The new strategy of the Geological Survey of Finland demands a stronger sense of community but in the beginning, staff were a little unsure about the new activity-based environment. The agency assesses geological resources for business needs and operates in six localities. It decided the test the new type of premises in Kokkola first.
After gathering practical experience and learning about the new work environment, it was time to make the change at GTK’s headquarters in Otaniemi. The distance from the previous offices to the new premises on Vuorimiehentie 5 was only 400 metres but in terms of operating culture the change was much greater.
How did the new premises come about and how do they affect everyday work at GTK? Helena Tammi, GTK’s Director of Human Resources, Martti Heinonen, legal counsel who was the project manager, and Tobias Tommila, partner and architect at Arkkitehdit LSV talk about their experiences of the project:
Helena Tammi, GTK’s HR Director, feels at home on Vuorimiehentie. She feels that it was important that personnel were actively involved in the change process.
Helena Tammi, Director, Human Resources: “Faster digitalisation and more innovation”
“With our new strategy, we needed new kinds of premises and an increased sense of community. Initially, however, our employees were unsure about the activity-based environment. We decided to create the first activity-based environment at our Kokkola offices which have a staff of about 30 people. They moved into the new premises in 2017, which gave us a chance to gain experiences of how an activity-based environment would fit with our working culture.
The Kokkola experiment taught us that the change is a comprehensive reform of the work community’s operating culture. The premises are a way to steer our work towards greater participation. Activity-based environments also speed up digitalisation and give employees more room to innovate. For example, encounters between people in break rooms can lead to new projects.
Employees can choose their work spaces because there are plenty to choose from on Vuorimiehentie.
When we started designing the offices on Vuorimiehentie, our employees were actively involved. We formed a group of almost 30 people from various areas of responsibility and they then took part in designing the new premises. We listened to their wishes and opinions closely. For instance, together we decided to focus on the quality of work stations: desks are large and chairs are comfortable to sit in. Our management was also committed to the new ways of working – no-one has a dedicated workstation in the new offices – which contributed to the success of the project.
The best feedback I received came a month after we had moved into the new premises. A person who had been against the activity-based environment said that he had come to the conclusion that change can actually be fun. In the beginning he would have never imagined it could be a positive experience. Our employees have also described the new offices as energising.
We will adopt the activity-based concept at our other locations, too, that is for certain. Our laboratory offices will be transformed next. For the rest the timetable is still undecided.”
A nook for reading is a place to relax and take a break from a hectic work day (picture above). Martti Heinonen, who managed the change project, says that scheduling played a key role in preparations (picture below).
Martti Heinonen, legal counsel, project manager: “People had reservations but that changed during the process”
“The whole change process took about 18 months and my role was to be the project manager in most meetings and to keep all parties informed. Much of our communications took place over email but face-to-face meetings were also important because they often provided new perspectives.
There were meetings between many different people and roles. I was part of the steering group and the project management’s planning meetings. We also had internal meetings with personnel representatives and individuals with responsibility for various matters. We also worked closely with Senate.
We held staff workshops on the interiors and functionality of the new offices based on our interior designers’ plans and brainstormed names for the different zones of the new offices. It was a short distance from our old offices on Betonimiehenkuja to Vuorimiehentie but the psychological distance was great: we moved into an activity-based environment where nobody has their own workstation.
We organised meetings with staff to keep them informed of the different stages of the project and provided regular updates of the move on our intranet. It was also rewarding to see the employees with reservations gradually becoming more positive as the project progressed.
There are lots of interesting details and various surface materials such as stone in the new premises. The flooring is acoustic and easy to keep clean (picture above). Before you enter the work space, it is a good idea to go over the rules again (picture below).
During the move to the new premises Senate provided us with a removal support service. We used an Excel worksheet to systematically go over a to-do list of more than 300 removal-related tasks. They included things from ICT installations to kitchen utensils.
Marika Suominen was hired as a removal coordinator for the project and worked from the spring of 2018 to the end of the year. She will also take charge when the laboratory moves. In our experience it is not a good idea to attempt a large removal project with your regular staff because just the communications, contact with staff and updating the intranet alone take a lot of time.
The preparations for the removal highlighted the importance of scheduling: what to do and when. We did the removal in stages, which meant that the entire staff did not move over to the new premises in one go. A test group went to Vuorimiehentie in advance to test internet connections and the workstations, among other things.”
In the lobby, people are met by a drumlin, an elongated swell consisting of glacial deposits, formed by the ice age. Tobias Tommila, architect, was part of the interior design team.
Tobias Tommila, partner and architect at Arkkitehdit LSV: “Employees, experiment with the space with an open mind!”
“The Geological Survey of Finland commissioned us to design the interiors of the Vuorimiehentie premises. We already knew GTK because we had designed the interior of their Kokkola offices in 2017. We have also designed similar solutions for Natural Resources Institute Finland, for example.
An activity-based environment is intended to be versatile. It guides people to the space that best suits their work at any given time. We want people to experiment with the new offices with an open mind.
We were given a fairly free rein to design the offices and collaborated with the other parties in the project, especially KVA Architects who were in charge of architectural and principal design, and GTK. Together with the GTK staff we came up with the idea that all work environments would be given a name based on their geological work: Suo, Vesi, Kaivos, Kallioperä and Maaperä or Bog, Water, Mine, Bedrock and Soil. These themes are visible on the walls and floors, furniture colours, in tape designs on glass walls and the subjects of the photographic walls. Whenever possible, we used images from the GTK’s own collections.
On the wall in the history nook, there are stone slates engraved with important GTK employees who have passed away.
The offices were mostly furnished with new furniture but we also used some from the old location. In the break room there is a history nook, for instance, with a couch and two lounge chairs. The suite was given a new lease of life with new upholstery. Stone slates from the old offices were also used as desktops.
We used a versatile range of materials. The carpets are designed for acoustics and are easy to keep clean. In addition to photographic walls, there are plastered and painted walls, walls with different kinds of wood and acoustic surfacing and glass walls with tape designs.”