Office design plays a huge role in defining the corporate culture of an organization. Think about it, an office layout defines how employees plan, collaborate, and execute on their work. As a result, a lot of money is poured into office design. Yet, despite all the time, money, and expert opinions, there might be an easier way to create a productive office layout. Next time instead of hiring a design professional, it may make more sense to let your employees design the office…yes, you read that correctly. Trust me.
Colorado based project management software company, Rally Software embraced this philosophy. When redesigning their office space, Rally Software turned to the people who use it most: their employees. For the most part employee design requirements were what you would expect, corner offices, cubicles etc…that was until they turned to R&D.
The folks in R&D had their own agenda. They specifically wanted to stress flexibility in their new office layout. When asked to communicate the needs of the department, Steve Stolt, a product-line manager who represented R&D, told the architects that they did not want any offices, and to simply “just pile all of our desks and chairs in the corner.” These demands were not only a bit unorthodox, but also sent waves of intrigue through the organization. Why doesn’t R&D want any offices? Are they just being difficult? What’s going on over there?
This eventually ended up with the design team complaining about the “obstructionist from R&D” to Rally Software’s CEO, Tim Miller. When confronted Stolt, explained that the department desperately wanted a flexible space. In an email he explained the logic behind their demands:
“The tough part about space planning, typically, is dealing with the constraints: walls, power and network hardlines. To solve the walls problem, we decided to have ‘t-walls’ built. These are ‘T’ shaped walls on wheels…We chose these because someone had seen something similar at the Stanford d.school. To handle the power and network challenges, we ran power grids on the ceiling. These grids allow us to drop a power line anywhere we need it.”
Eventually the architects gave in, and let the department design their workspace. This “leap of faith” had turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
In an Inc. article, Stolt recounted their move in day, “Remember when you built forts as a kid? That’s pretty much what this was like…the R&D teams love the new space.”
So what’s the lesson here? I think Stolt communicates it best, “The best part is that we own the space. We build it, and if we decide at some point that we don’t like it or it isn’t working anymore, we can change it. No one is stopping us.” The important take away Rally Software learned during this experiment was that if you want an office space that helps foster your existing corporate culture, it’s time to stop meeting with the architects and instead ask your employees. Not only will employees be happy because it’s their space, but also it will inherently help foster the kind of corporate culture that organizations spend so much time and effort creating.