The flexible office—how it works

What’s it like to work in an activity-based flexible office? We put the question to Carina Hörnfeldt Bylund, who helped implement Coor’s proprietary Concept Office in 2009, and has been working there ever since.

Carina Hörnfeldt Bylund is the Project Manager at Coor Service Management and headed up the implementation of Concept Office.What was the biggest challenge to start with?

Getting people to let go of the idea of their own workspace, to relinquish their private sphere. A lot of people found the rethink hard, starting their day at their locker, rather than at their desk. Most were worried about noise levels and whether there would be any free spaces in the morning. Really, the challenge was to change people’s behavior, and ensure they still felt secure during the course of the process.

Carina Hörnfeldt Bylund is the Project Manager at Coor Service Management and headed up the implementation of Concept Office.

What are the benefits of having free spaces?

We’ve become a more cohesive group. I think I’ve got a better insight into our business when I am part of a lot of different conversations. This creates synergies and a more creative climate, primarily for premises that allow informal encounters in a lot of shared space.

How do you succeed in implementing a flexible office?

The technology and premises have to support people and operational needs, but people must also understand and want to exploit this fully. Communicating constantly, and having open dialogue and a workplace culture where you can set the rules for premises together are other key considerations. I think you have to monitor how rules are being complied with, and if people start to revert to their old habits and behaviors, you soon don’t have any free workspaces left.

But when we started up Concept Office, I asked everyone to have patience, and explained how we’d be piloting the concept to see if it works, and that otherwise, we’d have to find another solution. It’s also important to take the drama out of the change, and get people to feel comfortable in a new working environment.

Two months after the transition, we measured people’s sentiment towards the new office, and asked them whether they wanted to go back to fixed workspaces. The majority (actually everyone apart from two people) didn’t want to have set spaces back, but had understood and adopted the new method.

The technology and premises have to support people and operational needs, but people must also understand and want to exploit this fully.

Carina Hörnfeldt Bylund, Project Manager, Coor Service Management

What’s your advice for people who are worried about flexible workspaces?

First and foremost, you have to take their concerns seriously and really listen. After our transition, we held regular meetings at our ideas board, where people stuck post-it notes with things they were worried about or questions. All questions were discussed and prioritized at each meeting. Early on, the notice board was full, with questions about the size of desks, if there were enough workspaces, how personal belongings would be managed and how we would address special needs, such as workspaces with two displays. We ticked off the questions in order of priority. Nevertheless, we found out that a lot of questions about special needs were resolved over time, and due to the fact that in reality, many needs evaporated as the new working method became established.

Do you want to go back to a fixed workspace again?

Never! Our collaboration is now easy, and it feels like I have more colleagues. I really love the feeling of starting the day with a clean desk, which makes my work more effective. Free workspaces are a contemporary way to work that supports growing needs for collaboration, and frees up space for meeting rooms and shared spaces. Flexible workspaces offer the possibility of selecting and influencing where and how we work. Do I need a quiet workspace today, or do I want inspiration from my colleagues?

Do managers have flexible workspaces?

It’s important that managers act as role models and set a good example, all managers should have free workspaces. How could they motivate other people to make the change otherwise? Additionally, managers are seldom in one place at their desks, their role includes being on the move.

Read previous articles about Concept Office

Feel free to contact Erik Sörnäs.

Erik Sörsnäs

Erik Sörnäs

Head of the Workspace Management Centre of Excellence

+46 (0)10-559 52 74

erik.sornas@coor.com