Why office design matters – part 2 of 2

In the last article we listed four principles from Thomas H. Davenport concerning the relationship between office design and knowledge worker productivity. In this article we will cover the final four principles.

“Particular designs can encourage certain types of behavior, although they will never guarantee it.”
Excerpted from – Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers by Thomas H. Davenport.

Balance is the key word. Going too far in one aspect (e.g. openness) may hinder some individuals’ productivity due to the environment making it difficult to concentrate. For smooth adoption, the resulting design should reflect an extrapolation out from the organization’s existing work culture – rather than looking like something out of another industry or culture.

Knowledge workers concentrate.

  • “The opposite side of the collaboration coin is the need to concentrate at work. This requires a quiet setting with relatively few distractions. Such an environment is particularly important for knowledge creation activities—thinking, writing, programming, designing, and so forth.”
  • Suggested Implications: White noise generators in open office environments to make background conversations less noticeable; quiet times of the day where unnecessary noise is held back to a degree; extra small meeting or project rooms for people to bear down on important projects.

Knowledge workers work in the office.

  • “Knowledge workers, like all other types of workers, like flexibility, and they like to work at home occasionally. . . They know that to be constantly out of the office is to be ‘out of the loop’ . . . “
  • Suggested Implications: While some work-from-home flexibility is expected , the majority of knowledge workers attract energy, support, and resources for their projects from the people and office work environment; an effective, balanced environment will enhance engagement and serve as a trading floor for managers and employees to marshall support for the year’s important efforts; Comfortable, ergonomic seating since people spend large percentage of their life in the workplace.

Knowledge workers communicate with people who are close by.

  • “. . . companies should design work environments so that knowledge workers who need to communicate are physically close to each other. . . Of course, this requires some strategizing about who needs to be talking with whom.”
  • Suggested Implications: Augment IM and Chat capabilities with team vs functional seating (e.g. sitting all purchasing together) – if your organization is large enough mix people from all contributing functions in the same work area – people will overhear details producing an awareness of what others face in their functions and updating status of important projects – all without the burden and overhead of formal communication methods.

Knowledge workers don’t care about facilities gewgaws.
I admit it I had to look up “gewgaws” – Miriam-Webster: “A showy thing; especially one that is useless or worthless.”

  • “. . . there is no evidence that anyone ever took a job, stayed at a job, or worked more productively because of foosball, . . . , cappuccino bars, office concierges, hearths, conversation pits, quiet rooms, lactation rooms, creativity rooms, relaxation rooms, nap rooms, etc. In these lean and mean times, many workers are even reluctant to be seen using these facilities for fear that they won’t be considered hardworking enough.”
  • Suggested Implications: Conserve and spend on furnishings, markerboards, centralized break-meeting areas – things that match today’s work climate.

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