Why office design matters – part 1 of 2

Often at the start of the year we hear ourselves encouraging personnel to develop new, more effective, methods of working together. Whether new methods are critical to your business’ success or not, a new office design may be a more important factor than you realize in accomplishing these changes.

“Because it is so tangible, a new or alternative office can be both the symbol and a key part of the reality of new ways of working.”
Excerpted from – Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers by Thomas H. Davenport.

Davenport suggests a refreshed office design can be a visible signal from management that positive change is coming and management is taking active steps to foster the change.

The re-design should include a clear statement of management’s goals (e.g. fostering collaboration) and a visible collection of employee feedback and its incorporation into the resulting design.

Davenport summarized the relationship between office design and knowledge (e.g. office) worker productivity:

Knowledge workers prefer closed offices, but seem to communicate better in open ones.

  • “. . . knowledge workers prefer closed offices because they are better able to concentrate, they communicate informally and build trust and social capital more easily in more open office environments (even high-walled cubicles, they say, restrict interpersonal communications).”
  • Suggested Implications: Keep cubicle walls lower and/or ensure team members can see and communicate easily with each other to build trust; offer a few, more-private areas for important phone calls and concentration on special projects.

Knowledge workers congregate in particular geographical areas.

  • Innovation engines like Pixar and Google include central areas for workers to break, snack, and discuss their current projects so those outside their typical workgroups can comment, suggest, and challenge.
  • Suggested Implications: Free the break area from its typical back corner; hide microwaves below large inviting counters; build the capability of common areas to foster informal collaboration (e.g. add space-saving cafe seating and tables and keep dry-erase markerboards close-by to capture the ideas).

Knowledge workers move around in the course of their work.

  • “. . . knowledge workers have found that they spend up to half of their time out of their offices—either in meetings, talking informally in other peoples’ offices, or traveling.”
  • Suggested Implications: Wireless internet; laptops; meeting areas are important and if space allows spread them around the area; extra chairs to pull into meetings; mobile dry-erase markerboards.

Knowledge workers collaborate.

  • “They meet, they chat, they congregate. Office environments need to facilitate the collaboration and exchange of tacit (hard to express in explicit written terms) knowledge. . . Technologies for collaboration . . .are increasingly making a big difference in collaboration, but users are frustrated by technical difficulties in many cases.”
  • Suggested Implications: Shared networks; shared spaces; the more complex the device (e.g. smartboard) the less people will use it; convenience and ease of instantaneous use are key to distraction-free collaboration; a dry-erase surface in close proximity will always be well used.

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