The Future Church - A Church Communications Podcast
Church Media + Communications
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E073 - How Physical Space Affects Culture

James: We are going to talk about how physical space affects culture. All this week we've been talking about culture and I think our physical space really influences how we interact with one another and how that then influences culture.

Joanna: As we record this podcast where we always sit James is in your office. You have a huge warehouse kind of space here. And you've been really intentional when you got the space for your team about what you want it to look and feel like because of course it does influence culture. It affects how people hang out and use a space. What can you tell us a little bit about what you were going for here?

James: So right now we have a very long open room. There's no walls within it and we're actually going to be moving offices soon. And one of my stipulations to the person building the office space was I wanted to be the same I don't want walls I don't want there to be some special corner office and that is very intentional like although I am running this I like everyone to be sitting together in the same room so we have our desks facing the wall and I like them when we sit to talk about something everyone turns their chairs in and we just have a conversation. And I want it to always be a team mentality rather than a you know a king or a czar at the very top and everyone bows before him because I've been in cultures like that and I see how I as a person below did not want to serve a king. I want to be part of a team that worked on the same goals. And so that's why this office is set up to be open. So the one end we have a table here for we lunch here we have a screen where we review content.

Joanna: Yeah it's like you're meeting area.

James: At the far end we have a couch with two chairs and a nice table and that's where we sit sometimes we just talk through ideas and it's more comfortable. And then in the middle is all the working desks with the computers. And it's very fluid like we move around we jump workstation to workstation sometimes and that is all very intentional. Like I always say to new people when they are interviewing to work here or starting working here that the goal is always to be part of a team. So I want you to always feel the ability to ask a question if you notice something wrong or something can be improved. Let's talk about it. Like let's work together and how to make, one, Visualmediachurch the best it possibly can be and to make the best quality content and make our users the happiest users that there are. So I mean I've been in closed environments offices where everyone had their separate little room and doors are closed all the time and I can tell you honestly that some of those people in those in those offices I barely knew anything about them. I knew their name, but I didn't know anything about their life because we never had personal conversations. Anytime we exited our special closed off rooms was have a work conversation then we left and went back.

Joanna: Yeah. And I think that of course there are times and reasons to have private conversations. So what do you do about that in open office culture?

James: I think what you can always do is you can always just move together and have team meetings. I mean you can like we're a small team so anytime we have a meeting everyone's involved there's never you know an exclusive meeting. If I do need to interview someone privately we just go to a coffee shop somewhere completely neutral. It's important especially a small team and I think you know maybe you can share more about a church context. If your church has a large staff of 30+ obviously not everyone can be in every single meeting. So that's where I think you need to find little groups of people. It's more about how you operate within those little groups rather than the whole entire culture you in a staff of 35 aren't going to know every single person really well but you should have a core group of people that you interact with almost daily and you should be building that culture within that small group. So how do you find that works for you?

Joanna: Well even with places where there are physical offices with doors it's this idea of having a lot of time that's the open door policy where people can easily access you. I think it leads to less secrecy or less weird hierarchical things about who knows at least less gossip and things like that. I think the more closing of doors there is the more times there are opportunities to talk badly or complain or speak about other people or things like that. And so even like even with how we're thinking about using space in terms of what kind of furniture we're buying and what kinds of spaces we have for private conversations versus open public conversation. It shapes the culture. And as a communications person I'm not in charge of deciding everything about how our entire culture works in our church but we do have an opportunity to shape culture even just within my own department. And so we've been really intentional with having like a really nice kind of comfy sitting area in our office space where people can come and have those conversations you have at desks and our tables. But then there's certain kinds of conversations you want to have and work out stuff as a team or creative work where you want to sit around comfy chairs and banter back and forth it makes everyone feel a little bit more relaxed. You want to have maybe even like a space for having like, we're going to talk another episode about food and the power of what we can do with snacks and coffees and all that kind of stuff. But yeah it's thinking around how the physical space we're in affects the culture that we're building and as far as we can do in our own space even if it's just our own little cubicle what does it say I hope people would think about what does it say about what the culture is that you're trying to create. Does it make people feel welcome? Or does it make people feel like they have to be quiet like it's a library? Does it make people feel like they get to know you a little bit by coming to your desk because they get to see a few of your personal family photos or whatever it is. Even if it's just your own office space your own little cubicle in a larger context there are ways that we can help build and shape culture with how we think about physical space.