Get Up and Move: The Value of Changing Spaces

Tim Dorr / photo on flickr

Tim Dorr / photo on flickr

Volunteer Alberta is beginning a new chapter, we’ve moved! After about 10 years in a downtown Edmonton heritage building overlooking Jasper Ave we have moved four blocks east to a different downtown Edmonton heritage building overlooking Jasper Ave.

So I guess you could say not much has changed. However, I believe our move has shifted everything. I am not going to delve into a conversation on design and décor, as I don’t have the interior design acumen of my colleagues. Rather I will touch on the connection between how we listen, think, and act and how they are effected by the physical spaces we work in.

I believe that we often want to make changes at work, yet we rarely acknowledge that the familiar physical spaces we are in may be limiting how we listen and pay attention to others. For me, an example of the importance of this connection is the change process Volunteer Alberta has been going through. Connected to all the internal shifts over the past 24 months is the opportunity to reflect on who VA is, what we do, and how we do it, and, as a result, we have started to re-define our internal organizational culture. For anyone who has embarked on a journey of organizational culture change you will know it is complex but ideally rewarding.

As an initial step in our change process, we decided  to pull the staff team together to surface the current strengths and weakness in our organizational culture to help decide where we wanted to change. As I had the opportunity to influence this process, I insisted the first “big” conversation needed to happen in a different space other than our usual meeting room. We wouldn’t have had as good of a conversation in the usual meeting room and I wanted people to listen deeply to what others were saying. I anticipated that a different space would likely take us all out of our comfort zone and allow the opportunity for an open, honest, focussed and meaningful conversation. In the usual meeting room we would all likely fall into old patterns of listening and paying attention and the likelihood that we would have a truly rich conversation would be limited. For that meeting we were lucky enough to find a vacant space in our old building to borrow for a few hours.

During that meeting we had a very frank and open discussion where we empathetically listened to each other. It laid the foundation for us to renew and establish an organizational culture that reflects the values of the organization and now we are moving forward together. I know for me this meeting allowed me to pay more attention to how others felt, I was able to see things from others perspectives and heard many great ideas that I may have missed previously. The new room we went to wasn’t that remarkable; it was just different and that’s all it needed to be. I’m not saying we have figured it all out or that internal culture change process is complete but rather it got started on the right foot!

So like I said, we have moved and I think our new office changes everything. The whole space is new to all of us and we have already begun changing the way we communicate and work together in the short amount of time we’ve been here. There are things I miss things from the old office, but I think we’ve brought the best of that place with us, the people, and together we’ll build this new space into a supportive hub for our new organizational culture.

Annand Ollivierre
Program Manager