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Monday
Jul182016

Designing with Office Heroes: Lessons from a Network of Startup Professionals

Prezi / Image © Michael Townsend.

They’re the unsung heroes in the workplace: the “Jack and Jill of all trades” in emerging and startup companies who help keep an office running, doing everything from project management to managing payroll and operations. Over the course of two years, Gensler has engaged with a professional network known as the Office Heroes League (OHL). This network is comprised of over 600 office managers, administrative/executive assistants, and office professionals from various companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. The growth and success of the network over a short time has been attributed to the need for connecting individuals within these roles, gaining advice and resources to drive positive organizational growth and change.

“Office Heroes,” as members are known, may be the only person in an operations and administrative role within a department or entire company. Often times, without prior experience, they are pulled into the role of project manager for office space updates, growth management and entire moves. In a recent survey of OHL members with titles ranging from office manager, Human Resources, to Admin, 37 percent have no experience with office moves and/or office design projects, while 30 percent had little experience, having been part of just one to two moves and design projects.

Gensler’s team of designers and strategists has organized the OHL network; led meetups focusing on moves, furniture and design; and facilitated discussions. These conversations focus on the Office Heroes’ questions including, “what supports an effective work environment,” “how does a company scale its culture when growing so quickly,” and “how does one begin to manage the ever-changing needs of a growing business?”

As we shared insights from Gensler’s 50 years of workplace design and research, we also found ourselves reflecting on everything learned by engaging with this insanely hardworking group of professionals in companies that are pivoting daily, growing exponentially and refining who they are. Based on our conversations, observations, and small surveys, the following are some findings and suggestions of how the design community can support emerging and startup clients, and ultimately provide them with the best value and efficiency.

What’s in a Name?

Traditional titles (e.g. Office Manager, Executive Assistant, etc.) don’t fly anymore and titles don’t fully represent the variety of responsibilities held. As such, roles are not easy to define and are ever changing. At the end of the day, “Office Heroes” are getting done what needs to get done, which can range in tasks from operations to facilities, finance, HR, administrative and plenty more.

Small Doesn’t Mean Easy

Small projects do not automatically mean less work! As designers, we need to understand that we may be working with clients and Office Heroes who need extra attention and explanation, so be patient. It’s important to take the time to educate, over communicate and walk through process details so clients feel comfortable. They are looking for recommendations, alternatives and advice; it is our responsibility to provide tailored options that will help best support the client’s business.

Decisions, Decisions

As designers, we must remember that our role is also to help in the decision making process and not sit back and wait for the client to make their decision. Working with small and young companies can require extra explanation of the pros and cons, more visuals and concise storytelling to support a confident decision. These individuals are not always the ones making the decisions, but we may have to rely on them for getting the messages across to the C-Suite stakeholders.

Size Matters (and Changes)

Size doesn’t always matter, but it does when looking for office space and headcount continuously changes. The San Francisco Bay Area, for example, is a sublet market meaning companies are moving all the time and might not want to spend the money to “settle in.” They also want to find spaces that they can do the most for them—taking a space “as is” so less is spent on design/construction—especially if they have to move in a year or two. Additionally, some companies are at a phase where they don’t want to seem like they are frivolously spending money on glamourous office space; however, they understand that design matters and can boost workplace productivity.

Read the Fine Print

One of the most important decision for a young company is the lease. Understanding the terms, what’s included, and finding “good bones” will ensure success. It is our role to explain how to design for best productivity and making use of what they currently have. Construction isn’t always necessary, but better layout can increase work flow or improve efficiencies so that they can grow in space longer.

Whether it’s providing assistance in hiring additional experts (e.g. brokers, furniture dealers, contractors, etc.), determining timelines and budgets, identifying the culture of the workplace, or assisting in change management, emerging and startup clients are in need of our guidance. As designers, it is important that we’re aware of the internal challenges clients face, and we educate them about the full scope of the project and how it might impact their business. Often they are looking for advice and reassurance, and sharing our knowledge goes a long way.

Katie Rodrigues is a Design Strategist in Gensler’s San Francisco office. She uses design research plus micro- and macro-ergonomic factors to understand the way people work and live and how that affects the built environment. Contact her at Katie_Rodrigues@gensler.com.