Offices fascinate me. Each workplace I’ve been in is so different; they have different vibes, norms, arguments, and celebrations. It all combines to form an office culture. But most office culture has a tendency to suck. Ammiright? I’ve been in offices where bullies yell to get their point across. Conversations where everyone’s input is not expected or respected. Meetings that are a disorganized waste of time. Colleagues that felt intimidated or discouraged by other colleagues. Places where hard work isn’t celebrated, or milestones acknowledged. You know the deal with office culture. It’s always a little broken… broken but fixable.
Rethink and re-design your office’s culture
Office culture is the result of a dynamic system: people, history, rules, and social norms. A dynamic system with various parts that may interact. That’s the same way I describe any UX Design challenge. I address these kinds of design challenges by rethinking, remixing, sampling, and rearranging, taking into account the way an entire system works. And it’s a strategy I’ve used to redesign office culture as well. I can break it down into 4 parts:
- Start With Your Environment
- Push at the seams
- Destroy something
- Measure and adjust
Part 1: Start With Your Environment
After moving from New York to Amsterdam for web design work, I found myself in a job with a broken office culture. There were elements that completely threw me off of my game. I was producing work that didn’t satisfy the standards I held for the stuff that I make. I was distracted, defensive, and felt isolated. One of the most challenging aspects of the office was a traditional Dutch practice in the office that offended me to the very core, Zwarte Piet. There was no way I could arrive to work everyday and feel comfortable about it – I took it personally. However, I envisioned a change to that workplace, but first needed to know which aspects of that system could support the rethinking of the tradition and behaviour that I wanted.
My goal was to work in an office without Zwarte Piet. First I asked HR about who determines behavioural policy in the office. They then connected me to one of the lawyers for the company. He and I had conversations where I proposed that the company no longer organize those traditional activities in the office. Those conversations resulted in a major change in my environment: the company was still going to sponsor a traditional celebration, but it would now always happen after hours on a weekend, outside of the office. In the end, there was no more Zwarte Piet in the office and I was able to direct my attention and creative energy towards the product I was designing instead of battling the environment in which I designed.