This article is part one of a three-part series about enhancing the way we work at BWBR. The series covers why we are changing; how we are changing; and the results so far.
Six years on from end of the Great Recession, the scars can still make us feel like we are in recovery. Yet, healing scars create both growth and opportunity to change for the better.
Since the recession, BWBR has rebounded with incredible growth, some years at double-digit rates. Such growth raised questions throughout our operations – onboarding, training, and maintaining quality, among others. The big challenge, though, involved space and culture. Do we simply add more space for more people, or might we use our current space more effectively? Not only was it a question of where to place people, but how might this change the way we work.
Interestingly, these are some of the same questions many of our clients are asking us as well. Our space problem became an opportunity to explore for ourselves, and our clients, solutions that would enhance the way we work, be an employer of choice for the best talent, and improve the outcomes of our designs.
Drive Collaboration across Teams
Historically, our office has been a field of workstations with individuals assigned a desk that’s usually located close to the project team with whom they are currently working. Desks became personalized nests, with all of the normal creature comforts, such as photos and knick-knacks collected over time, along with files and papers from current and past projects.
New project assignments would mean an office shuffle, and individuals would move their nest to a new team location. This approach promoted internal project team collaboration and project specific knowledge sharing. However, it also creates project silos which limit cross-team or interoffice collaboration. If a resource isn’t assigned to your team, you tend to make do without it.
At one of our recent annual cultural retreats (BWBR YOUniversity) we played a game where four teams each drew scrabble letters from a bag and were asked to build the highest point total word or phrase using all available letters. Each team assumed that the only letters they could use were the ones within their team, although no such restriction was given. One team had drawn a Q but couldn’t use it for lack of a U, even though several of the other teams possessed one. The
lesson? Go get the U. If a team needs a resource that’s not officially assigned to your project, go get it.
We are ONE team. One of the goals of our office reconfiguration is to break through the implied barriers between teams and foster firm-wide, cross-team collaboration.
A Team of Teams
Inspired by the concepts explored in Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams, we wanted our physical space to break down the silos and inspire individuals and teams to see themselves as part of a much larger network throughout the office. This means encouraging teams to build relationships and connections beyond the boundary of a project. The outcome is a practice that is more nimble and bold – beginning at the project team level. With physical space that encourages flexibility, and the tools that allow mobility, we’re exploring what it means to be a more connected practice.
Mobility and Flexibility
To achieve this vision meant seeing our office in a different light through the guiding principles or mobility and flexbility. As technology from laptops to smartphones to wireless networks have blurred the boundaries of the workplace, we saw the opportunity to leverage technology to blur the boundaries of the desk. Creating a place where the tethers to a desk are cut allows individuals to go where they can most effectively accomplish the task at hand.
A Learning Environment
There are no-one-size-fits-all solutions, and change always provides opportunities to learn. From employees who will thrive in such an environment to others who may struggle, we now have an environment to learn what roles may be better suited for flexibility and mobility. Working with clients who are embarking on this journey, and explaining to them what they may be venturing into, is difficult to do with just words. Having a living laboratory where we can show clients what new ways of working look like has provided an opportunity for enhanced knowledge sharing. Using this first-hand experience to tell our story has allowed us to help our clients write their own story.
Recruit and Retain Top Talent
And finally, we know that our team and industry talent wants this change, too. We need to adapt to retain and attract the best people. The workforce of today is different than the past. They collaborate differently and have different expectations of work-life integration. They expect a workplace that accommodates, and celebrates, those differences. Embracing change allows us to thrive and be relevant in a marketplace that is all about mobility, flexibility, team collaboration, and thoughtful growth.
Continue the Transformation
So that is some of why we are changing. When you read the next articles in this series, you’ll learn about what we changed to enhance the way we work. We’ll also discuss how those changes have impacted the way we work so far. It is and continues to be an evolving inside-out transformation that we’re excited to make.