McCarthy Tetrault

How do you get employee buy-in for a move from a traditional to open-plan office? We asked Tracie Crook, COO of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, which is moving to a more open arrangement, and Omicron’s director of design operations Alan Hancock, who regularly helps his clients transition to open-plan environments


A year before starting to build, “we started with a workplace study program,” says Crook. “We met with a number of individuals across the firm to find out how they work today, how they want to work in the future—and then that was the building block for our new space.” But be prepared to act upon employees’ feedback, says Hancock. “If staff are being consulted but then they see nothing that they requested implemented, then that can create some discontent.”


“I think the worst thing for people is when there’s no communication because it’s the unknown,” says Crook. “They don’t know what they’re moving into.” McCarthy Tétrault brought in their designer to present various possibilities; they also explained the reasons for the move and its progress via a regular newsletter, in town halls and on an intranet site with articles and photographs showing the latest developments.


“Sometimes the most vocal opponent can become the biggest supporter of the change if they understand the reasons behind it,” says Hancock. At McCarthy Tétrault, a move committee helped make the decisions then explained them to their colleagues one-on-one and got their feedback. “We also had them visit the construction space,” says Crook. “We really brought them along on the journey to say, ‘You’re part of this—is there anything that you’re seeing along the way that concerns you?’”


McCarthy Tétrault brought in samples of furniture and equipment for staff to try out and vote on. “This was the first time we were giving our people choice in what technology they would like to work with,” says Crook. “So they were really engaged in the process and making a selection versus us telling them, ‘Here’s exactly what you get.’ I think all of us like to have our voices heard versus being told what we’re going to be provided.”


Let staff know that the move is not just about reducing space and saving money but about making the space function better for them, says Hancock. Make sure there are fun spaces for staff to collaborate and destress, and add more functional meeting spaces. Provide technology that allows staff to work in a space most suited to the task and consider teleworking for some staff where appropriate. “Things like that can really help the transition to open plan.” 


Illustrations by Victoria Park