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How to Survive Moving a Major Company into New Offices

Article October 17, 2018  |  Text by Lukáš Rozmajzl Text by Lukáš Rozmajzl

What good is The Olympics for a corporation? Why can’t employees permanently have a picture of their pet on their desk? And what are the symptoms of “occupied seat syndrome?” Keep reading and learn it all from our interview with David Mansfeld, director of the Czech branch of Johnson & Johnson Global Services, which moved into new offices this year.

We met with David Mansfeld for an interview half a year after the move. A move into new spaces that he’s proud of, although he does add: “Offices aren’t everything; the people you work with are what’s important.”

Some of the employees were worried about the move. Did any of them go so far as to quit?

Some of them were indeed worried, of course. Especially those who previously had closed offices and then suddenly didn’t. But nobody has stated to us that were leaving due to their inability to work in the new spaces.

How satisfied are people after a half-year there?

We’ll see! We’re running a satisfaction survey right now. When it comes to such large changes, people are initially either absolutely unsatisfied or utterly in love. And not even after three months can they learn everything about what works and what doesn’t. Now, I think, is the right time.

Do you already have some first signs regarding what needs to be adjusted in the future? For example when you compare the floor plans before the move and now, has anything changed?

I have to knock on wood that no spontaneous shifts of furniture have occurred. But we have indeed adjusted some things. For example we’ve added roller blinds on the windows of the terrace, where there’s a small cafe. The direct sunlight that had been hitting even passersby really was unpleasant.

Another thing that we also have to reflect better is a certain fear that people have that the building lacks seats. And so—if I may exaggerate a bit—they like to book their seats a half-year in advance just to be sure.

WE EXPECTED DISAGREEMENT

How satisfied are you personally with the moving process and the merging of the firm under a single roof? If you could go back, would you do anything differently?

Even though it may sound arrogant, there’s nothing fundamental that we’d do differently. We also invited employee representatives into the whole process, deliberately choosing employees from whom we didn’t solely expect agreement, although at the same time we didn’t want to only hear the opinions of people who are immediately against everything. I think that the feedback we had was very good. We met people halfway in a number of areas.

On the other hand, I’m not an advocate of people being able to dictate what their office looks like simply because they’ll be working in it. That also applies for top management. Very often we all have a tendency to speak out even a little too much, because we all have our taste, but we don’t see things’ functionality and overall design. Here we should rely on professionals in office design or, say, ergonomics.

So office spaces should be designed by experts who know the field’s latest studies and trends? Not by the top management who know where the company will be going? And not the people who form the majority of those who will ultimately be working inside them?

All three groups should play a part in it—but one by one. Management should first say: we’re going to have 1,000 people here, and not 300. And they should at the same time define whether, in terms of work style, those 1,000 people will really be in that building, or whether they’ll stop by in the morning, pick up documents, and spend the rest of the day visiting customers and then come in in the evening to fill out a business-travel form.

Then there’s the role of the consultants, who, based on this, propose what will be an open-space, what will be closed rooms, and in what numbers. Meanwhile people who know ergonomics and office furniture will hold a selection process or propose several suppliers. Just like us with our furniture supplier selection process and its four finalists.

We then went on and invited employee representatives. Each of the companies placed some of its furniture in our offices, and people had two days to work with it and touch it in sample offices. Our employees’ voice was then important in the selection of the final product.

NO SURE THINGS

One new thing that you implemented after the move into the new offices was hot-desking, where people can work in whichever spot they want. Why did you decide for it?

This is a trend with which Johnson & Johnson identifies. It surely occurs to everyone that it saves money. If you have 1,200 people served by 1,200 chairs, then, although everyone knows where to sit, there are also a number of seats empty—people who are sick, on vacation, on the road, working from home, etc.

When we cooperated with CBRE to run a study on the real number of employees at our offices, we found out the desk count needed runs from about ⅔ up to ¾ of our overall employee count.

Where did you then spend the money you saved?

We invested it into shared spaces. We saw this as an enormous opportunity. When you invest into shared spaces, people meet there, talk there, and suddenly gain a whole new perspective. We wanted our people to meet each other more. And we wanted the change to our work environment to support innovation.

Were your wishes here granted?

When we first moved, we were a little scared that everyone would just sit in their places and thus leave the shared spaces and relaxation zones empty. But as it happened, the winter Olympics were running right then. People very quickly learned to visit the shared spaces to watch the broadcasts.

ESTER AND THE CLEANING LADIES

So the Olympics helped here to get people to “test” the new spaces—but it also clearly showed you as the manager how many people at a given moment were at work, but not working. Didn’t you mind?

I led by example and joined in the cheering-on. I think it really helped with the perception that we’re all normal here and in the same boat. That doesn’t mean the the manager can watch two-thirds of a hockey game and an employee just one-third. We’ve really evolved in the last ten years, and we leave it up to people when and how and from where they do their job.

All the same, the biggest Czech sports success, the golden ski run by Ester Ledecká, was scheduled for early Saturday morning, and so the only employees here who watched it were perhaps the cleaning ladies.

What were the sources of your worries as to whether people would use the company kitchens, hammocks, cafe, etc.?

Unfortunately how it worked in our original offices was that whoever was sitting in the relaxation zone or on the couch was automatically suspected of slacking, because those spots were few and were watched by all. Now we’ve sent out a message stating that relaxation zones are regular work spots too.

That brings us back around to hot-desking. What would you recommend to any other company that wants to introduce this work style?

One thing where we’ve been very strict from the very start is a clean-desk policy. A few individuals tested us and tried leaving a pet photo, books, folders, etc. on their desk… but they soon understood our rule: When I’m done with work, I put everything in my locker. If I don’t, the cleaning service has clear instructions to take everything and prepare the given work spot so that it can be used by whoever wants it.

GALLERY: New offices for the Czech branch of Johnson & Johnson Global Services