How to Make Free Address Offices More Comfortable

by Cristina Herrera

More and more companies are shifting to a free address format with no assigned seating. If you work in one of these spaces, it’s easy to feel like you’ve lost your sense of belonging and comfort. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to provide a feeling of community and continuity. Below are some tips to help get you settled and comfortable again.

1.    Meet new people & build on existing relationships
Soon after moving to a different work environment, take some time to reflect on your previous office space. Perhaps everyone you knew sat near you or there was little need to leave your cubicle/workstation. Building personal relationships in the new office layout will help alleviate the feeling that you are now surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar people every day. While this may seem daunting, make it your mission to meet three new people daily. This might begin with a casual hello on the elevator and then evolve into a quick chat about the weather at your locker or a discussion about how you’re adjusting to your new workplace while in the coffee line.


Talk to your manager about holding a team huddle first thing every morning. This is a chance for you to begin your day with a familiar group of people. It may also be an opportunity to schedule coffee or lunch dates and then gradually invite new people. Additionally, speak to your manager/supervisor about organizing some team or neighborhood bonding activities, such as a pizza day, birthday celebrations or ‘getting to know you’ activities.


2.    Personalize your space
In your old work environment, you may have surrounded yourself with photos, books or your favorite knick-knacks. Without them, it’s no surprise you feel like you’ve been given an impersonal space. But this blank slate does not need to be a negative. On the contrary, it could provide an opportunity to be even more creative. If you have neighborhoods in the new space, try gathering some corresponding teams to develop an identity or theme. There is no right or wrong way. Your theme might be sites around the word, favorite foods, activities or popular sports teams. Allocate time together to personalize and populate your neighborhood to match your identity. Perhaps your office could dedicate some blank space such as a wall, bulletin board or neighborhood whiteboard to express your identity. 

If you have lockers, organize a locker decorating competition, where the winner receives a Starbucks gift card. Or if you have magnetic lockers, you can post your favorite family photos and change them monthly. Before you embark on any of these activities, however, be sure to engage your facilities, human resources department, or project manager to get them on board and ensure that you can accomplish these goals within corporate standards.


3.    Choose settings that work 
Feeling comfortable in your new work environment will take time but the ideal way to understand your surroundings and what works best for you is to purposefully try it out. Genuinely reflect on the tasks you need to complete daily and look around to see how many different types of work settings are available. Make it your mission to try out as many different work settings as possible. This will give you a sense of familiarity and ownership of your space. It will also help to alleviate any discomfort you may feel when walking into new environments and different neighborhoods.

It also might be helpful to locate the materials you were provided with during the transition phase such as an employee guidebook. These materials should indicate the rationale behind the space’s design and may provide you with some tips on how to use the space effectively and productively.  Similarly, look for a change ambassador who will be your point person to better understand how to use the space and speak to your peers about which settings they most enjoy using. Change Ambassadors understand the thinking behind the new space and are there to help guide you through the transition process.  Perhaps there is a collaborative setting you could all try together.


Bottom line: While it might initially seem daunting to move to a free address office environment, there are many fun and creative ways to embrace the new culture. Your imagination is the only limit.  

Cristina Herrera is a Prosci Certified Change Practitioner and Manager of Workplace Strategy at Ted Moudis Associates.

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