Creating spaces of interaction, creativity, and connection – but don’t forget alone time…people need that too!

How we work has changed!

While we still have factories and manufacturing plants, the era of industrialized, standardized mass production as the dominant mode of organizing is over. We work in an increasingly knowledge and service based economy – which requires different modes and models of organizing. In fact, even factories are needing to change how they are structured as new technologies such as 3-D printing are shifting the ways in which they operate and the numbers and type of staff they employ.

Recent years have seen the ‘death of the cubicle’ and a wholesale shift to using open plan offices, hot desks, and foosball tables as a way to promote productivity – well, because Google and Facebook do that…

But, just because Google and Facebook do that doesn’t mean that everybody ought to do that.

The key isn’t actually a shift towards the wholesale adoption of open plan spaces, as one example. For, while open place offices amazingly effective for increasing productivity in some industries – software development is a great example – they are not necessarily the best option for other forms of work – bookkeeping and actuarial analysis spring to mind.

What we need instead is a sensitivity to the way different spaces help facilitate and empower different types of work.

As a simple example, work which requires intense individual focus over an extended period of time will be optimized by spaces which allow workers a degree of space to themselves – which may mean something structured like a cubicle. Similarly, work which requires high levels of input from a diverse range of ways of seeing the world will be optimized through the creation of more open working spaces which facilitate enhanced interaction and engagement between team members and members of different teams.

The trick then is designing our spaces to match the type of outcomes we wish to achieve.

To over-simplify things but provide some useful concrete examples:

-       increased collaboration requires spaces for individuals to come together,

-       increased creativity requires spaces for people to come together including serendipitous interactions, and

-       highly-skilled task orientated work requires quiet spaces away from distractions.

With modern design tools this need not be a matter of guess work either. For example, ethnographic work can help us understand how employees actually work and collaborate and how they use the space available to them, sociometric badges can be used to track how people talk with one another and who talks with who and when (in using this type of technology though they need to be deployed on an opt-in basis only and individual data needs to be anonymized – and in our own practice this data would not be directly available to employers), and strategic conversations can help us understand where users themselves see areas for improvement.

Redesigning the actual physical space though is only part of the solution that needs to be pursued by organizations wanting to optimize the performance of their employees.

In this respect then, one of the key issues that needs to be addressed is that physical space has to match organizational space.

Organizational space is the way in which your organization is structured – formally and informally – in terms of the engagement and interaction of employees, stakeholders, and customers to achieve organizational goals.

At a structural level this means that if you want to create an increased sense of collaboration within your organization then you’re going to have to get rid of the cubicles. Similarly, if your team needs to focus intently on very specific, highly skilled tasks then the open-plan office might not be the best option for your team! So too though in terms of ensuring that physical space matches organizational space, if you’re investing in creating a physical space that is designed to increase interaction between team members with the goal being increasing collaboration across teams then performance management reviews also need to shift to ensure that group productivity is monitored and rewarded – not just individual productivity.

Your physical space and your organizational space need to be in alignment to optimize the ability of individuals and teams in your organization to work well. It’s about matching the spaces – both physical and organizational – to the goals of your organization.

Taking the time to do this will provide a great Return-On-Investment (ROI) for your organization. After all, we all want to work well – let’s give our people the space to do this!

Images courtesy of: Pixabay