Destroying Invisible Walls

More than a year ago, when I was working with the executive team on the vision for IMI’s Ottawa office, I espoused the virtues of an open office plan as a way to increase communication between departments. It was an easy sell, but after only a few months of observing how our employees were interacting with one another in our new space, the results weren’t as good as I’d initially hoped for.

Our office had been laid out by department: The first section was finance, the second was marketing and sales, and the third (the largest) was recruiting. Even though there weren’t any walls between us, our departments slowly began to isolate themselves from one another. Here we were, in a giant open space, working in silos.

The marketing department, by their very nature, was the most gregarious of the bunch. For some reason, they developed a friendly rivalry with the finance department, even going so far as to try and “recruit” their spreadsheet-loving neighbours by advertising (literally making ads and posting them on the wall) how much more fun it was to do “arts and crafts.”

What I wanted was to spread this type of fun (and admittedly a little bit of weirdness) throughout the entire office. While I want to make sure that our employees get the job done at the end of the day, I certainly don’t want any of them to feel like coming to work is a painful experience. Laughter is a sound that reassures me work at IMI isn’t like that, and I wanted it to transcend beyond a single department.

One of my options was to just wait things out in hopes that other departments might catch whatever it was about marketing that made them truly enjoy coming to work. But that was too risky. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, because I’d already worked so hard to make IMI a great place to work.

I decided to take a risk. Before the labour day long weekend, I told all our employees (except for the finance department due to the confidential nature of their work) that they’d have a new place to sit when they came back on the Tuesday. We’d no longer sit together as departments, but would instead be mixed together. Then, beginning on Friday afternoon, everyone began cleaning their workspace in anticipation of moving.

To be honest, the initial response I got wasn’t a chorus of high-fives and cheers, and I didn’t expect it.  A lot of people liked where they sat, especially our employees in the marketing department, and I knew the new seating arrangement would take some getting used to.

One month on, I’ll admit the new arrangement isn’t perfect, but it is yielding positive results. Our employees have a much better idea about what other departments are doing, and where they fit into the overall company. Marketing is using the new arrangement to learn more about the types of employees we hire and to get valuable feedback on campaigns from experienced recruiters.

As for our recruiters, they now deal with a little more noise, but they’re also increasingly being engaged to assist in things like strategy development, advertising, social media… even content creation.

So, the million-dollar question is: Would I do it over again? The answer is, without a doubt, 100% yes. Maybe you should too! The best part, by far, has been the introduction of new perspectives and ideas.

Learn more about making your workplace culture great here.

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