What happens when you find out you’ll no longer have an assigned space to sit at work?

In short? You FREAK OUT.

It was a delightfully warm winter day at Citrix HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, and my manager pulled me aside. He said there were rumblings about a special project that would require some heavy-duty change management. As a change management professional, always hungry for the next people challenge, I was intrigued.

What he said was something like this:

Michael’s team is going to move to open seating, meaning it will all be unassigned. The walls are coming down. No one will have an office. We are calling it workAnywhere … and this has never been done at Citrix before.

“Wait,” I gasped. “What?! No one—not even our senior leaders—will have an assigned desk? Wait. I WON’T HAVE MY OWN SPACE?!”

::commence hyperventilation and dizziness::

OK. I’m breathing again.

I am a practitioner of a discipline called change management, which is about helping initiatives achieve their outcomes by planning to bring people along for the ride so that by the time the organization is ready to have a new idea, innovation, process or system in place…the people who need to use it are ready too. By the way, change management professionals don’t necessarily love change when it happens to us.

This was going to be a true change challenge.

What made it dicier was that I was part of the group impacted by the change. I had a vested interest in making sure this went well. I also had the inside scoop about what people were feeling … because it’s what I was feeling.

Once the architectural blueprints were done, we’d have six months to transform people’s mindsets while the real estate team transformed the physical space. And, we were starting with a group that was in shock. We had people downright refusing to make the transition. Most were skeptics, curious to see the fallout, and one or two were (or were pretending to be) enthusiastic.

Our first all-hands meeting included people asking to opt out, and others asking questions like the ones below. (BTW — these are the questions you should expect at the beginning, because they were exactly the same for the next implementation):

  • What will we do about germs?
  • How will I find people?
  • How do I manage a team I can’t see?
  • Where will I find quiet space?

For anyone considering a workplace redesign, I encourage you to include a plan for the employee journey as a priority. If you don’t, you are already at risk of not realizing your investment. And, we’ve seen it at Citrix: when the people side was ignored and the sponsor wasn’t committed, an entire department rebelled against the new arrangement, petitioning to return to assigned seating. The gains of higher utilization and collaboration were never realized.

Synergy 2016 includes workshops where we’ll directly address the people challenges of a workplace redesign initiative. And, I’ll be roaming the halls, happy to speak with you about how we handled the change management elements of this pioneering transformation at Citrix.

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