They have the means. This will lead to profound changes in how we build our future workspaces. Here are a few:. Merging digital communication patterns with physical space can increase the probability of interactions that lead to innovation and productivity. It will require collecting much more data to inform new design and management principles while engaging urban planners and municipal governments. It will also transform HR, IT, and facilities management from support functions to facilitators.
But if companies can change their spaces to reflect how people work, performance improvement will follow. There are data to prove it. The design features that make the space effective resulted from a profound shift in mind-set: Baksaas thinks of the offices not as real estate but as a communication tool. Thus strategy, features, and value become more important than cost and efficiency. Devices were worn on an opt-in basis, and individual data were anonymous and unavailable to employers.
Pentland identified three key elements of successful communication: exploration interacting with people in many other social groups , engagement interacting with people within your social group, in reasonably equal doses , and energy interacting with more people overall. Spaces designed to promote these activities increase the likelihood of collisions—and the data repeatedly demonstrate that more collisions create positive outcomes. When collisions occur, regardless of their content, improvement typically follows.
Spaces can be designed to favor exploration or engagement or energy to achieve certain outcomes. For example, if a call center wants improved productivity, the space should favor engagement—getting the team to interact more. Higher engagement is typically accomplished not with open social space but with tight, walled-off workstations and adjacent spaces for small-group collaboration and interaction.
At one call center, the company expanded the break room and gave reps more time to hang out there with colleagues.
2. Empathetic leadership is key
Paradoxically, productivity shot up after the change. Away from their phones, the reps could circulate knowledge within the group. Then again, for a company that—like Telenor—is trying to innovate or change, increasing engagement can be detrimental, because it takes time away from crucial exploration with other groups and outsiders. An elegant correlation. So the executives asked, How can we change our space to get the sales staff running into colleagues from other departments?
In this case, the answer lay with coffee. At the time, the company had roughly one coffee machine for every six employees, and the same people used the same machines every day. The sales force commiserated with itself. Marketing people talked to marketing people. The company invested several hundred thousand dollars to rip out the coffee stations and build fewer, bigger ones—just one for every employees. It also created a large cafeteria for all employees in place of a much smaller one that few employees had used.
To test the plan, we deployed badges with 65 sales and marketing team members on a single floor before and after the reconfiguration. Telenor and the pharma company needed space that encouraged people to collide with other groups. The company had hypothesized that fewer desks and a smaller footprint would move people closer together, increasing the likelihood of interaction. Unassigned seating would make interaction between people in different groups more likely. This suggests that the space simply reshuffled stationary workers rather than creating movement.
Someone from marketing might bump into new people because their temporary desks happened to be close by, but none of them were leaving their workstations once they got there. The company saved money on space by reducing the number of fixed workstations, but both revenue and productivity plummeted. If you want to reconfigure your office space to improve performance, this simple grid will help you get started. It uses two important factors in office design—relative openness and seating flexibility—to suggest what configuration will lead to one of four distinct outcomes.
Imagine, for example, that a worker finds a better way to do her job but never tells anyone else doing the same job what she discovered. Second, untold amounts of money are invested in tools to increase individual productivity, but the money might be better used to design a workplace that promotes collisions that will make the organization—not individuals—more successful.
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One factor complicates all this: Office buildings are no longer the sole locations for knowledge work. Most companies enact change to deliver business value, and many who launch diversity and inclusion initiatives cite research showing that companies with more diverse teams outperform those with a more homogeneous workforce, says Sabrina Clark, associate principal at SYPartners, a consultancy that specializes in organizational transformation.
Even Google is starting to show signs that their lack of diversity is affecting them. As research from McKinsey shows, greater diversity in the workforce results in greater profitability and value creation. The same holds true at the executive level, as McKinsey found a statistically significant correlation between diverse leadership and better financial performance. Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.
Current employees and potential hires are also raising the stakes, says Jeff Weber, senior vice president of people and places at Instructure. Organizations are also realizing that make diversity and inclusion a business imperative will help them avoid tarnishing their reputation, Clark says.
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SY Partners has been initiating these hard conversations and investing in diversity and inclusion right alongside its clients. For each individual to bring their best self forward, a sense of belonging must first be established. Diversity and inclusion are often treated as a single initiative owned exclusively by HR. But for real change to happen, every individual leader needs to buy into the value of belonging — both intellectually and emotionally.
Part of this process requires tuning in to empathy; each person remembering a time when they were excluded, shamed, interrupted, and so on, so they can apply those lessons outwardly, she says. Top-down approaches drive compliance, not commitment. From senior leaders to frontline employees, every individual must see and understand their role in company culture. This means identifying differences in employee experience and values across the organization so that change can be made relevant for each person and knowing that lasting change must activate different parts of the system — top down, bottom up, and middle out — in different ways.
Too often, leaders focus diversity and inclusion efforts disproportionately on the employee pipeline, but the employee experience continues far beyond an offer letter.
Organizations must adapt their processes to scale diverse and inclusive behaviors. Who gets to speak and how often? Are you leaving out anyone whose input would be valuable? That also means understanding how your teams work best, and when tension and discord are actually beneficial. And when these habits are put into action in an environment that supports honest conversations and healthy tension, real change becomes possible. Try to minimize the head bumping opportunities as much as you can! Great advice about the cabinets Terri. Cabinets also make the van a little more top heavy in my experience.
Noticed your email btw…do you ski at Alta?
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I have heard mostly great things about Sportsmobile. I am planning on a Sportsmobile and also planning on using custom materials. You mention the shower but not the toilet. Are you glad you put that in?
Would you dedicate a space for that?