In the final part of the “Knowledge Work and Place” series, Jim Ware (@thefutureofwork) applies his thinking about the way her works (Part one) and the “Italian masters” (Part two) to the modern workplace, and asks: why do we try to do it all in one place?
I, like most “knowledge workers” spend almost all my work time in a fairly traditional office environment – four walls, a desk, some filing cabinets, and shelves full of books. Sure, there might be a family photo or two on the wall, and maybe a picture drawn by a child, but the fact is that no matter what I am trying to accomplish on a given day, the place where I am is almost always the same (yes, I usually hold team meetings in a conference room, and sometimes I even have a meaningful “meeting” in a cafeteria or a coffee shop, but let’s face it, most of the time I use the same place to read, write, analyse, list, sort, file, talk on the phone, and even meet with colleagues – at least when I’m not on airplane or in some drab hotel room far from home).
What if I had lots of places to choose among, and could move from one to another as I moved from one task to another? My instinct tells me I’d be a lot more creative in some kinds of places (rooms filled with art work, or with outdoor photos or large windows – or literally outdoor places), more analytic in others (a library, or a bare-bones office?), and thoughtful and reflective in yet another place (a church? a mountain retreat? a sailboat? a café?).
I recently had an opportunity to slot machines online visit several innovative office facilities, some of them one-company endeavours and some multi-company shared “third places.”
One facility in particular was exceptionally impressive – open workspaces with low or no dividers, light and bright colours, lots of windows and natural light. I can’t help but think I’d be creative and energised if I worked there regularly. The folks who are fortunate enough to have access to that place seemed highly engaged with their work and – when working collaboratively – with their colleagues.
But the deeper lesson for me was the incredible variety of spaces and places in that one facility. There were several different “zones” with different workstation layouts (some were traditional 8×8’s, some used the increasingly popular 120-degree designs), but there were also several enclosed “personal harbours” for two- or three-person meetings, private heads-down work, or phone conversations; a “kitchen” and café area with informal lounge furniture groupings; an outdoor patio area; and several more traditional conference rooms of varying sizes and designs.
How effective is that kind of workplace? In this example, it’s a pilot project that’s only been open for a few months, so the jury is still out. But the early reports are that the folks who “inhabit” the facility are highly satisfied, and their managers are too. It’s hard to ask for more.
I think you get my point. When there are so many different kinds of knowledge work, why do we so often try to do it all in one kind of place? How much creativity and innovation have we lost forever by plopping people who do different kinds of work from day to day and even hour to hour into those all-too-common, drab, one-size-misfits-all, cube farms?
Jim Ware is a former Harvard Business School professor, founder and director of The Future of Work…unlimited, a research and advisory services firm based in Berkeley, California. Jim also serves as Global Research Director of Occupiers Journal, Ltd., and is a partner in FutureWork Forum, a London-based consortium that advises private and public sector organisations on future workforce and workplace challenges.
Photo credit: katiew