Is it worth engaging HR in building a new office space?

It’s beyond any doubt that HR teams play an important role in every organisation as people are a critical market success factor. They have impact on many areas of business operations, from strategic planning to image building. Both employees and job applicants are internal clients of HR specialists whose job is to provide an appropriate work environment. Hence, the title question should rather be: “How could HR teams support building a new office space”?

 But HR deal with people, not an office! Really?

Given the currently tight labour market and the effect the office has on corporate culture, employee satisfaction and retention, the HR team’s commitment and expertise in office planning are rising in significance. We should be aware that the workplace and the office are not only about rooms, furniture or equipment. And therefore, a holistic approach to office design is highly advisable in the modern market practice and conditions – it should take account of a set of architectural and functional settings, prevailing procedures and customs, opportunities, experiences, and signals or messages communicated to the outside world. If such a view of a work environment is adopted, it will require HR involvement in building a new office space as it brings out its relevance to the firm’s employees, visitors, clients, and thereby to its internal and external image.

 Key concept: communication

Considering the mechanisms of everyday operations in an office space, we can actually come to a conclusion that basically all office processes are based on communication. Communication is a key element in all workplace strategy analyses. An architectural design of an office, its equipment and interior fit-out are important factors but tend to result from communication goals. Efficient (and broadly understood) communication is at the heart of office space design. That is why teams responsible for internal and external communication, i.e. HR and public relations, play such an important role in change design processes and subsequently in change management.

At many firms and institutions with a low headcount or no need for a strong public relations team, internal communication is the responsibility of HR specialists who know the best all the problems of the staff and of communication between employees and internal units. They also have the tools to observe and review communication processes, information flows and internal relations. They understand the current conditions and needs as regards the work environment, work organisation, office equipment and operations. The question of whether to engage HR in building a new office space is quite a rhetorical one as change initiation and management would be outright impossible without HR support. Any attempts at workplace reorganisation with HR sitting on the sidelines are most often doomed to fail.

 What to do?

How to engage HR experts in workplace strategy planning and new arrangements in practice? Starting a discussion about change with the entire personnel at the right time is a critical success/failure factor. If employees accept a project as theirs, we are likely to achieve a positive effect. If they see it as imposed on them, we will face greater or lesser resistance, or sometimes an outright objection. That’s why HR tasks and challenges will include: to engage the largest possible number of employees in active identification of the advantages and disadvantages of the current workplace arrangements, to seek change allies and ambassadors, and authority figures who – being enthusiastic about the change – could inspire others to look for new concepts together, and a two-way information flow in an interesting and engaging format.

HR play an equally important role in an audit designed to provide answers to some basic questions about the current situation of an organisation and to identify detailed reasons for change. What do we want to achieve with the change? What problems do we want to solve and what opportunities do we want to create? Will the contemplated change help us improve our corporate processes or are we just falling victim to fads? Our employees will help us answer these questions and make a diagnosis. This stage will call for collaboration with external workplace strategy and change management experts who may have a tough job if HR are not involved.

Wojciech Krupa

Warsaw, 27 May 2019