Like nesting dolls, HR teams are often contained in their own suite, with individuals in private offices and visual barriers that prohibit passersby to see through. Typically, this is done in the spirit of protecting confidential materials or to provide a private place where people feel they can speak.
While well-intended, a subdued energy in the HR suite telegraphs a closed personality, rather than an open one. HR doesn’t often feel inviting. There is no amount of messaging that can overcome these nonverbal cues. And when there is such a mismatch, positive messaging can be interpreted as disingenuous. Do we have to choose between privacy and openness? Spoiler: No, we don't.
In my work creating spaces that drive integration and high performance, I've learned that the most innovative corporate human resources departments have great programs and understand their role in helping to establish and foster the desired culture of the organization. They know when to support, when to lead, when to mentor and when to apply controls. These are qualities that can only coexist successfully in a culture of community and trust.
Here are five ways to use settings and nonverbal cues to promote trust and active engagement between staff and HR.
1. Stand Together
It is important to provide space and tools that support what HR professionals are doing. Historically, this has been done in ways that create a class divide between HR and the people they support. Workspace standards such as the number of offices, sizes or workstations are often different for HR than the rest of the organization. Workplaces are evolving, but people are afraid to break the tradition in HR.
Instead of isolating HR pros in rows of workstations with high panels, privacy screens and dedicated printers, create bullpens for working groups in HR. This cluster of workspaces ensures privacy for the group, space for them to collaborate when needed and dedicated tools like a printer or a team office for calls or counseling.
Instead of extra-large private offices containing separate conferences tables for HR leaders, ditch the traditional desk. Design personal workspaces to accommodate additional visitors and equip them with tools, such as a wireless display, to view materials and connect to meetings.
2. Invite People In
Even for those with private offices, rooms designated for conference calls, interviews, counseling and terminations are common and necessary. These rooms are typically idle for a fair amount of the work week, so invite other teams to use them. Use technology to manage booking and reserve blocks of time for HR pros to guaranty them access.
3. Be Where The People Are
Put HR into the mix. For a financial services company we worked with in Southern California, the entrance to the HR space was built so that it shared a connection to the central break area, which functioned more like how a great room does in a home. Part coffee bar, part lounge, it is a central gathering point, a place where people get information and connect.
Natural migration patterns can bring people closer to HR and foster better casual and professional relationships without being intrusive or disruptive. And more importantly, sighting someone by HR in a setting like this is no longer unusual or fodder for gossip.
If you seat a staff member or applicant in a rigid chair in a drab, windowless room, the meeting or interview will start out rigid and drab. The physical posture you put a person in sets the tone for the interaction. It takes special effort to overcome. Start by removing the barriers of a table between HR and applicants. Make seating and meeting spaces comfortable.
The best advice I’ve ever received for interviewing candidates is just to get them to open up and talk. They will tell you everything you need to know about whether they are a fit. Consider an interview room with a view to the outside, seated on small sofas in an L shape, with a coffee table. A physically comfortable environment enables unguarded interactions.
5. User Experience
Making HR a more approachable and comfortable place has many downstream effects. For staff, this can promote higher standards of communication, willingness to learn, better managers and a workforce that actively supports and participates in the culture and success of a company. As a major touch point for people external to the organization, HR can be strategically positioned to enhance the public perception of a company.