Increasing innovation and productivity: empowering employees through customizing work spaces

The spaces in which we work directly impact on how innovative our organizations are. Recent research by Steelcase has begun to identify what types of spaces help provide the greatest levels of innovation within organizations. What they, and others, are finding is that the key to innovation is the ability of people to come together in a range of ways and in a range of spaces. The idea that innovation is dependent on the work of a lone genius is a myth. Innovation depends on people working together.

This realization has meant that office design and the use of space has come increasingly to the fore in recent years. Part of this shift can be attributed to the success of organizations such as Google and Facebook who have famously tended to prioritize open-plan office formats over the traditional cubicle style models that dominated Euro-American offices for the second half of the twentieth century. Another factor in the shift in the last twenty years towards open-plan office formats is the ability of new technologies such as laptop computers and systems to decouple the need for workers to occupy specific sites or spaces to undertake their work.

The most recent manifestation of this broader shift towards open-plan office formats is the movement towards the use of non-territorial workplaces – where individuals are not assigned specific desks but are instead able to use different types of workstations as and when they need them. The shift to this particular type of open-plan office space – and increased office density – has the financial benefit of reducing the overall amount of office space required for each person in the organization. This is an important factor for many organizations due to the generally depressed economic environment that many have been operating in since 2008.

But, the question needs to be asked: to what extent do these types of open-plan office spaces actually impact on individual’s productivity and ability to innovate?

Recent research has begun to explore this, and the related question of how these types of spaces impact worker’s comfort levels – an important aspect contributing to worker’s overall productivity (ref). The research found that spatial effects – such as the layout of desks – did have an important impact on productivity. Interestingly, in their statistical analyses, the researchers found that these spatial factors were actually more pronounced in non-territorial office spaces as opposed to spaces where workers were assigned specific workstations.

Their findings suggested that in relation to these two broad variables – whether people were assigned specific work spaces, or not; and how the work spaces were laid out – it was these spatial factors rather than the territorial or non-territorial nature of work spaces that had a greater impact on worker’s productivity.

What the research from Jungsoo Kim and his colleagues found was that the key impacts on workers productivity were:

  • the ability to adjust/personalize workspaces;
  • the ability of the office layout to enable an ease of interaction with colleagues; and
  • the amount of storage space provided (ref).

Even where workers were not assigned specific work stations – when these three factors were present – worker productivity and comfort increased. What this research shows then, is that it is possible to build out productive workspaces that also have high-occupancy densities through techniques such as the use of non-territorial workspaces. However, in order for this to occur a degree of ability for workers to customize workspaces needs to be maintained. Removing the ability for workers to customize their work spaces decreases their overall productivity and comfort – regardless of whether or not they have their own specific work stations or not.

Whilst this post has focused on the role of empowerment by employees in the use and layout of their physical spaces it’s general lesson that productivity, and innovation too, is dependent on empowering employees applies across all aspects of an organization. Organizations wanting to thrive in the modern economy would do well to heed that lesson. 

Images courtesy of: Pixabay

Integrating Interaction Design and Management Perspectives for Improved Service Design

As Strategic Design and Service Design mature as a fields, new data and practices are emerging exploring how more traditional forms of business operations are being integrated with modern techniques such as interaction design to create new forms of value for clients. As technology improves, a key challenge for many organizations is how technology can be leveraged to create new services while also ensuring a seamless customer experience.

An interesting piece of research has emerged recently discussing a new technique for “Integrating Management and Interaction Design Perspectives for Service Design”. In this post we look at this new concept in more detail, focusing on a specific health care service used as a case study by this research group

More generally, Service design is about better understanding the needs and relationship between customers and service providers and the context in which they interact with the goal being the development of better services. In their model the researchers outline three discrete steps involved in the creation, development, and/or modification of a service. These being: Service Concept; Service Systems; and Service Encounters.

  • Service Concept the total overall benefits provided to the customer, which can go beyond the services internally offered by the organizations
  • Service Systems the configurations of people, technologies, and other resources that interact with other service systems to create this overall set of values
  • Service Encounters the points of interaction between the customer and the organization

Graphically, these three aspects come together as a multi-step flow:  

Exploring the concrete inter-relationship of these three steps, the researchers looked at an extended case study of the development of a service for supporting skin cancer patients.

Service Concept

Patients at risk of developing skin cancers require regular checkups with their dermatologists. Initial research through a customer experience study from both the patient’s and the physician’s perspectives demonstrated that fast and accurate diagnosis were the main requirement for both patients and dermatologists. The key finding was that significant information was missing for the initial triage stage. The initial service design effort was focused on both improving this routine while also ensuring that the dermatologists was constantly updated on the status of their patient.

New service concepts developed during this process were focused on:

·      facilitating information exchange to speed up triage from primary care to medical treatment;

·      improving patient self-checkups; and

·      facilitating relevant information exchange across medical providers.

Service Systems

With the data collected from the Service Concept step the Service System was constructed based on the customer journey of a patient who monitors their moles for abnormal developments. The key focus in this process – building on the customer experience study – was that it is essential that any shifts in patient’s moles were quickly reported to a medical specialist for a diagnosis.

Service Encounters

Following the design of the broader Service System the next step of the process was the design of each specific Service Encounter. Models developed at this stage were initially used as low-fidelity prototypes which were used to discuss various process and interaction issues and to undertake initial user testing.

Integrating the Whole  

Combined, the three elements ensure that design decisions are consistent throughout the entire process, from the strategic through to the service encounter level – with a particular focus being placed on the use of technology-enabled interfaces. But, this focus did not exclude the very real need to ensure that these tools helped improve the human interaction – in this case the rapid identification and triaging of moles.  

The customer value constellation underlying the use of a Service Concept helps provide a flexible framework to more effectively brainstorm and detail different service idea concepts and allow for a more rapid yet in-depth exploration of new forms of value co-creation for all involved in the service under design. The flexible yet structured nature of these initial efforts ensures that the service being designed – and the technology being utilized in this process – are in alignment with strategic level imperatives.

Working at the Service System stage, service system navigation is integrated with scenarios and storyboards to demonstrate and make explicit the customer experience across various different service interfaces and actors. This process helps enable a tighter linkage between backstage operations within an organization and the required frontstage design and brings management more strongly into the design process as engaged co-designers and decision makers.

Finally, at the Service Encounter stage, the work conducted at earlier stages is taken down to a more granular level synthesizing interaction sketches and service experience blueprints in the creation of early low-fidelity prototypes which are linked to various aspects of the service provision process. A particular strength of this whole approach (although this is something increasingly seen as being the norm in service design) is a strong visual element which helps support communication across a wide-range of stake-holder groups from clients through to managers, engineers and others.

Building on earlier service design frameworks the research outlined in this post helps demonstrate how service design concepts can be manageably be brought into managerial decision-making processes without losing the dynamic aspect of the design process. As service design continues to mature and develop as a field it’s engagement with other functions across an organization is important to ensuring that service design as able to maximize the amount of value it’s able to create for all involved. 

For more information on this approach to Service Design or on the specific research study that this post drew on contact the lead author Jorge Grenha Teixeira here

Images courtesy of: Sage Publishing