Interview with Jake Larsson on staff consultation on the workspace using Confers 360 Virtual Tours
Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is an innovation support service , located in Islington and with a partially remote workforce. KTN's innovation design team were interested in experimenting with new tools to help capture the perspectives and attitudes of the distributed workers to help improve the main London hub to encourage a more collaborative working environment. The team used the 360 virtual tour capabilities of Confers to engage and consult the wider staff not based permanently in the space. This allowed them to create a compelling visual evidence base for informing future stages of the project. In this case study, I discuss the project with Jake Larsson, Knowledge Transfer Manager Design & Innovation, and his approach to the workspace consultation with the wider staff community.
Michael: Can you say a little about your project?
Jake: Our organisation has 190 staff, and is quite distributed due to its national role in supporting innovation and knowledge transfer. There are only around 30 people registered to work in London, a handful based in the Edinburgh office and the remainder are working in the field across the UK. Many drop in occasionally for meetings. The London office had started to look a bit tired and clearly in need of a refresh. We had also spotted some layout issues, with the original entrance creating some confusion. So we wanted to explore some better solutions. We knew many difficulties were due to marrying the different needs of the different kinds of workers at KTN, so that was the basis of the briefing project and test some ideas that could work for everyone.
Michael: Why were the wider stakeholder views so important on this project?
Jake: From our perspective in the KTN Design we know there’s the “technically correct” design approach following best practice for workspace design. And then there are the perceptions of very different people. We wanted to invite people to come along on the journey with us. So that whatever changes are eventually made, and when they are made, we wanted to bring our people along on the journey with us. We wanted them to be part owners of the process, plus we didn’t want to miss anything important, or have any nasty surprises down the line.
Michael: Were people’s requirements or ideas for the space very different?
Jake: I’m like one of 30 “super users” of the London office but I realise I have a bias view of what the office should be. It would be easy for the team who use the space day to day to apply our own design thinking. But we had to consider the views of 160 or so other people who engage with office in a very different way. The many other people visiting or using the space on a part time basis may have a different view and perception. For them, perhaps it’s more about meeting spaces. But we needed more confirmation. The briefing project became about balancing the needs of the different members of the whole staff community, and also of visitors.
Michael: Apart from the inclusivity of the process, what else were you looking to achieve from the exercise?
Jake: It was important that at the end of the process we had real information to build an internal case for funding, and doing this in a visually useful and persuasive way that we could show to the decision makers internally. We also wanted to be able to hand over useful information to consultants to work up proposals with confidence that we as a client were clear about what we wanted.
Michael: So what were the practical challenges of seeking this feedback?
Jake: It’s always difficult to reach out to everyone. It is not possible for gathering everyone in a meeting and it is equally difficult to organise a series of drop-in sessions given the frequency the staff use the space. So we needed a range of methods and tools to engage and capture inputs from different parts of the business. Confers offered an alternative approach which was a very visual way of consulting about the workspace.
Michael: How did you go about the process exactly?
Jake: We first distributed an online survey to explore explore where people were at. We Identified 6 areas that were important to people and we planned for a set of small interventions in these areas where we could test these changes for near zero cost over the coming weeks, for instance reshuffling desks, adding a lick of paint. We then used Confers to build a 360 virtual tour of the space showing these changes, and linking the plans to panoramic photos of key locations where people could then comment or leave feedback or questions. A welcome video was made to introduce everyone who was sent a link to the tour and we were able to review and reply to comments.
Michael: What was the most useful aspect of this?
Jake: Where we found Confers most powerful was the visual nature of the 360 virtual tour, so that whether you were in the office or responding remotely, you had a pretty good idea of the space under discussion. As we made small changes we could compare the comments about these. The other thing I hadn’t appreciated initially, was the power of the welcome video of me introducing the project, that put a face to the project, and we actually got a lot of feedback and follow on face-to-face conversations from people who had looked, read the comments and then approached me or one of the team.
"That is the best preparation I have ever seen for an office refurbishment
Michael: So that is about relationship building, and demonstrating this is still possible for online consultations using this approach. What kind of feedback did Confers help you capture?
Jake: Mostly, we captured more comments validating what we already knew or suspected, but this was still useful. We also got one set of negative comments about some of the small changes we had tried. But then that’s also okay because the process was transparent and that is part of showing everyone has had a chance to have a say and feel included.
Michael: Was there anything else that was surprising or helpful?
Jake: Actually the most surprising response was about our actual process. We received some compliments from one of the interior designers that we had sent the link to look at the comments. Having viewed the link we sent them, then said "That is the best preparation I have ever seen for an office refurbishment – you are a genius. Your office looks very plain right now and I think it has a lot of potential."
Michael: That’s good to hear, but also surprising more clients don’t prepare more briefing information before bringing in the consultants. So what happens next? How will you use all this feedback going forward?
Jake: This is just the first stage of some larger design changes in the business. The intention was to use the responses and comments in Confers to create an evidence base for change. But I think it was also about capturing our work culture, and having conversations about that culture with new decision makers internally, whilst making this culture visible to external design and workspace consultants who would be charged with making those changes. And doing all this in a way that is also inspiring a future direction.
Michael: That sounds great. Thanks for your time today Jake, and best of luck with the next stages of the project to you and the team.