Workplace Unplugged

Changing Culture: The Power of Space and Change Management

Moira vandenAkker
November 1st, 2016

Lynda Ward Head shot.pngAbout 50% of all workspace (plus or minus)  is unoccupied space.* Gallup surveys tell us that 70% of all employees are disengaged in their work.** Designing workspaces that inspire culture is critical; however, simply changing space does not result in changing culture. We sat down with Lynda Ward, Senior Workplace Transformation Strategist to learn more about how to effectively implement culture change in an organization.

Lynda Ward is an established senior organizational and transition management strategist with Haworth’s  Workplace Strategy Team team. She has more than 25 years of experience working with multinational organizations to increase revenue, reduce costs, accelerate team effectiveness and improve individual performance. Lynda has consulted with Fortune 100 companies and organizations in the technology, education, retail, energy, financial, government and defense industries.

LW: My background is in psychology. My second career is in organizational development. I was working for a premier office furnishings dealership in San Francisco, California. During that time work processes began to change. The focus evolved toward increased teaming and collaboration. While at  the  dealership, the account managers asked me to assist in helping their clients – very large Fortune 100 clients – change from a very linear style of working in rows and rows of cubicles and private spaces into team spaces. At the time only a very few people integrating work processes with the work environment. That is how I started aligning workplace with work processes – workplace strategy.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with my entire career with architects and designers. My role has been to implement qualitative and quantitative research methodologies and interpret those with architects and designers to enable organizations and individuals to meet their goals. 


After years of working for as a strategic consultant for a number of high profile organizations, Lynda joined the Workplace Strategy team at Haworth.

LW: I had been familiar with the ideation team at Haworth for a number of years and had also participated in a number of research consortiums with representatives of the ideation team. One of the organizations, New WOW (New Ways of Working) was a consortium of organizations, again Fortune 100 organizations that conducted research and shared learnings about how to leverage work environments, as an asset, and aligning  technology, employee mobility and corporate culture.

I joined Haworth Workplace Strategy Team because it is comprised of architects, designers, psychologists and researchers. Haworth has a large global organizations with whom we partner and share our expertise.

Lynda tells us  another reason she joined Haworth is because of their research into workplace culture. Haworth in association with Northwestern University has developed a culture assessment, the Culture LENS. The Culture LENS, or competing values framework, assess an organization’s culture today and helps leadership and employees alike define the preferred organizational culture for the future.

LW: I joined Haworth because of the exclusive relationship with Northwestern University to study culture and how the workplace can enable organizational change. That resonates with my background in psychology and organizational development. 

change  management culture buildings environment Workplace Unplugged

We asked Lynda to tell us more about Haworth’s strategy team and the IPD model – real-time construction of buildings.

LW: IDP is a trust based and real-time collaborative approach, that breaks down silos in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. IPD suggests a way of looking at efficiently and effectively creating new buildings and work environments. Principal owners, and their construction partners meet real-time using advanced technologies to look at how the building is “coming together”, solving problems as they go, mitigating challenges, avoiding cost overruns and time delays.

Researched and written by Rex Miller with a others, Lydia Knowles, who leads the IDP initiative, wrote The Commercial Real Estate Revolution. Revolutionary at the time of its release in 2009, the book explains how business leaders can implement nine principles to create better buildings and cut costs and delays.

Not many organizations really focus on organizational culture and changing culture. Lynda tells us that is because it is the most difficult aspect of an organization to change.

LW: Culture is the most difficult thing to change in an organization. The workplace is the easiest, actually changing the furniture in the workplace is the easiest thing to do – as difficult as that is. The second most difficult to change in an organization is their work processes, their technology, their compensation plans and policies. Those are the second most difficult aspects of change but they certainly will have more durability in changing organizations than just the workplace. And then finally- culture has the greatest durability and is the most difficult to change. 

“Culture is made up of the tacit behaviors that are like the glue that hold the organization together”, says Lynda. We asked her to tell us how one would begin to change organizational culture.

LW: Changing culture requires leadership first and foremost. Top leadership must be committed and model the kind of desired changes they want in their company. The second challenge to change is typically the directors and managers. Directors and managers – their jobs have changed over the years. First, they had an office and a secretary and they only were responsible for directing the work of others. Over time they’ve lost the admin, in some cases they have been moved out of private offices into open plan. They themselves have become responsible for additional projects aside from accountability of others. Often times in the rapid pace of business today they are on an as need-to-know basis. They often have no real connection as to why an organization is changing.

They need to be integrated as part of the business strategy and in some cases given extra time and attention to be able to coach and manage people through a change in organizations. As an example, a lot of companies are moving toward “free address” so that anybody can sit anywhere at any time: no one has a private office. This is a challenge to directors and managers because they don’t know where their people are, they don’t know how to get a hold of them right away and they question ‘how can I believe they are doing their job?’ The answer to that is they need to be a part of the organizational strategic plan first off. And second, they need to learn how to manage by business result, not by ‘I can see you, therefore, I know you are working.’ The reality is that the workplace is 50% unoccupied at any given time. People are moving around, technology has impacted the workplace, employees have more ability to work any place, any time. Over the past 20 plus years, real estate has been proven time and again to be about 50% occupied. It is an underutilized asset- if you view real estate as an asset- an enabler of work and culture.

The third component to creating effective change is that need to engage individuals involved in the change.

LW: The third issue is the lack of engagement of individuals who are impacted by change. Those individuals, under the most effective change program should be included as part of the change planning, and in so doing, they should be on a team that does include managers and directors, that works through a process of understanding what the goals are, of understanding what the desired outcomes of change are. Those changes often are technology, the workplace, work processes, and culture or people. Those four areas are really integrated to create a change and a team of representations of those impacted by the change should work together to anticipate challenges and recognize opportunities. Those would be  the three top elements that should be integrated to create effective change — that’s an oversimplification of course.

adapting to change workplace technology corporate culture team Workplace Unplugged

We asked Lynda to share her advice for managers that may be challenged with adapting to change.

LW: I always say that change is crunchy and it’s messy and it’s a bumpy road. I also say that corporate culture eats change for breakfast. That is a quote from Peter Drucker and it’s really true. I think that one way of helping people change is to break apart the elements of change and understand the mechanisms. For example, ‘I don’t think this is going to work because you are taking me from a private office into an open plan’. So When moving from private offices to open plan with lower panels, for instance, understanding the business rationale and how to use a variety and range of spaces should answer the questions, ‘where do I concentrate and where do I have my one on ones with people?’ Real estate, designers, change agents will need to sit down and explain, in detail, how the new plan will work. Some organizations I’ve worked with will provide coaches to directors and managers throughout the transition. I think that managers and directors believe that they are not supposed to ask for help – but they should. Because it has a direct impact on them personally as well as the people that report to them.

How can companies best accommodate the flexible workplace today? We asked Lynda what technology and design considerations she believes are most important to create an agile or flexible work environment.

LW: Number one, the overarching thing is to have a change activity and communication plan that preferably starts at the inception of these concepts and carries through the change and long after with post evaluations of the success of the change. The second is when I see these work environments and people go to agile, what they do – and this is a pet peeve of mine – is that they reduce an individual’s work space because they are in growth or they have to get more people in the real estate. Then they do not provide those individuals with a variety of work settings to support how they work and live.

When I see a plan with rows and rows of cubicles with low panels and no place to go for concentration, private conversations with their family, to make phone calls or conference calls with others, teaming and so on,  in my mind it’s is an old industrial approach to work environments. We hire hire because they add value. We need to appreciate that value and support it with the work environment, thereby leveraging the work environment as an asset rather than treating people and the work environment as a cost on the bottom line.

workspace environment open area building Workplace Unplugged

Lynda reminds us that the work environment is already 50% empty, so why make a space for employees to touch down (unless they are a mobile worker) but not provide additional spaces necessary to perform their work? In those instances, Lynda’s question always is “why would you create an environment that gives everyone a small individual space and expect them to perform at their best?”

With over 25 years of experience, we asked Lynda what have been the biggest changes she has seen in the evolution of workplace strategy and where she sees the future going.

LW: When I started in this practice area, working with Frank Duffy, founder of DEGW, who was a thought leader at the time in integrating real estate and workplace change with corporate culture and work processes and technology. At the time, the goal was to differentiate a company competitively against their competitors and achieve innovation and competitive advantage. What I have seen over time with the recessions, the bubble burst in technology in Silicon Valley and then again in 2008 when we had that deep recession, the push became on reducing real estate because it was a cost that needed to be driven down and the focus was not on making an environment that helps companies remain competitive. Now as the economy continues to grow, there is a swing to become competitive and to innovate and get to market faster, in some cases for businesses actually reinvent themselves. For example, an insurance company that provided insurance is becoming a technology company. I am thrilled and happy to be working in a time when the pendulum is swinging back towards innovation and creating competitive advantage.

Lynda tells us, in her opinion, what she believes are the skills one would need to be successful in the role of a Modern FM.

LW: Real estate facilities managers should integrate themselves more closely with the business strategy of an organization. Sometimes they see their role as providing a seat for people. In the recent past, the focus has been to control the real estate costs rather than leveraging real estate and facility as an enabler to achieving business results. Their role can be as a proactive  integrator of technology, the organization’s brand, creating competitive advantage, and working with human resources in an integrated fashion to help achieve the business goals.

What are Lynda’s favorite aspects of her role?

LW: My favorite aspects of my role is that I serve as an anthropologist. Every organization has a different culture and different work processes. When I engage with individuals in organizations, they never fail to be enthusiastic about making the best possible workplace solution for the organization. Inspiring and motivating people to help make a work environment that enables them individually, as a team member and as a company is what really turns me on.


How does your organization cope with the rapid pace of change today? What have been the biggest obstacles and barriers to change in your experience?


Photos: David Marcu, Pexels