He Smells, She Talks Too Loud – Woes of the New Office Seating Chart

The two most dreaded words in corporate relocation – Seating Chart.

Project Managers/Owner’s Reps shoulder a tremendous amount of responsibility for a corporate relocation. And nothing is more satisfying than alleviating the burden of the stakeholders to ensure the space is constructed and ready for occupancy so they can flip the light switch on Monday and be ready to work after a seemless weekend relocation.

For all the stress we take off senior management, I have never seen something generate so much angst, conflict and arguments amongst the staff than when senior management distributes the seating chart indicating who will be sitting where in the new office. The reaction is often similar to the villagers marching to town hall with pitch forks and torches.  While the internal nuances of office relationships is beyond our scope of work, it does have an effect when we must make physical modifications to accommodate the reactions of the employees.

Once management makes the chart public, often just a few weeks prior to relocation, I am pulled aside by employees to vent their frustration. We find out things about their co-workers that we wished we never heard. Others get upset over who has the window office, or the larger office, the back office, etc.

We build up a trust with the staff over the course of a year and they know we have the ear of management.  Managers who have had no input in the project will ask us to convey their misgivings and requests for seating swaps because they fear either retribution or negative responses.  It’s a difficult position for us to be in.  We try to handle with deft and advise management of the grumblings.  But their answer is usually – too bad, until the grumblings turn into all out arguments. Unfortunately, as Lincoln said, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

I have written extensively in this blog how communication amongst stakeholders is so key to the succesful outcome of construction and relocation projects.  But the seating chart is treated as a closely guarded secret and the outcome of that foolishness is just the opposite of that which they try so desperately to avoid.

We’re often able to break down the barriers that management constructs to minimize employee involvement because they fear too many cooks in the kitchen will stifle progress when just the opposite is true. My advice to the employer during the planning process is to engage your employees often. You will hear things that may surprise you and have a better understanding of your staff’s needs.

The Long Island Chapter of the US Green Building Council of which I am deeply involved instituted a new slogan at its 5th annual gala (May 2012),  “It’s Not About Buildings, It’s About People.”  The slogan describes the purpose of designing and constructing a LEED building which is to focus on the physical aspects of the space for the comfort of the occupant.  But its universal and so apropos here.

What good does your physical new space serve if your staff is going to revolt and ultimately wish they didn’t move? And if you don’t believe the concept, please read my previous article, Don’t Shut Out Employees During New Office Planning.

1 Comment on He Smells, She Talks Too Loud – Woes of the New Office Seating Chart

  1. Rich,
    Mixed feelings on this one. Yes, you need to get the seating chart and other items to the employees early – but, as you said,not everyone will be happy with it. Some people will want more or have goals or wishes that do not mesh with the organization but manangement must resolve those issues. Furniture and seating is a way for management to influence the work environment. You must avoid the pitfalls of being a complaint conduit. Many of those complaints will be denied but you have become the face of the process to both the employees and management. People who are unhappy will complain about what they can, usually the heat or where they sit. As for inter-office politics, that is another minefield on its own

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