Imagine going home one evening to find that your entire house has been changed without consulting you; your furniture re-arranged, bedrooms switched, wardrobes re-organised, and walls re-painted a fresh new colour. Imagine being advised that the change is what the household needs, despite you finding the changes impractical, you can’t find anything, and your bedroom is now half the size it was before.
It is common for employees to experience something similar within the workplace when an office move or re-design occurs. In many ways, the workplace is a ‘second home’ to employees who spend most of their days there, and how the environmental changes impact behaviour and performance of daily duties is frequently neglected. Often, physical environment changes can be seen as ‘material’ and can be treated no differently to buying new mugs for the office kitchen, consequently overlooking the impact of the changes on employees.
Examples of space changes in the workplace include office redesign, relocation, reducing of office space, new spaces for new businesses and introducing new ways of working, such as Activity Based Working.
The following features can have negative or positive responses from employees during or after the change is implemented:
- Privacy levels
- Noise levels
- Amount of space
- Personalisation (e.g. personal photos)
- Temperature and lighting levels
- Location of people and/or teams required for work
- Technological changes
Now, re-read the list above and consider the impact it would have on you if these features were changed in your home without your consent. For example, if you were no longer able to put family pictures around your home, or the fence backing onto your neighbours was removed. People typically hold some emotional attachment to physical spaces, despite whether this is at home or work. Therefore, it is important to consider employees, along with organisational strategy to reduce the chance of dissatisfaction and disengagement.
Research shows that employee engagement can be negatively impacted by poor change management, and maintaining employee engagement throughout any change is vital for its success. As with other organisational changes, physical environment changes need to be carefully considered and planned, both in relation to how the change impacts the organisation, and how the change itself can impact employees. Employees tend to consider whether a change leaves them better or worse off and this is no different with physical environment changes. Approaching work environment changes in a manner similar to other organisational change initiatives is imperative for the transformation to be effective and facilitate the organisation’s direction and needs.