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Stories That Move You.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you likely know that Mary Free Bed is growing. We’re building a huge new building and will be more than doubling our size, both in terms of the number of inpatients we serve and the amount of square footage in which we operate. That means lots of shuffling of offices and, inevitably, leads to conversations about how to move forward in the most effective and efficient manner.

In that context, a couple dozen Mary Free Bed folks from a variety of departments spent a day this week at Steelcase to learn more about work environments. Experts there talked a lot about “owned” spaces versus “shared” spaces and on how an organization is best served if employees put the focus on “we,” even though we live in a society that is much more focused on “I”.

Steelcase office spaceMuch like some of my colleagues, I was a skeptic. I arrived at Steelcase as a champion for the status quo or something pretty close to it. I wasn’t convinced that the concept of open work spaces was a good idea. Me — a person who’s seeking a master’s degree in communications and has worked in communications for 25 years — was in the “I” camp. Because really, who wants to give up their office space? It may be small, but it gives me a place to display my kids’ photos, dock my computer and keep all my files, right?

Plus, my department, Communications and External Relations, operates much differently than, for example, the Traumatic Brain Injury Program or the Pediatric Outpatient Clinic, I reasoned. While the concept of fewer private offices and more common areas might work for therapists and nurses, it wasn’t likely to be a good idea for everyone.

Right?

Maybe not. The folks at Steelcase turned the concept of “space” on its head for me. They explained that their “Best Place Strategy” is not about tearing down all the cubicles and removing all the doors. Rather, it’s about creating many different types of spaces that work to perpetuate and reinforce a company’s culture. You simply pick the space you need when you need it. Plus, all the glass walls, white boards, uncluttered spaces and colorful furniture make for a pretty slick workplace.

At one time or another, nearly everybody needs a place where they can focus and concentrate. That can be accommodated. There really are offices with doors, it’s just that many of these spaces aren’t “owned” by anyone. They are shared by many. Employees also need a cafe-type space where they can relax and connect with others, although it’s easy to overlook the importance of this because connecting — let’s just call it communicating — can be difficult some days. Walking into an office and closing the door behind you can be a lot easier.

That’s where “culture” comes in. I’ve only worked here for a couple of months, but I’m pretty sure that Mary Free Bed didn’t build its patient-centered reputation by having a medical and support staff that spends a whole lot of time behind closed office doors. Given the can-do, team-focused culture here, I’m starting to feel the lure of open spaces.

Written by: Beth Loechler Cranson

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