Next spring, traditional, individual offices will become history, as the VR head office relocates to the multi-purpose environment at Iso Paja. In order to make a successful move, a new office etiquette is required.
At the moment, people at the VR head office are preparing for a major move. In the spring of 2018, around 800 people will move to brand new premises in Pasila and start working in a multi-purpose environment spread over five floors. While facing changes to their daily commute, they will also have to give up their individual offices and workstations. They are leaving behind the unique atmosphere of the old VR head office and the history of the building.
However, the biggest changes relate to operating methods and learning new practices. The changes will not only affect people at the head office; over time, the new practices will be extended to the other VR offices.
Goodbye to silos
To implement this major change, VR is receiving help from Workspace, a company that specialises in modernising working environments. The company is responsible for operational support and guidance, as well as for interior design in project Iso Paja. Project Manager, Minna Söderholm, is familiar with multi-purpose environments.
“Probably the biggest change is that in a multi-purpose space, we are all visible. This, and working together, will promote a sense of community. People will come out of their silos and spend more time together”, she says.
This will also help improve the flow of information and reduce the need for formal meetings.
Workspaces are very important to employees; these are emotional matters. A new boss is no big deal, but if someone takes away your walls, you will feel it.
Your own office might have been a status symbol. Now everyone, including management, is often sitting in the same space and working together. The traditional culture with its closed doors and traffic lights will be forgotten.
“Of course, we all want to build a nest, it makes us feel safe. We all want to know which door to use in the morning, where to put our bag and where to go for coffee. People have asked me if they will need to come in earlier in the morning in order to find a workstation”, Söderholm says.
The change is a journey for all of us, and nobody has a crystal ball. There will undoubtedly be questions once we get to Iso Paja and we will need to discuss them and resolve any issues.
However, Söderholm has good news: she has been involved in reshaping a number of companies and seen that activity-based offices generate many benefits – even for the most sceptical employees. We have also seen an increase in job satisfaction after people have spent a while in an activity-based office.
The change will also benefit the employer. After personnel, the cost of working space is the largest item of expenditure. Individual offices are often left empty when employees are in meetings or out visiting customers. Space utilisation in activity-based offices is high, which generates savings.
Clear office etiquette
When moving from traditional premises to spaces with no designated workstations, everyone needs to know the purpose of the change and how to behave in the new space.
“We can build the premises, but the key is in how people own them”, Söderholm points out.
Activity-based environments require a clear office etiquette. Everyone must know where the noisiest meetings are held, where Skype calls are made and where to go for a quiet chat. It is also important to make clear whether a spot is intended to be somewhere you can just pop in, or whether a reservation is required. “In one company, we ended up printing No camping signs to put in places that were designed to be used by everyone”, says Söderholm.
In addition to an office etiquette, it is important to organise an induction to the new premises.
Many people think that activity-based offices are the same as open-plan offices, but they are, in fact, two very different types of workspace. Activity-based offices include many kinds of areas for working, while an open-plan office has one space for everything. Iso Paja will have small conference rooms, areas for quiet work, libraries, staff cafés and buzzing areas.
“Open-plan offices have a bad reputation. When they were designed, no attention was paid to the acoustics. Tall dividers were set up, making people think they were isolated and could talk loudly”, Söderholm says.
Many people are wondering how to ensure confidentiality in an activity-based environment. Where can I go to call a doctor? Can I protect my screen from prying eyes? There are a number of ways.
“Confidential information can be protected with screen protectors and secure printing. There is no need to make private calls in the toilet when we have soundproof areas for quiet work”, says Söderholm.
What about filing and paperwork? Where will they go? Where do I put my family and pet photos?
Minna Söderholm has not yet seen a paper-free office, but the trend is clear: information is stored in memory devices, not on paper. In order to achieve a paper-free office, our tools must support our work. For example, at the VR office, you can have two large screens on your desk if your work requires you to have access to multiple Excel sheets simultaneously.
And there can be a shared wall in the coffee area for everyone’s photos of their kids, cats and dogs.
Text Helen Moster – Images Kaisu Jouppi
Originally published in the VR staff magazine Nyt 01/2017