Happy Ending for the Shoemaker’s Children

It could have ended in embarrassment: we had been so busy growing the business that we almost forgot to redesign our own headquarters in Ruoholahti, Helsinki.

Rapid growth means more employees, and we had simply added more workstations to correspond to the number of staff. However, working conditions have changed, and for some the job is no longer tied to one place or one desk, especially in case of us being an office and workplace service specialists. This prompted us, eventually, to rethink our working environment.

We moved to our Ruoholahti offices in 2012, which offered plenty of room for a growing company – or so we thought. As is often the case in growth companies, we had been hiring new people, and for quite a while everyone had their own workstation once we had pushed the desks around a little and converted our communal quiet rooms into individual working spaces. Eventually we ran out of room for quiet work, telephone calls and impromptu meetings. We overcame this problem by using the stairways and the couches downstairs – as well as our imaginations.

Then one day we simply had no space, and we had to consider leaving the lovely sea views and moving to bigger premises. However, as we have many mobile workers and their desks were empty a lot of the time, it was clear that by changing our practices and the way we use the space we could easily fit more people into the office. I managed to convince the management team that we should take a fresh approach to the changes required in our working environment. So the project was launched.

We conducted a survey among our staff to identify their wishes and requirements as well as any possible fears and challenges. The responses provided no real surprises, but three points in particular stood out: there was not enough room for quiet working, the sound of shoes on the parquet flooring was annoying and everyone loved the sea view. These were our starting points when we started designing the new spaces, but we still wanted to gather more information about the staff’s needs and to get them involved in the project.

We chose Workspace Oy as our partner, and our collaboration started by setting clear targets for the project. Workspace had access to the survey results and they organized a workshop for the management team to clarify the objectives, and interviewed our staff in three groups and on three themes. They were very open to the other preset conditions and wishes. One of the underlying themes was that there would be no structural changes and that old furniture would be utilized in the new design where possible. We also wanted the office to be flexible so that further changes would be easy to achieve as we expect to keep growing. We had a meeting with the management team to discuss and win their approval for the shared targets and the preliminary plans. One of the targets was to enliven the office.

Of course, not everyone approved of the plans when they were presented for the first time, but we went over the plans a few times and managed to agree on what needed to be done to ensure that everyone is comfortable and there is plenty of room for more people and, more importantly, for more choice in terms of working space.

The people in the office were committed to the plans and eager to see the changes. Another five people from our other offices in the Helsinki metropolitan area moved to Ruoholahti, and we took over some space from the adjacent office. The new plan started with the premise that there would no longer be a personal workstation for everyone. Around half of the staff would have their own desk, but those of us who travel a lot, would share work stations suitable for different tasks. The revamp would also mean that all employees could take advantage of all the spaces in the office more easily.

The change took place a few months ago and after some adjustments, everything seems to work really well. On the rare occasions when I and the other mobile staff do come here, we sit in high back lounge chairs enjoying the sea views  or choose to work around a table for four not being bothered if we are interrupted. If we need peace and quiet, we can choose to sit at one of the screened-off workstations or go to the quiet room located away from everyone else. There is also a high counter where we can sit or stand, resting our eyes on the horizon, and which also contains the mobile workers’ lockers. We used to have two meeting rooms and a small office at our disposal, but now we can choose from six shared multi-use rooms and a few quiet corners for making calls. And if we feel like playing, we can always take out the Lego bricks or the table ice hockey.

We have received positive comments about the refurbishment, and I can already see that the office is much livelier now. To paraphrase our CEO: “This office is not perfect but now it sucks less”.

Satu Hurme-Tikkanen

This article was written by Satu Hurme-Tikkanen, who is in charge of the workplace services, including Workplace Design, furnishing and move services. Satu was involved in the working environment project carried out at Technopolis headquarters at the end of last year.