Whether you’ve got a cubicle, a private office or just a desk, your space at work is your space. It’s your home away from home. It’s your spot—whether big or little—to park your coffee cup, your family photos and your handbag or briefcase each day.

Moving concerns: Shifting work locations can be emotional for some.

It doesn’t have to be. The key is communication, sensitivity and getting input from those who face a move.

Planning Design Research Corp. (PDR), a Houston-based architectural firm specializing in workplace design, is used to that kind of hand-holding. It has three employees assigned to help clients work though the emotional and other issues of changing offices.

They recommend in-house “town meetings" so everyone understands the reason behind a move, regular move updates so no one is surprised when the refrigerator disappears, and “transition teams" to discuss such matters as furniture purchases and policies for keeping or purging files.

To quell anxiety, PDR’s specialists say, employees should be encouraged to discuss specific concerns, whether it’s a need for natural light or a request for a spot close to the kitchen.

“There is an emotional attachment to space," says PDR principal Kelly Baughman.

Encouraging mindshare

After consulting for years with clients about how to configure their space, it was PDR’s turn to move this month—to the other side of downtown Houston.

PDR had outgrown its 13,700 sq. ft suite at Allen Center. It’s adding nearly 2,600 more sq. ft at its new digs at the Houston Center and is reducing the size of each employee’s “personal footprint" in favour of more “huddle space" for collaboration.

Employees will sit in groups of 10, with conference rooms nearby for meetings. Each employee will have a 6ft-long table-style desk about half the size of their current space; in addition to sitting closer together, the workers will be separated by lower dividers.

Employees have been asking: “Who will I sit next to?", says Marcella Fewox, a transition management specialist. And many don’t want to decide on which side of their tabletop to put their computer until they know whom they’ll be facing.

Handling anxieties

As PDR planned its own move, the firm paid heed to its own advice to clients about the importance of keeping employees informed and addressing their concerns. And for those who didn’t want to come out and ask sensitive questions, the firm kept a box where employees could submit questions and worries anonymously.

In any move to a different building, employee anxieties tend to focus on a few issues, Baughman says. Parking is at the top of the list.

All of a sudden, an employee's commuting pattern changes, she says. That familiar 2-minute trip from car to desk chair is upended, and an employee immediately wonders whether it will take longer to park, whether the freeway access is as convenient and how long it will take to drive to a client's office. “We took everyone over to the building, and the landlord briefed us on the parking," Baughman says. And PDR distributed maps so employees would know how to get around.

Then there’s the inevitable set of new rules that come with every move. Would employees still get to eat at their desks? Could they still put up pictures and knick-knacks?

Spartan spaces

Employees at PDR got the memo that they had to pare down. No more boxes under desks. And just three packing boxes for each employee. People are worried about where to put all their belongings, says Alexa Berrones, an interior designer who is on the furniture committee.

Take it home, suggests Baughman, who holds up design portfolios from long-finished projects she stores in a box under her desk. Or throw it out.

©2011/The New York Times

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