Feeling Overwhelmed? Pay Attention to your space.

How designing your space is key to sustaining success

Marta Rocamora

CEO and founder
Feeling Overwhelmed? Pay Attention to your space.


Feeling Overwhelmed? Pay Attention to your space.

How designing your space is key to sustaining success

Again, facing a wall.

Now I am really starting to feel incompetent. I can sense the level of frustration rising: why can’t I simply deliver the changes I committed to?

In the past, I believed it was because things were not aligned with what I truly wanted. Lack of conviction if you will. This time it hits differently. There was no “we” involved. I was the instigator. It was my proposal, I was convinced it was the best course of action for my team.

This was not the typical corporate retreat I was told to partake in the past.

You know the kind. The one where they take the whole C-suite “out of their normal workplace environment”. Maybe they took you in nature for a couple of days, even a whole week if there was a serious budget, or some VC backing you up. Or maybe it was only for a day. You were taken to one of those fancy multi-use spaces in the city. Those seem to be popping up every day. Did you know that the number of coworking spaces has experienced monumental growth with nearly 19,000 openings worldwide in 2019? Yes, you heard me right, 2019! As in COVID-19, a time when we were about to be literally forbidden to gather in groups, yet the industry of shared spaces still experienced a 2% growth in 2020 and now it’s booming! Expected to hit $13.5 Billion by 2025. That means that by 2024 the number will have more than doubled, that’s over 40,000 coworking of all kinds across the globe.

Anyways, I digress. Back to my story. As I was saying this time it wasn’t the typical executive’s only retreat. The kind of mentality where the expectation is “a day to solve it all”, packed with activities and deep discussions, where even time has to stop, phones must be disconnected…

This time, the retreat was led by a group of wonderful facilitators. Wise enough to take us out of our “comfort zones” aka workplaces. Skillfully smoothing the sharp edges of our heated discussions. Gracefully reminding the group (more often than you would think), that we are part of the same organization, our departments are complementary, those divisions we seem to have are mental barriers and we must work together to achieve the same goal.

Thank god for those neutral forces reminding us that innovative retreats are necessary. Even my most skeptical co-workers enjoyed the experience, and learned “a thing or two”. They recognized that being in a different environment really helps to reframe problems, build more personable rapport, and if you are lucky even genuinely connect with other people.

Don’t get me wrong, I might sound blazé but I love those retreats. If anything there should be a LOT more of them. It’s just that I also get why 90% of them fail to implement any sustainable change. I thought I had it all figured out, it was about the people attending! Or at least, I thought I did.

Back in the days, we, the almighty exec team, used to come back from those sessions elevated, our feet barely touching the ground. High levels of energy after envisioning what the future us could be. Ready to enthusiastically spread our vibes into our work environment, ready to try to implement all the changes we committed. Only to feel confronted with the daunting reality that our vibes weren’t as contagious as we thought.

Our teams still were focused on the stressful job at hand, the very real present work, and the next deliverables. No wonder, they didn’t share our excitement. They didn’t go to the retreat! They didn’t have the chance to experience that it was possible to flow and collaborate. I get it. It probably felt like we were just catapulting them into change.

Change is hard even when you actually WANT it! I should know I have been wanting to change my weight! HA!

Yet, this time it should have been different. I brought the team with me. They participated in the reframing. We used empathy, we listened, we had break-out sessions, we bonded. We took the time to play. We were meticulous in changing the day-to-day dates of deliverables. Why isn’t it sticking? Why am I facing a wall once again!?

Is it a lack of drive? Am I not disciplined enough? Are we lacking grip? Were we too ambitious with the objectives? If only I could be more diligent, a more inspiring leader. Why do others seem to make it work so smoothly on their LinkedIn posts?…

Or maybe, my assumption is faulty…Oh yes!! It’s not me, it’s the space!

What if the most important takeaway from the retreat was not the work, but the retreat itself? Let’s break it down for a second.

What happened at that retreat? You went somewhere new. Which forced you to pause and observe. You became aware of a new environment. You were exposed to a new way of managing space professionally that is intentionally built with purpose. You sat differently. You even stood up differently. Got to play with new furniture. More importantly, your physical posture changed, no need to dive into the extensive research that explains how much postures influence mental attitudes and mindsets. You know this to be true from your yoga classes. Each posture has its benefits and contraindications.

Okay, so let’s use the knowledge we have at hand.

We tend to be conscious of space when it ignites innovation, yet as usual, we often overlook the ones that are familiar, meaning the ones we spent the most time in. So if context plays a very powerful lever because we typically don’t recognize its influence, then let’s commit to translating our objectives into the space we interact with. Let’s make our desired ways visible, it will make it easier for us to sustain the intentions we set for ourselves!!

OK then, am I going to need to hire an interior designer, an architect, buy fancy furniture, work on cosmetics, Feng Shui maybe? That sounds very complex and very expensive, a luxury I can’t afford now. I really don’t have time to manage. I guess I need to try harder to instill discipline and keep it business as usual.

Wait, wait. You wouldn’t be this extreme with any other business problem you are facing, from zero to nothing.

“Tweaking the space need not be complex, just thoughtful.Famous mid-century furniture designer and architect Charles Eames describes the role of the designer as akin to being a good host. Develop an awareness of what’s happening — the heat in a room, the noise or lack thereof, the proximity of people. Make minor manipulations of the space to match your intent. It can be as simple as providing a chair for someone who appears uncomfortable or inviting a group to stand by omitting the chairs altogether.” Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, co-authors of Make Space, at the Stanford

Who knows about this? Haven’t I found on Netflix very popular shows with people that professionally organize closets? Minimalists? What was the name of that book my coworker gave me? Sparking joy Marie Kondo? They are not designers, what are they? Okay, let’s get serious, I need people with business skills and space management acumen. Hmm, I start to wonder, doesn’t that sound like Grounded Innovation? 🤩

To conclude, pay attention and make it simple for you.

  • Is not your fault, this is hard and takes time. The profound transition periods we are living through cannot be solved in one corporate retreat, we need to bring the retreat to our daily practices. As a business leader, you are responsible for building a supportive environment.
  • Be gentle when starting to implement change and new practices, you must play it out in your mind in order to make it work for you. Do you want to change behaviors, or start new habits? Change the environment, make it help you, and make it visible.
  • Do you want to stop a bad habit? Make it invisible, hard to fall into it. Do you want to sustain it? Find someone to make you accountable, nothing beats being part of a community that aligns with your personal development, you will accelerate the process AND be more likely to actually achieve the goal you are aspiring to.

Do you want to take it further? Do you know who knows a great deal about grounding your ideas into space?

We do and want to help you, every step of the way.

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