Transforming Business Performance through Strategic Workspace Design with Melissa Marsden


Link to episode: Melissa Marsden

Melissa’s book: The Next Workplace


Melissa Marsden: 0:00

She presented at this conference and she was talking about space and design and how teams would interact and this neurogenesis that was starting to happen and how different leaders connected and their cognitive function and the neural pathways that were formed. And all of a sudden I started to have this neuroscience that was backing up all of these things that I just knew were true from the work that I did.


Voice over: 0:25

This is the Reimagined Workforce podcast from Workforce Transformations Australia, the podcast for people and culture professionals seeking to drive meaningful, impactful and financially sustainable workforce transformation through curiosity, creativity and data science. In this podcast, we hear from talented and innovative people making a positive difference for their people, their organisations and those their organisations serve. They share stories and learnings to help others on their path to transforming their workforce today and tomorrow. Now here’s your host, Kath Hume.


Kath Hume: 1:04

So Melissa Marsden is a workplace dynamics strategist, reimagining work environments to drive high performing teams. Her unique workplace dynamics blueprint guides organisations to create a magnetic workplace that attracts top tier talent by aligning the hearts, bodies and minds to create next level results. She’s also the host of the popular Work Life by Design podcast. Melissa supports organisations to leverage their physical environments to elevate employee experience, empower high performing teams and unleash productivity. As the founder and director of Community, mel has spent over 20 years guiding organisations and professional services firms to navigate a new world of work, with a client list including APA, all Chadwick, Rugby Australia, Sunshine Coast City Council, Air New Zealand, Entain and many more. Her expertise in designing truly magnetic workplaces has seen 90% of employees reporting increased job satisfaction and direct financial increases to their bottom line. Having been recognised by the Australian Institute of Management and Telstra Business Women’s Awards for her transformational business strategy, Mel’s design excellence has also been recognised by the Design Institute of Australia, Alistair Swain Foundation Design Awards, Foundation and InDesign Magazine. Wow, Melissa Marsden, welcome to the Reimagined Workforce podcast.


Melissa Marsden: 2:34

Oh, thank you so much for having me, Kathryn. I look forward to it.


Kath Hume: 2:37

I’m super excited about this because in my world I work in people and culture functions and I haven’t ever talked to people about the way the workplace is designed, not from an interior design perspective. So I’ve loved listening to your podcast. I’ve loved seeing your posts on LinkedIn and I’m really intrigued to dig deep into your process and how you support organisations. So, to bring this to life a little bit, could you maybe give us a little bit more background around what you do and how you support organisations?


Melissa Marsden: 3:10

Yeah, absolutely. And you wouldn’t be the first person who has said that, even in the function that you’re in, that you haven’t had those conversations, because the majority of the time that I go in and start talking to businesses they’re like we didn’t even know that what you did was a thing. So we kind of have broken the mould a little bit and created a bit of a niche, and that’s probably due to my own interest in the way that I’ve kind of developed our business. It isn’t typical out of the box, doesn’t fit in a singular category, and that’s really because I started this business 10 years ago and I’m extremely interested in the way that business operates. I’m interested in the way that people work. I’m interested in how those two things come together and, as an interior designer by background, I have the great fortune of going into so many of these organisations and I kind of fell into workplace design very early in my career and went, oh, this kind of brings all of my interests together. I’ve always had that very entrepreneurial bent, knew I was going to have my own business at some point in my life and really took that opportunity to start digging into businesses and looking at what was working. What wasn’t working, why did some of these organisations have, really shitty cultures and how did the workplace itself actually either contribute to that or reinforce that or, guide some of that behaviour? So I started looking at what was happening overseas and there was some really interesting work being done there which almost started to blend into organisational psychology and behavioural science and a lot of data analytics and research that was happening. And I started to kind of apply some of that to my own work. And the reality is that sort of transformed and, as time has gone on, the way that I work with organisations is I really come in and I do a very deep discovery process. So I want to know about the organisational structure. I want to know about their purpose, their values. You know, what is it like working for their? What is their brand experience like, where do they want to be and what does their growth trajectory look like? And I look at all of this existing data. I look at how the floor plans are laid out, the way the departments all interact, and then we go through a process of engaging with the teams and asking them what’s working about your workplace, what’s not? What would you like to see done better? We do that at all the different levels. So interviews with the leaders, we do workshops with the general team and I take all of that information and I then sort of start to make recommendations back to them on how we could start to create a workplace that aligns with those values and that vision and supports the people and actually being able to do the job that they’re employed to do.


Kath Hume: 5:37

That is fantastic, and do you find that people are able to articulate that, or is there a little bit of your role is to translate what people are saying into what that looks like in terms of workplace design.


Melissa Marsden: 5:51

Yeah, absolutely A large part of what I do is listening for what’s not said, and that’s the biggest thing that I find very difficult to train additional team in, because as a designer, you can train designers in a particular design process, but there are certain things that you’ve got to start to look for, because a lot of what you’re actually looking for is what’s not being said. So a lot of the time it’s about sort of speaking to leaders or team members and really kind of helping them put the words together to explain what they want and what they’re not really enjoying and what could be better, and to show them examples of what is possible, so that it really expands their mind to see things that they’ve never seen before and go, oh, actually, that could really work, and then sort of help them actually understand how particular environments enable them to actually work that they had never actually conceived or thought possible before.


Kath Hume: 6:45

And I was listening to your most recent podcast this morning and it was about the fact that what the organisation promotes needs to be mirrored in the workplace and how you were talking about a collaborative workplace culture needs to be mirrored in the environment, and that was a really interesting call out. I’m interested. So this is a niche function and I love that you’ve really captured this niche. How do you communicate this need to leaders and bring them on board and get them to see something that they might not have realised they even needed in the first place?


Melissa Marsden: 7:20

Yeah, well, there’s usually someone who is championing this in the workplace. So the way that I do my marketing and I put myself out there as you’ve mentioned, you know lots of LinkedIn and the podcast, and I speak at conferences and events and usually there’ll be someone who goes. I really like that. I want them to come and talk to our organisation or they’ve been referred by another previous client and they’re like you’ve really got to go and talk to them on the team at community and get them in to help you. So there’s usually someone who’s advocating for me within the business already. And then when I come in, it’s really about bringing the rest of the leadership team up to speed and explaining to them the way that their workplace is actually functioning, how it’s impacting on the performance of their business, how it’s impacting on their people from both an employee experience and engagement perspective, but also from an employee well being, and how it’s actually then either aligning or, you know, fighting with the values and the expectations of the business. So once they’ve got that piece of education and they can actually see that very visible and very tangible link between the physical construction of their workplace and what they’re trying to achieve as a business. It becomes quite an easier conversation because then they can start to see the value in actually unpicking this and then creating a workplace that’s going to support them to go forward.


Kath Hume: 8:37

And so if there was an organisational function that you needed to align with, where do you tend to land?


Melissa Marsden: 8:44

I tend to focus on the People and Culture side of the business, and the reason that I do that is because I feel like, typically, interior design has been put with property and facilities. However, when property and facilities get these projects, it’s purely a function. It’s like here’s my budget and here’s what we need to fit and here’s how many square meters we’ve got. What I do is far, far earlier than that. It’s strategic planning, it’s visioning with the organisation And the People and Culture team are. They’ve given the remit of making sure that their people are thriving at work and they’re performing but they’re not given the tools to be able to then facilitate that through the physical space, and it makes such a big impact on the way that people perform at work. So I’ve spent a few years figuring out that that’s the team that I actually want to be speaking to, because that’s where I can make the most impact, and so that means that there’s a big educational process that I’m on a mission to do so that they understand that this is an opportunity, but then also then equipping them with the knowledge, the language and the ability to go and talk numbers, dollars, statistics with the CEO and with the CFO, so that they can actually then bring these projects to life and that they can have that impact. And then, when we’re talking at that level, we’re having a very different conversation than the conversation that I was having with the property and facilities team.


Kath Hume: 10:01

Yeah, and it reminds me a couple of years ago I went to a workshop and it was around change management when we’re doing redevelopments in hospitals, and there was options for workshops, you know breakout rooms that you could go to. When there was one on art in hospitals and I didn’t actually go. And then some of my colleagues went and at lunch we were talking about it and they were telling me about it and it was quite fascinating about the difference to the staff experience but also patient and consumer experience when they come in. And if I had my time again I’d definitely go back because I think how critical that is to what we’re doing. And I’m so glad that we’ve got people in this space who have got the expertise to think that through and understand the research behind it. And that probably leads me into a question I have around when you do go into a workplace, what are the critical design features you’re looking for that really will enhance and boost that employee experience?


Melissa Marsden: 11:00

So when I start a project, I will do what we call an observation study, which really just means I’m walking around looking at how people are interacting with the space, the way they’re communicating, the way that the space is set up, looking at the aesthetics of the space. So, like you mentioned, does it look pretty, does it invite people, does it have a sense of personality? Because I know that seems like quite aesthetic driven, but those senses of beauty actually make a big impact. So hence that reason that the art is actually really important in hospitality and hospitals. But when you start looking at it, what I’ll often see is, when I have those workshops as well, there’ll be comments or conversations that start to arise around communication, barriers, silos that are forming, issues that are occurring within the workplace that I can then attribute to the way that the space is being physically constructed. So there might be, to give you an example, one of the projects that I worked on, they were in a building that had a central core and their reception was on one side, the cafe was on the other side and so, effectively, they actually split their business into four corners And so they ended up with four silos that happened as a result of this. So the physical environment can actually create barriers within the workforce, impacting on communication flow, relationships, all of those things happening within the actual physical space. So looking at those things is really critical to start. Then, when I start actually looking at how we’re going to put the workplace back together, there are really a number of different factors that I’m looking to reintroduce. One of the key ones that we’re looking at right now is around social connectivity, so really creating spaces that enhance that ability for employees to socialise in an informal, unstructured way. So the obvious choice for that is to create really big cafe spaces with lots of different types of seating arrangements. Following from that is then to create collaborative spaces. And those collaborative spaces really vary and it’s unfortunately something that I see happen, quite poorly on occasion, because organisations go, we need collaboration, so they’ll stick a couch at the end of a bunch of workstations or they’ll put a round table in with four chairs and go look, we did collaboration. But it’s really about understanding the way that the teams actually need to collaborate. So if I’m working with a tech team, there might be a team of 12, that’s their natural teaming size. That team of 12 need to be able to come together and collaborate with whiteboards and screens in a really informal, agile way, whereas the HR and legal team might have, two or three little intimate conversations, and that’s their version of collaborating. And there’s everything in between. So, really understanding the way that individual teams need to collaborate and the types of conversations that I need to be having, and then providing spaces that are actually going to facilitate that type of conversation, but then looking at going well, ‘what are the team sizes across the business for that?’ So then, for how many of those little three person tables do I need and how many of those big 12 person spaces do I need? And getting all of those ratios right in between, that’s the tricky bit. The opposite spectrum of that is that we also need really great spaces for quiet, concentrated work. And again, this isn’t just about putting everybody back into an office. It’s having quiet rooms, it’s having phone booths. We’re reintroducing library spaces back into workplaces. You know, back in the 80s and earlier, we used to have these library spaces, which is used to be full of dusty, old books. There aren’t any books in these spaces, or if there is, it’s a book club where people can exchange and recycle each other’s books. But these spaces are more about bringing that idea of the old library corral back so that we can all sit in an open environment and do our work, but there is no talking and there are no phones, so it’s a very solitude or space that we can actually concentrate in. So we’re looking at a much broader range of work environments and enabling people the choice to choose where they need to work, based on the type of work they need to do, but also based on their own individual work preferences. And, we’ve been looking at this for a number of years around people’s personality profiles and how they actually prefer to work, and in today’s context it’s actually around neurodiversity. How are we providing these variety of spaces so that people have control over their own environments to suit a space that’s going to work for them and their own particular needs?


Kath Hume: 15:27

I did a podcast episode last year actually about that neurodiversity and the considerations in terms of the noise levels, and I was actually going to ask you a question around how do you build for different personalities. But I think what I’ve heard you say there is options and choice. And so enabling people to, a nd probably even not just personality, but how am I feeling today? Where do I want to work today? What’s the task that I’m completing today? Where do I need to complete that?


Melissa Marsden: 15:57

And then it’ll change throughout the day too, like you might start. Another concept that I use is I’m not sure if you’re familiar with eudemoniam machine, but I love that one. Yeah, so we actually use that model to design by. So we start off by introducing people into those gallery spaces and then taking them through into the salon, which is the cafe, through into those collaboration spaces And they go into the general work areas and as they get deeper and deeper into the workplace, then they get to those quiet, concentrated spaces. So, thinking about your workplace in that stage segmented space and we call them zones in terms of how you can then actually guide people into more of that cognitive function.


Kath Hume: 16:43

It is a Greek word for flourishing. Because I just love that concept and I’ve actually done a bit of work just around wellbeing, and how do we do incorporate wellbeing for learning just to arrive at that space of eudaimonia, and I don’t know. That was 2000 years ago. I don’t know if anyone’s really encapsulated it in a term as well as I think it was Aristotle, but I could be very wrong there. One of the things I was wondering is are there things in the environment that you use as symbols to send messages to people that this is what this environment is for? And when you were talking about the library space, for example, I think most of us know when you enter a library it’s almost a sacred space where you don’t talk, and it’s funny because as soon as I’m told I’m not allowed to make any noise, I will immediately start to need to giggle or something like that. But yeah, so back to my question was what are the symbols that you put in the environment to sort of give people without having to put up a big sign and say this is a library, don’t talk.


Melissa Marsden: 17:43

Yeah, I love that, because that ends up being what happens a lot of the time. So we look at furniture, we look at texture and we look at colour, and so, if I start with furniture, if you think about the type of furniture that you would use to collaborate, it’s usually bigger. So let’s say, we’ve got a collaboration table. It’s usually a standing table. It’s usually got six to eight stools around it. They’re usually bar stools. There’s usually a TV screen. It’s usually kind of a much more open space, higher ceilings, less walls and things. What that is sort of telling me is that this is the space where multiple people can come together, where to bring active energy. Because we’re being asked to stand or perch, because we’ve got using bar stools. We’re not meant to get too comfortable here. This isn’t meant to be a space that we use for a long period of time. We can have these really active and robust conversations because there’s tools around us to encourage us to communicate. So that’s on one end of the spectrum. Then, if we go to that library space, on the other end we want people to work individually and we want them to work in a quiet way. So what we’ll start to use is spaces that are got, larger, higher walls around them. So you know, let’s say we’ve got a single booth that we want someone to be able to sit and work in. Typically it’s got a larger, higher space. It’s obviously designed for only one person because there’s only one seat in there and there’s only space for one person and that kind of confines it like there’s nobody else can come and join me because there’s no room for that person. So that’s from a spatial furniture style. Then we start to look at texture. If we look at the textures in the collaboration spaces, they’re usually quite clean. They’re quite sleek. There’s not a lot of tactility to those spaces, whereas when we get into those quiet spaces we’re usually using softer fabrics and things that are going to have an acoustic property to them, because you want them to absorb sound. So, we’re going to start to see things that are a bit more, textural fabrics and those sorts of things. And then, if we start to think about colour, we usually start to see more vibrant, bright, energetic colours in our collaboration spaces. And then we start to tone them down and turn them into muted versions of that. So we’re still using the same colour palette but we’re muting those versions down so they’re much more calming and restful sort of colours, so that we are enabling a more quiet change in demeanour when we’re encouraging people to work in those particular spaces. So when we see those three sorts of things working together, it’s really giving people these subconscious cues on what the expected behaviours are in each of those sorts of spaces.


Kath Hume: 20:22

It’s just so clever! And there’s so many things there that it sounds so obvious when you say it, but without having you tell me that, I probably never would have thought of it, especially texture. That to me, a colour, I think is obvious. when you pointed out space in one of the podcasts, I thought, yeah, and I thought about my own environment that I work in at home and how I really probably should pull out some things that I don’t need in here. But yeah, the texture one, I hadn’t even really given any thought to that. It’s fascinating. How did you learn all of this? Where might people even start if they wanted to learn some of this?


Melissa Marsden: 20:58

It’s trial and error, to be honest. A lot of it has come through observing. And, as you said, some of it is quite obvious when you sit down and you think about it. And a lot of my thinking had to come from trying to train the rest of my team. It’s like, ok, some of this stuff just became inherent in me and I just knew. And then I had to kind of unpick well, how do I know and how do I then teach this? And in writing my book, that was actually probably one of the greatest learning curves for me, because all of a sudden I had to be able to communicate why I knew these things. And then I had to go and find research that backed up the stuff that I just knew. I had to go and find why is this actually something that works this way? And it’s been like a bit of a trail of breadcrumbs, to be honest. Over the years I’ll have heard something from somebody. So I was at a conference must have been over five years ago and there was a neuroscientist there. Her name is Dr Fiona Kerr from Adelaide University and she’s an incredible woman. So I highly recommend tracking her down and reading her work. She presented at this conference and she was talking about space and design and how teams would interact and this neurogenesis that was starting to happen and how different leaders connected and their cognitive function and the neural pathways that were formed. And all of a sudden I started to have this neuroscience that was backing up all of these things that I just knew were true from the work that I did and how proximity of space to areas enable people to actually have those collaborative conversations, because you know, we don’t want collaboration spaces in our general work area because it’s disruptive and it’s hard for everyone else to concentrate. But if you put them too far away, people won’t use them because it’s too hard to access. I have to go too far. So having this proximity and she was calling it in hybrid structures and all of these other things started to come together. And one of the other things that really stuck with me from her is that when we meet face to face, we actually have a retinal eye lock that happens. And so when that happens, there’s a chemical reaction that occurs in both our bodies, and our bodies retain that chemical reaction And we can only create that chemical reaction in real life, face to face. But then once we go and we pick up the phone or we have that zoom call, our bodies recall that chemical reaction and we get that sensory feeling again. So this is how, as humans, we’re creating these relationship bonds between people. So we know that we need to be physically together at times to create this, but then we can rely on that to then reinforce those relationships when we’re in those hybrid work environments as well. So there were all these little pieces that were starting to come together and I went oh, this is actually why what I do works.


Kath Hume: 23:40

Yeah, and what I really like about that is you’re giving science backing to the whole. why do we need to come to work? And I think I’ve said a few times on the podcast how frustrating I find it that if an organisation says ‘you need to come back into work’. So when I’m talking to friends and colleagues, if they’re saying they’re needing to come back to work and I say to them, have you been told why? And if they say no, I feel really sorry for them because I think that there’s you need to have that why. But I love that. I’ve actually done a lot of neuroscience, but I didn’t understand that retinal connection that you mentioned. But that just makes complete sense. So can I clarify? So once you’ve got that connection with someone once, then it can be reinforced or restimulated at a later date. It doesn’t need to be in person.


Melissa Marsden: 24:30

That’s right. Yeah, so she’s saying, once it’s once it’s created, that connections created, that your body will recall it when you, you know you pick up the phone and that’s also why we had that rapport. I mean, you think about it If you’re cranky or pissed off for somebody and you pick up the phone and you’ve never met that person, how much easier is it for you to be really wild with that person. But if you’ve met them and you know them and you’ve had that, you’ve got a bond there, so you’ve got this sense of empathy that then comes with that conversation and you’ll, you’ll tone it down and you’ll have care and concern for that other person, and so there’s a different conversation that happens, and this is all part of that.


Kath Hume: 25:05

Fascinating, so cool. So lots of us now have got our own workplaces and if I ever do share this video and for those of you who can’t see it, because you’re listening, I’ve got a plain white background and I’ve got a black jumper on. Like it’s, I’m boring, more boring than you can ever imagine, and it stands out more so when you look at the beautiful Melissa in her environment and in the stunning clothes that she has on. What could we do as individuals in our own homes that would really bring out the best in us?


Melissa Marsden: 25:35

I love this question because through COVID, when everyone was working from home, I’m like, ‘oh crap, I don’t have a business anymore. What am I going to do?’ And so I started thinking about, well, what could people be doing to bring their work environments home, and what are the principles that I teach, in corporate world, and how can people actually embody those in their own homes? And so few of the things that I started to see were you know, everyone was saying you know you need to set yourself up with a permanent desk, a nd you know the worst thing that you can do is sit at your desk for eight hours a day. We don’t recommend people doing that in a work environment. Why the hell would we say to people do that at home? So my philosophy is that use your whole home the way that you would go about using your whole work environment. If you are having, you know, coffee, go into it in the kitchen. If you need to read that report, go and find the comfy spot on the sofa that you like. If you need to sit and do computer work, well then do that at your laptop or in your office or at an ergonomic setup station if you can. But again, use your whole home during the day, go for those walking meetings, do those things, so actually physically getting active in your work environment and using those spaces. So the reason that we encourage people to work in different spaces in the corporate world is because we bring different mental energy to different activities depending on the environment. So if I’m asking you to go and sit in that quiet, concentrated lounge area, there’s a mental shift that happens and we bring a different cognitive energy to that task than if we’re sitting at our desk, and vice versa. So if you’re trying to read a report and you want to get sort of really engrossed in it and be really concentrated in it, the best way to do that is to find an environment that’s going to stimulate that type of focus, cognitive energy. So that’s why I’ve got my favorite little pink couch out in the lounge and I’ll go and sit there and I’ll do my morning journaling there or read a report or, catch up on some emails there. I’m bringing a different sort of mental clarity to that task as opposed to when I’m sitting here at my desk and I’m working on spreadsheets or I’m doing data entry or I’m, physically typing that report. So there’s a different type of mental energy that different spaces bring. So that’s one of the biggest tips that I can encourage people. The other thing that I suggest is, when you do have that home base, effectively your office area, make it as enjoyable and as beautiful and, as reflective of your personality as you possibly can. And this is something I think we did start to do quite well through through COVID, because we started to see a glimpse into everyone’s lives and we got to see what was going on in their, in their homes and you know that peak behind the curtains kind of thing. And so I encourage people to use plants. Biophilia is great for us to be able to connect with the natural world. Art, again, you mentioned that earlier, making your space beautiful, but using pieces that you know speak to you or have a personal relationship or a connection to you. You might want flowers. We also have a really strong sense of smell. So, you know, burning a candle, that can also trigger your body, into your mind, into going OK, that’s work time now, because that’s the smell.


Kath Hume: 28:41

I do do that.


Melissa Marsden: 28:45

And it’s because it’s just sensory triggers that we’re looking at. So you know, I’ve got an oil burner here and I have one particular smell in that oil burner and so when you turn that on, that kind of signals to me that it’s work mode, and there’s benefit in having a messy desk and there’s benefit in having a clean desk. It depends what you want to. You know where you’re at, but you know when your desk is clean and ordered, your mind is able to be ordered and quite coordinated as well. But if you’ve got a messy desk, that also promotes creativity. So, depending on the task, again, like because if there’s only order around you and you’re trying to be creative, creativity requires you to come up with new ideas. Order promotes sameness. So we’ll kind of fall back into old neurological pathway. So there’s just a few tips on what you can do to set yourself up at home. But, yeah, try and just be as comfortable as possible and enjoy it.


Kath Hume: 29:33

And that idea that move around the house really obvious again when you know it. But I come into my room 7:30 every morning and I go down to make a cup of tea and that’s about it. Yeah, I’m wondering. I think it starts with a bit of self awareness too, that understanding first and foremost that the environment that I’m in is impacting me, and having the self awareness to understand how it’s impacting me so then I can understand and define the areas that I work in and the work that I complete in those areas. Does the book go into how people can do that themselves to raise their self awareness?


Melissa Marsden: 30:17

So the book doesn’t actually specifically address it for you at home, but it does teach you a lot of the principles to bring awareness to everyday behaviour. The book was written for culture leaders so that they could have a better understanding of what that direct connection is. You know, they know culture leaders know a lot of what is in this book, but they will get a new sense of how the actual environment is enabling that to play out in the corporate environment. I do also, though, have an online program, which I created to support people and creating a work environment at home that starts to look at all of these aspects, so that’s available on my website as well.


Kath Hume: 30:53

Brilliant, excellent. We’re probably running out of time a little bit, but I’m just having a look. Can you give us an example of a workplace problem that you’ve solved through your work?


Melissa Marsden: 31:03

Oh, so many. I’m going to go with mine and my favorite switch is Mapien’s office. So when I started working with Mapien, they were a 35 year old company. They had taken over an old legal fit out. They are an organisational, psychology, behavioral science and HR industrial relations organisation, so they do kind of work in similar that legal space. So they moved into this space that they thought was going to suit them. They’d been there for quite some time, the lease was coming up for expiry, but what was happening was, they started to look at how the business was actually functioning within that space and realise that there’s a really big misalignment between the physical environment and the values of the organisation. So their values are all around fairness, around flexibility, around family, and what was happening was that everyone was coming in and they were all sitting in their own office every day. No one actually knew who was in the office or when they were. What was going on. There was no social interactivity, there was definitely no sense of family there, there was no flexibility in terms of the functional physical space. And so we went through the process of engaging with them and, tip the whole business upside down and shook it all out. And through that process, what I actually realised is that the only reason that people were coming into the office was for social connectivity and social collaboration. Now this is pre COVID, when I was designing this workplace, so this was kind of all a bit of a new territory for these guys. But they’ve started to realise that the only reason that people were coming into the office was professional socialisation, and so that meant they were coming in to brainstorm, they were coming in to connect back to the business and they’re coming in to connect to their colleagues. On occasion some of those people were coming in to do work, but majority of the work was either happening in court, it was happening in client sites, or they were doing it from home, because they do quite a lot of really intense report writing. So they wanted that concentration. So here’s an office that’s had 36 people in it, and then I’m recommending to them that they go back into a workplace that nobody owns a desk and nobody has an office. So it was pretty big leap of faith from them and they did it, and what we ended up creating was a very early hybrid workplace pre COVID. Back in those days it was probably called an activity based workplace or an agile environment, but what it did was it actually provided again very much that early concept for me of that eudaimonium machine. It is the perfect case study for that project, and I actually talk about this in the book and I show you how that works on the uterumodium scale as well. So they enter into a cafe because they wanted people to come in grab a coffee, socialise and connect. They then move into that collaboration space so they can progress those conversations. They then get on with their general day. And then, on the other end of the scale, they’ve got these varied, solitary spaces for them to do that concentrated, deep work. So that’s that space. And what happened after that is six months afterwards they had their highest financial revenue on record. T hey had really increased employee engagement scores. They saw cross collaboration happening within their business. That had never happened before. So these three business streams all of a sudden started working together. There were a fairing clients across each other, there were cross solving problems, so all of this started to happen. And so what did take happen is they had taken what was a very traditional, very staid mindset and become this really agile, adaptable organization. And shortly after that they actually went through a very significant merger very successfully, and then went on to acquire a number of other businesses as well which they absorbed into that space. So the space enabled this agility. That started to happen not only in their people, but in the business mindset as well. The whole organization became far more agile, and the space was flexible enough that it could absorb these additional acquisitions back into it as well. So that’s one of my favourite case studies, and they’ve got on to achieve some fantastic stuff.


Kath Hume: 34:55

I can understand why completely, why you would be promoting that. That’s a beautiful story And I think about I’m picturing the people in it and the experience that they must have had over that transition. I can imagine it would be very difficult for them to go and want to work anywhere else. So in terms of a retention strategy, I think that is absolute gold.


Melissa Marsden: 35:17

It is. It’s also very challenging too. So if you think about it, you’ve got people who have always sat in their own office and now. I’m telling him ‘hey, you don’t have an office and guess what? You don’t even actually have your own desk, here’s a locker.’ But there’s a really robust change process that goes around that. And you’ve got to take people on that journey with you. You can’t just go ‘here’s your new space, good luck!’ You actually need to educate, we need to train, we need to involve them in the conversation. We actually co-created solutions. So, even though I’ve got a pretty good idea of where you’re going to end up, we go through a process of having these conversations and going okay, so where could you store your things? How can we deal with this problem? What are some of the challenges that you think you might have when you come in here on day one? What do you think we could do to actually solve some of those challenges? So we get them problem solving their own concerns and their own challenges and their own issues, so that they have ownership of that space when they actually get there. And you will sometimes see people who will return back to the same desk each and every day and there are when I go in there, I know that I’ll always see this particular group of people at that end and this particular group of people at that end. And the reason is because again those personal preferences I’m more extroverted, so I like to be around the buzz and excitement of energy, so I want to sit closer to the cafe. You might be more introverted and actually really need quite concentrated space to just do your general day to day tasks, so you’re going to sit closer to that quieter space And so then we’ll naturally gravitate to spaces that we feel comfortable in and enable us to work and perform at our best.


Kath Hume: 36:47

And probably similar people who we are friends with, gravitate to those areas too do they?


Melissa Marsden: 36:54

They do, and purely because we’ve probably built those relationships. But also the great thing is that nobody owns that space. So at the end of the day it all goes back to how it is. There’s an understanding that if I go and sit in your desk, that it’s not actually your desk so no one’s going to get disrupted or fluffed up about it. Then they move around during the day. So you’ll still go to the cafe, you’ll still go to the collaboration space and work from there, and the intention is you take your stuff with you when you go there. It’s only when you’re sitting at your desk doing a couple of those hours of work that you’ll sit in those particular spaces.


Kath Hume: 37:25

When you explain your process, I can see why it sits so nicely with People and Culture, because it’s embedded in the core values and the core function of the organisation. So that’s your starting point, is what I’m hearing and then you go from there. So this is what the organisation exists for. How do we create this environment that enables the people in it to shine and thrive?


Melissa Marsden: 37:46

Yeah, absolutely. And finding those champions within the organisation to support that journey and support that wider network of people, because it’s not a job that I can do alone. And it does need those people that are advocating for it and communicating it more broadly, because not everyone’s going to come to the workshop and not everyone is going to participate in the survey and not everyone is going to read that email. So it’s about empowering people within the business to be able to have those conversations so that that message is getting spread out more broadly.


Kath Hume: 38:14

And I think it’s really important that you include that change piece in the whole design and the solution that you provide. So, Melissa, I think we have run out of time. I would love this conversation to go on. I’d actually love to invite you into my space and make you do your magic here. How can people connect with you?


Melissa Marsden: 38:34

You can come and connect with me on LinkedIn. So just Melissa Marsden on LinkedIn. Or come over and check out my website, You can sign up and join up for my newsletter there. You can find my podcast there. You can have a look and see my book and those online programs that we spoke about. There’s lots of information there. Or you can head over to and check out the work that we do there for all of our clients. So that’s C-O-M-U-N-I-T-I, because we like to be a bit different. And, yeah, you can see all of the great project work that we’ve done there for our clients.


Kath Hume: 39:07

And I will put all of those links in the show notes. This has been fascinating. I’m just reflecting, thinking I have learned an enormous amount doing this podcast, and that is what I love about doing the podcast. But I don’t think there’s been an episode where I’ve been so gobsmacked and flawed. But really I do think I’ve walked away with some tips that I can actually, ‘m thinking I want to go this afternoon and buy a plant and bring that into my office and make it a little bit more colourful. For those of you who miss out, there’s going to be a bit of editing in this episode, because I’ve just lost my way And I’ve completely lost the question I was about to ask, Melissa, because I’m just sitting here in absolute awe of the way you’ve articulated everything you do, but how beautiful it all appears and it’s just wonderful. It just makes me feel happy. So I’m so glad that you’ve been able to share that with us. And I’m very confident that our listeners will get an enormous amount of benefit from that too.


Melissa Marsden: 40:04

Well, thank you so much for that, and it’s been an absolute pleasure having this conversation, because it’s just something that I absolutely love doing. And, yeah, I think I’m one of those very fortunate people who figured out what they want to do with their life and have absolutely found something that completely lights me up, so I’m happy to share that with anyone who’ll listen.


Kath Hume: 40:21

And it’s very obvious when I look at you that it absolutely is your passion, so thank you. I really appreciate that And I look forward to following you and learning more from you on LinkedIn.


Voice over: 40:32

Well, thanks so much, Kathryn. Thanks for listening to the Reimagined Workforce Podcast. We hope you’ve found some valuable ideas that you can apply to transform your own workforce today and tomorrow. Additional information and links can be found in the show notes for this episode at Please share this podcast with your community and leave us a rating to let us know what we can do better for you.

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