How to make a nonprofit office move more inclusive

Jo Ann Prompongsatorn Headshot

Photo of the new office for TransForm After more than 10 years in our main Oakland office, TransForm is moving. Like many residents and other nonprofits across the Bay Area, our rent is increasing beyond our budget. 

This is just one of the big changes our team saw in 2019. TransForm’s founder, Stuart Cohen, stepped down after 22 years. Ann Cheng and I stepped in as Interim Co-EDs, and our board is about to launch the search for permanent executive leadership. We’ve also welcomed four new staff members this year (Lawrence, Jamario, Kathleen, and Hayley)! 

These ongoing transitions presented a great opportunity to share how TransForm makes space for inclusivity through each of these changes.  

People ask me all the time, how do you do inclusivity inside your organization? 

Running an inclusive organization looks a lot like community engagement, and TransForm bakes inclusivity into everything we do, even searching for a new office. Inclusion demands an intentional, continuous effort to balance each staff person’s unique needs with what is collectively needed for everyone. This requires a  foundation of trust, and an understanding of how structural, societal injustices play out within an organization. Those with positional power have to be willing to relinquish it or use it to advocate for what staff want and need because any community, including those within an organization, often knows what is best for them.

“The transparency has been above and beyond during this whole relocation process.  I was able to tour the new location along with the pro bono architects, who were awesome by the way, and I learned quite a bit about how much thought goes into planning and building an effective workspace.  The level of detail and feedback I was able to put into this project makes me excited to see the final product!” - SR2S Program Specialist

Speaking of community, of course, our network helped us find our new space and make it work. We especially want to thank a few people: 

  • Laura Cohen and Ben Kaufman at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for tipping us off to find the new building. 
  • ​TransForm supporter Monica Way for connecting us with HASSELL Studio an incredible architecture and design firm. We have worked directly with Martin Lee, Richard Mullane, and Jennifer Gonzalez of HASSELL Studio who redesigned our new space on a completely pro bono basis.
  • Our long-time real estate broker, Joel Maimon of Newmark Knight Frank, really looked out for us and involved our staff throughout the process. 
  • Nicole Wideman of Stice & Block provided pro bono legal services to analyze the lease for our new building. 
  • And we’re looking for local artists to help us fill the walls! (Let us know if you have an idea before September 30.) 

Picture of an option for the new office layout. Staff placed dots and post it notes on the paper to show their preference or thoughtsWithout further ado, here are a few steps we took to implement an inclusive moving process: 

Staff Input and Feedback Loops

  • Months in advance of looking at office spaces, we surveyed staff’s preference for locations in the Bay Area, personal needs and priorities for working space, and the maximum distance people were willing to commute. 
  • Here are some of our methods to solicit staff input:
    • ​An online survey for personal reflection.
    • Discussion time during staff meetings for group reflection and idea-sharing.
    • Feedback forms provided after each staff meeting to catch anything we missed. 

Deciding on a location

  • Our broker, Joel, helped arrange multiple property tours with an open invitation to all staff.
  • At a staff meeting, we shared a presentation about the cost and features of each property and voted.

Deciding on the office layout

  • Martin Lee and Jennifer Gonzalez from our amazing pro bono architecture firm, HASSELL Studio, joined us during a meeting and the staff engaged in dot-voting, as well as in-person Q&A, to provide input about how the office would be arranged.  

“Moving is hard, no matter what. But how I, as non-management staff, was invited to engage in decision making at several critical steps along the way has made it so much easier to agree with all the change. Executive leadership shared key info, staff had numerous discussions and leadership even asked us to VOTE on which office we should move to and which office layouts we preferred. Wow! I honestly didn't think I'd have that much say in the matter just because I never had before, but now that I did, I'm going to do my best to ride the wave positively and try on new ways of being in an office.” GreenTRIP Certifications Program Manager

You may be wondering if inclusivity takes too long or is it too arduous? It might feel this way in the beginning, but once you shift your mindset and get into a rhythm, it becomes second nature. We’ve found that systems and decisions made with staff guidance are stronger and easier to maintain. Our staff has also shown their appreciation for this engagement and often marvel at the contrast to past workplaces where this opportunity for group ownership did not exist. 

“I live in Sacramento and work primarily out of our Sacramento satellite office. For the past five years, I've traveled to our Oakland headquarters once per week for in-person meetings, and I feel very much connected to my colleagues there. Although my situation is relatively unique, I've been regularly informed about and invited to provide input into the moving process. One of many examples of how TransForm is the type of org that recognizes the value of unique perspectives.” Interim Development Director 

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.