process, you can get a better product in a shorter period of time, and everyone benefits from the design processes of eachother.

 

 

 

 

 

Designing A Workplace For The Five Senses

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Museums are beautiful places.  I personally enjoy aimlessly walking around a museum and taking in the history that lies within it's walls.  What I cannot understand, is why anyone would design their space to feel like one?   Museums specifically put the focus on the objects they are displaying, and on nothing else. They are not spaces meant to house humans (not living ones at least).  Yet, many people insist on designing workplaces as museums.  When the majority of us spend more time in our workplaces than at home, we can ill afford to be in a place that is cold and inhuman.  What can we do to make our spaces feel more human?

One place to start is with Ilse Crawford’s concept of designing for the 5 senses—designing for the human experience.  It is just as relevant to Workplace as it is to the residential or hospitality fields.  As she states in her book A Frame For Life,At best, an office can act as host to the people that work there—creating the best emotional and physical conditions for them to do their best and an atmosphere of trust that they will do this—and as a space that facilitates co creation among staff and clients.”

Now, how can we start creating a human centered Workplace Experience by designing with the 5 senses in mind?

Sight

Are you designing your Workplace with one type of fluorescent or LED light across the entire space, or are you actually considering the type of work your teams will do in each space?  Different types of work require different lighting.  Programming in the right kind of light can make a big difference in productivity and how a space feels.

Sound

Have you considered what kind of sounds you do (or don’t) want people to hear in each specific area?  Have you ever accidentally placed desks for quiet work right next to a kitchen with a loud blender?  Designing with intention by defining what the sound levels are for each space in your Workplace will cut down on complaints and foster happiness within your team.

Smell(S)

What’s the first thing a guest would smell when they walk into your office?  Is it the smell of freshly ground coffee?  Or is it the smell of the trash cans that weren’t emptied the night before?   Smell is typically the last thing Workplace team considers when designing a space, but it can have a major impact (good or bad).   Even just the absence of smell is not a bad thing necessarily, as smells can be polarizing.  Considering what smells are produced by your space, and where they flow to, is important either way.

Touch

Touch is such an incredible sense and it can be used for so many things in Workplace design!  Every day we touch hundreds of objects.  Each object we interact with can inform us, guide us, or even remind us of something.  The textures of objects in a room can even change the way we experience that space.  The textures of furniture  can make the room feel more warm and put us at ease. Would’nt you feel more comfortable having a difficult meeting in a room with a soft - inviting chair,  rather than a room with a hard plastic chair?  Little human-centered details can make all the difference.

Taste 

Taste is one of the senses that can immediately spark joy.  When we taste something delicious, it can change our whole mood.  Employee food programs are a great way to help brighten people’s day, while improving their health as well.  Psychologically, people will cultivate a positive association with the space in which they had that delicious food memory. 


Human Centered Experiences

These are a few examples of how to apply thinking about the 5 senses to your Workplace, creating a human-centered design.  In reality, it takes time and effort to consider these things.  Considering them, however, is something your company should begin doing immediately.  When you start to design your spaces with the human experience at the center, then you will be creating great Workplace Experiences.

The Workplace Experience Job Titles You Should Retire In 2018 And What You Might Replace Them With

What’s in a name?

While it might be a popular trend for companies to say that “titles don’t matter,” unless you’re staying at that company forever - your previous title might matter  to your next employer.  However, there are a lot of titles in Workplace that simply no longer apply.  If your title is Receptionist and you run a catering program, it might be time for a change. Read below for a rundown of titles to change out to progress your Workplace team into 2018. 

 Take a moment and think about where your org is headed and what your team members do. 

Take a moment and think about where your org is headed and what your team members do. 

Old title: Office Manager

New Title: Workplace Experience Manager  

 The Difference:  There are definitely office managers in the world, and they’re great.  They might run a medical office, dental office, or they may work at a larger corporation.  That said, the job specifications in forward thinking startups and other fast scaling companies does not translate to “office manager.”  Workplace Experience professionals run events, design spaces, establish norms, and help keep company culture strong. 

Old title: Facilities Manager

New Title:  Physical Ops Manage

The Difference: Facilities management is a field unto itself, and deserves more respect.  That said, when talking about FM at younger companies, the FM teams typically get handed a whole plethora of jobs that don’t fit a typical FM role.  Just a few examples; educating users on why things went wrong and how they’re getting fixed, researching and integrating new forward thinking solutions  to better improve indoor environments, and creating nationally used standards and processes (and updating them every year as the company grows 2-10x).  There’s a lot more customer facing burden out on these teams at young companies.

Old title: Receptionist

New Title: Concierge Services

The Difference:  Every company I’ve worked at or had close colleagues head off to in the past 8 years have had roles called receptionists or front desk coordinators, but does this really cover the scope of what those team members do?  No!  Today these team members manage programs from the desk.  They do all the hard work behind the programs and wind up with a plethora of odd assignments from different parts of Workplace.  It can be a great learning experience for the right person.  All the while, they’re expected to greet guests, work with vendors, and give candidates a great experience.  They’re the first and last person people interact with, and their position should be seen as vital, not just someone who “receives” people.


Old title: Likely Does Not Currently Exist 

New Title:  Wellness Specialist

 The Difference:  Over the past decade there’s been an increase in awareness of health in the workplace.  This includes not just physical, but mental health as well.  Think beyond ergonomics and “health week.”  These future teammates will help build mindfulness programs, fitness programs, and even help develop healthy standards for internal food programs.  Remember, healthy employees are productive and happy. 

 Thanks, We’ll Keep Our Current Titles

I am of course just one person and have a particular point of view about where the future of workplace is headed. However, all these titles are is suggestions.  I would propose that if you want to create a workplace that is progressive and cares for employees (and cares for those who care for your employees) you will at least consider looking at your current org.  Think about customizing your teams titles to their actual roles and your company culture.  It might just make a difference.

 

 

Why You're Not Improving Your Workplace, And Three Things You Can Do About It

Endless amounts of research has been done on the subject of how people work in and interact with their space on a daily basis.  Many have come to consider it the differentiator between a great workplace and an average workplace.  More and more people want to know how to make their space the best, or how to make a space that attracts the best talent.  How do you compete as a smaller company with the likes of Google and Facebook?  The easiest answer for many, is to try and copy what those highly ranked companies are doing.  However, those companies have spent countless amounts of time, dollars, and research into optimizing their spaces to attract / retain top talent.  To be honest though, even they’ve gotten a lot wrong along the way.  So how can you avoid getting it wrong, or at least learn from their mistakes?  Below, I will describe three common elements to creating a great workplace, that are very easy to get wrong.

1) Open Space Planning Vs Providing A Way for Everyone to Work the Way They Want

The open space plan is one of the most controversial subjects in workplace.  Countless articles have been written in regards to the horrors of lost productivity and privacy. However, many large / succesful companies are using this method of space planning.  There’s a major caveat here though:  the succesful ones, are also providing a menu of other types of spaces for employees.

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When you open your space up to increase collaboration you also have to give your employees options to work in other ways than just at a desk. The same way not everyone likes to work in a closed office, not everyone likes to work in a coffee shop.  There’s no one type of employee.  It’s important to study your employees and make calculated decisions as a company as to how your employees work together.  You can then create a menu of space (open desks for collaboration, conference rooms for meetings, libraries for seclusion, etc).  

2)  Food programs that increase productivity and encourage community vs Junk food and Energy Drinks 

The endless food and beverage offerings of large tech companies are legendary in the tech communities. “I heard they have pho every day!”  When focused in the right way, a good food program can help foster community, improve the health of your employees, and optimize your employees time.  Now before you go installing a kitchen in your office and pumping out endless pizzas, you should step back and ask yourself why you’re providing food to employees, and what kind of program you want to create?

 Mmmm pizza

Mmmm pizza

Believe it or not, your food and beverage program needs clear goals and strategy.  When you reach a point of wanting to provide a service such as this to employees, it’s important to take a moment and formulate a plan.  Are you trying to get your employees to maximize their time at the office?  Are you trying to get your employees to build better relationships with their teammates and other coworkers? Do you want employees staying after hours and just socializing in the office? Once you start to answer some of these questions you can begin to look for more resources to help you implement the proper way.  

There’s no one size fits all solution.  You need to customize your programs to your company, culture, and employees.

3)  You should be Collecting and Utilizing Data to make decisions and improve your workplace.

 It’s very normal for companies who are just getting started to quickly throw desks into a space, and throw up some meeting rooms.  You’ll buy some whiteboards and maybe some couches too.  However, once you start to scale up and grow past your first 100 employees, it’s important to start making data driven decisions.  If no one’s using the couches, or that 50 person board room you thought you needed, then it’s probably time to make some changes. 

 Without data - you're just in a maze with no clear direction. 

Without data - you're just in a maze with no clear direction. 

 

If you measure how your employees utilize their space, what foods they do / dont eat, and even how they feel about the temperature of the office - it can help you build better spaces as your company grows.  However, collecting utilization data is just the first part of the puzzle.  You also need to dedicate time and resources to actively researching best practices and how the workplace is constantly changing. 

Custom Solutions Are Key

In summary, looking at your workplace strategically is vitally important to your company as you grow.  The earlier you begin to look at your workplace as one of your greatest assets for increasing productivity and the overall retention of employees, the better prepared you will be for growth.  There’s no one size fits all solution to workplace programs.  You need to customize your programs to your company, culture, and employees - or risk falling behind the competition.