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Lowering Walls and Welcoming Each Other

By Emily Becher, Research Associate — Family Development

Creating company culture in the workplace isn't just about adorning your walls with the company logo or painting everything in the same brand colors. It's about creating a unique yet unified environment that will reflect your company and its team.

This summer, the office space that Family Development’s Applied Research and Evaluation Team calls home, Room 495 in Coffey Hall, underwent a dramatic transformation.

Top: The view upon entering Room 495, before and after.
Bottom: The north corridor, before and after.

Why the transformation? Over the past few years, our team realized that our space was impacting both our core mission and our team culture in some unfortunate ways. We muttered. We complained. We brainstormed. Finally our team asked if we could make a change and thankfully, our leadership was supportive.

It was risky. We knew that once this change was implemented, we were “stuck,” meaning there would not be another redesign if we weren’t happy with the outcome. However, we were more frustrated by the limitations of our space than the fear of a potential negative outcome. As writer Anaïs Nin once said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Space transformation, like all change, is difficult and requires an investment of time, money, and decision-making energy. This kind of big redesign has to be worth it. This felt like an opportunity for our team to “blossom” and advance both our core mission and our team culture.

Our Core Mission

At its heart, the Applied Research and Evaluation Team is about support. Our core mission is to support the work of our educators and to further the mission of the Extension Center for Family Development with quality program evaluation and research. To achieve this, we need to be accessible to you, the educators and staff. You are, as our director Mary Marczak puts it, “our bread and butter” — the reason our team exists. For many years, we’ve heard that our office wasn’t welcoming to you. People came in and were confronted with rows of high walls and no sense of who to ask for directions or help. Marijo Wunderlich, our new research associate, put it best when she said we had “poor feng shui.” The energy of our office didn’t invite new people into the room. With the space redesign, we’re hoping that will change. The door is open. The walls are down. Come say hi.

Open for business. Er, support.

Our Team Culture

Our team is composed of five to six full-time staff members and a team of graduate research assistants (anywhere from 4 to 11 in a given year). Our graduate students work 10 to 40 hours a week over the summer and typically 10 to 20 hours a week during the school year. They come in at different times, work remotely, and are in and out of the office. Students told us that often weeks went by without seeing many of the other students. One student shared that she ran into another student from her graduate school cohort in our office and learned that this other student had been working with our team and coming into our office for over a year. An entire year and neither student ran into the other in Room 495 Coffey Hall!

We wanted to change that culture on our team and encourage connection, collaboration, and support. We also had a space issue with more students hired and less space available. Our office space is not that large, but somehow the previous design managed to make it feel both too big and too small. Our redesign increased the number of workstations from 8 to 12, and includes lower walls for student cubicles; students have their own space, but can see each other and check in as needed.

We can see who is in the office now!

The space feels better. The air feels lighter. The energy feels more positive. It is a new day for the Applied Research and Evaluation Team and it feels wonderful.

Editor's note: For more details about what the Applied Research and Evaluation Team does, see Meet the Team: Applied Research and Evaluation (sign-in required).

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