Posts tagged collaboration
How the Physical Environment Influences Work
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Architect Clive Wilkinson, a recognized leader in workplace design, is responsible for some of the most creative office spaces in the world. With a thoroughly modern approach to the way we work, his firm has created spaces for Google, Twentieth Century Fox Digital and countless other business leaders using everything from hanging pod chairs to bean bags and breakfast bars.

At the annual Workplace/Work Life conference, Wilkinson spoke about how the way we work — and our ability to be productive — is shaped by our environment. “Offices are becoming more like homes as lifestyle becomes increasingly important and companies compete for talent,” he explains. “Our world is now ideas driven and our environment needs to be energetic, inspiring and even provocative. Employers also want people to stay longer at work and making the space awesome certainly helps.”

If you are considering making a dedicated space to work at home, he says the best place to start is with a separate work area. “Separation from the family is highly desirable,” he says. “Work is a different state of mind from family concerns, which can be very disruptive. A separate studio is cool.”

For optimum productivity, he says a well-lit, well-ventilated work area is ideal. “We all need constant connection and engagement with nature and the world outside so good views, light and air are vital to our sense of well-being,” Wilkinson says. “Plants are restorative too.”

The need for a separate space at home is different to commercial offices, which Wilkinson says are veering towards open-plan design. “The driving reason to go to work is to collaborate and therefore most of the space should be configured to support that,” he says.

In commercial office spaces, he says there is now a stronger push towards keeping workers moving and less sedentary. “It’s a major concern in planning work space,” Wilkinson says. “People need to move around during the day to stay alert and healthy. We like to emphasize staircases over elevators and to locate amenities to drive people to move around.” But whether your office is a bus ride away or just at the end of the hallway, Wilkinson is a strong believer in well-designed workspaces.

“All people respond to their physical environment in a powerful way,” he says. “It could be very hard to do productive work in a messy home or it could be hard to do creative work in a formal office environment. We need to be mindful of what enables us to get into that state of flow.”

Content originally published in The Daily Telegraph, August 22, 2015.

Why Collaborating Online Is Sometimes Better than Face-to-Face

As published in the Harvard Business Review, online collaboration is not necessary a “second-best substitute for face-to-face work.” Instead, online communication can complement the collaboration process, offering its own perks and benefits.

Online collaboration not only helps bridge teams across different time zones and distances, it also facilitates speedy and efficient communication: “By solving time problems it creates the benefit of 24/7 production cycles; by solving distance problems it enables newly diverse teams; and by solving communication problems it lets us work together in ways that tap into a broader set of skills and capacities.”

To explore the perks and benefits of online collaboration, check out HBR’s article.

3 Reasons Open Plan Offices Are Better After All

By Jim Belosic

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The open office concept has been around for awhile, but lately has come under fire. Apparently having no walls, no doors, and shared workspaces undermines what the concept was designed to achieve: communication and flow of ideas amongst employees… Despite what some organizational psychologists and productivity experts say, the open concept can make a team more cohesive, especially if it’s adopted by the senior staff and CEO.

It can also give leaders a better picture of what’s going on at the company. Those are just two reasons I’m leaving my company’s mostly open concept setup as it is. And it’s also the reason that I, the CEO, sit at the desk that’s usually reserved for the receptionist, right next to the front door. Yep, just like Pam from “The Office.”

Here are three reasons leaders should consider sitting in the middle of the action:

1. You’re tuned in to the office vibe.

If you sit in the same vicinity as your team, you’ll hear more of what they’re discussing–good and bad. It’s not like you need to function like some sort of NSA operative, but if you’re aware of people’s concerns, you have an opportunity to weigh in and offer guidance when it’s needed. When people need to meet privately with each other or with you, just make sure they have a place to do so with doors.

2. You’re more approachable.

I’ve never had the pleasure of working in a cubicle, or in an “old-fashioned” office. That said, I envision a corporate setup as being very compartmentalized and the kind of place where the staff don’t feel comfortable talking to the executives.

Setting up my desk near the front door and, coincidentally, next to the kitchen, means people are walking by all the time; anyone can ask me anything at pretty much any time. I can just say “go ahead” and what needs to get done, gets done. Yes, this can affect productivity. To get around that, you might adopt a policy that when people need to work undisturbed they’re free to work from home. And at the office, make sure everyone has a pair of headphones. When headphones are on, the rule is “Do not disturb.“

3. It improves interoffice communication.

Tools like HipChat and Slack make interoffice communication quick and easy, but it’s also nice to hear people actually talking to one another, which happens naturally in an open office.

As my company grows–we now have 17 people in our main office and three people who work remotely–space is becoming an issue. I’ve looked at a few spaces that have tons of character–like beautiful old Victorian houses that have been converted to offices–but I’m reluctant to move into a building where we could all go days without seeing each other. I’m not entirely sure yet how we’ll deal with the office space issue as we add more staff, but finding a place where we can still work in an open environment is a priority.

Content originally published on Inc, September 19, 2014.

What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work

by Adam Davidson

In a recent New York Times article, writer Adam Davidson postulates a future model for business dubbed the “Hollywood model.” Davidson sets the scene by describing a personal experience of visiting a movie set.

“It was the first day of production, and I arrived just as the sun was coming up, but already, around 150 people were busy setting up that day’s shot in an abandoned office building. Crew members were laying electric cables and hanging lights. The cinematographer was in one corner with his team, discussing how the sun’s rays filtered through the window blinds. Carpenters were putting the finishing touches on a convincing prop elevator — I pushed the call button and waited, until I finally realized it was a fake.

I was there as a “technical adviser”: The movie involved some financial events that I’ve reported on, and the filmmakers wanted to ask me questions as they set up their scenes. But I spent much of the day asking questions of my own, trying to figure out something that mystified me as the day went on: Why was this process so smooth? The team had never worked together before, and the scenes they were shooting that day required many different complex tasks to happen in harmony: lighting, makeup, hair, costumes, sets, props, acting. And yet there was no transition time; everybody worked together seamlessly, instantly. The set designer told me about the shade of off-­white that he chose for the walls, how it supported the feel of the scene. The costume designer had agonized over precisely which sandals the lead actor should wear. They told me all this, but they didn’t need to tell one another. They just got to work, and somehow it all fit together.”

Here’s how experience and the Hollywood model work: A project is identified; a team is assembled; it works together for precisely as long as is needed to complete the task; then the team disbands. This short-­term, project-­based business structure is an alternative to the corporate model, in which capital is spent up front to build a business, which then hires workers for long-­term, open-­ended jobs that can last for years, even a lifetime. It’s also distinct from the Uber-­style “gig economy,” which is designed to take care of extremely short-­term tasks, manageable by one person, typically in less than a day.

With the Hollywood model, ad hoc teams carry out projects that are large and complex, requiring many different people with complementary skills. The Hollywood model is now used to build bridges, design apps or start restaurants. Many cosmetics companies assemble a temporary team of aestheticians and technical experts to develop new products, then hand off the actual production to a factory, which does have long-­term employees. (The big studios, actually, work the same way: While the production of the movie is done by temps, marketing and distribution are typically handled by professionals with long-­term jobs.)

Our economy is in the midst of a grand shift toward the Hollywood model. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-­term, project-­based teams rather than long-­term, open­-ended jobs. There are many reasons this change is happening right now, but perhaps the best way to understand it is that we have reached the end of a hundred-­year fluke, an odd moment in economic history that was dominated by big businesses offering essentially identical products. Competition came largely by focusing on the cost side, through making production cheaper and more efficient; this process required businesses to invest tremendous amounts in physical capital — machines and factories — and then to populate those factories with workers who performed routine activities. Non-manufacturing corporations followed a similar model: Think of all those office towers filled with clerical staff or accountants or lawyers. That system began to fray in the United States during the 1960s, first in manufacturing, with the economic rise of Germany and Japan. It was then ripped apart by Chinese competition during the 2000s. Enter the Hollywood model, which is far more adaptable. Each new team can be assembled based on the specific needs of that moment and with a limited financial commitment.

Obviously this is good news for management and the owners of capital. Based on his experience, Davidson thinks it’s a surprisingly good system for many workers too, in particular those with highly-sought-­after skills. Ask Hollywood producers, and they’ll confirm that there are only a limited number of proven, reliable craftspeople for any given task. Projects tend to come together quickly, with strict deadlines, so those important workers are in a relatively strong negotiating position. Wages among, say, makeup and hair professionals on shoots are much higher than among their counterparts at high-­end salons. Similarly, set builders make more than carpenters and electricians working on more traditional construction sites. It helps that, despite the work’s fleeting nature, Hollywood is strongly unionized, which keeps wages high. According to the rate card of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 728, which represents union film-­lighting crews in Los Angeles, even entry-­level electricians on a major film set make more than $35 an hour — i.e., more than 40 percent higher than the national average for electricians — and make that wage over 12-hour days.

The Hollywood system offers another advantage for workers: Every weekend’s box-­office results provide new information about which skills in their field are valuable. I spoke with one makeup artist about the sudden explosion of zombies on TV and in the movies. One result, she explained, is that a handful of zombie-­makeup specialists have profited, and others have begun to study the art. This continual signaling can be upsetting, of course; every year, some workers in the system learn that they have no marketable skills. But on the whole, it is surely kinder than the factory system, in which workers are able to assess their market value only occasionally: when they first start working, when they switch jobs, when they ask for a raise or — worst of all — when they are fired, often en masse.

Automation has long been central to Hollywood, too, but it has less of a disruptive impact because of Hollywood’s project-­based model. Some projects, like the CGI-­laden work of James Cameron, begin with the sort of large capital outlay in new technology that we normally associate with manufacturing. But most films use technology incrementally, as individual craftspeople in each subfield decide to adopt these innovations.

Davidson spoke with one cinematographer recently who said he was quite worried about the latest Hollywood technology: cameras operated by robots. The movie “Gravity,” for example, used cameras mounted on intelligent robotic arms, which laid the groundwork for the film’s dizzyingly realistic rendering of outer space. But that robot didn’t so much eliminate the need for a traditional cinematographer as clarify what it is, precisely, that cinematographers are able to do. If a cinematographer’s entire skill set was the ability to operate a camera, he surely would struggle to find work in an age of robotic camera operators. But a cinematographer’s value lies in his eye, the deep understanding about how an image moves or thrills an audience. (Grips, the workers who help move the camera through complex shots, might have cause for concern.)

Across the economy as a whole, we’re ending one era of robots and automation — the era of giant, clunky, expensive machines that require enormous technical training to operate — and entering a new era of the human-­robot partnership, in which robots can be told what to do without the use of difficult programming languages but with fairly straightforward gestures and commands. The challenge will not be learning how to operate robots; it will be figuring out what, exactly, needs to be done and then using the robot to achieve that.

It’s probably not coincidental that the Hollywood model is ascendant at a time when telling stories, broadly speaking, is at the heart of American business. Because of automation, as well as the expansion of trade with so many low-­wage nations, it is all but impossible to make a healthy profit in the United States by simply competing as the low-­cost provider of a commoditized product or service. Profits need to come from that extra something that only your company can give, something for which customers are willing to pay a premium. Davidson recently visited a cement factory where he was told a well-­practiced story about how this quarry-­and-­kiln operation was part of the green revolution. Creating and communicating added value comes from many of the same skills that go into a movie: making sure that all of the elements of a product are harmonious, that they communicate the same values.

The Hollywood model isn’t good news for everybody. It clearly rewards education and cultural fluency, which are not distributed evenly throughout the population. But the Hollywood model does suggest that the winners in the new economy will be much greater than just some tiny 1 percent. It will be tens of millions of Americans, many of whom won’t have advanced degrees in engineering, but will have curiosity, creativity and more tools available to help them connect with their audience, whoever that may be.

The Convivial Workplace: What Your Office Could Look Like In 2035

In 20 years, the typical workplace may look less like “The Office” and more like your own living room.

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Today’s offices are noticeably different from a decade ago. Many companies have jettisoned corner offices and tightly packed cubicles in favor of open floor plans. At the same time, more employees are choosing to work from home. But both trends have limitations: The former has been shown to hinder workplace productivity, while the latter can stifle collaboration.

It’s up to the office of the future to fix these issues, says Steve Gale, London head of workplace strategy at M Moser Associates, a Hong Kong-based architecture firm specializing in designing and building offices for global businesses. Gale has a solution he calls the “convivial workplace,” an office that promotes social interaction between employees. When workers socialize, Gale told The Huffington Post, they begin to swap ideas and develop a greater sense of shared purpose.

“The only reason left for going in to work is to interact with other people,” said Gale, pointing out that technology gives most office workers access to the tools they need to do their job from the comfort of home. “But people need to [meet face to face] for a multitude of reasons. And that, I think, is one of the biggest issues we need to address over the next 20 years.”

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Jeanne Meister, a workplace expert and co-author of a book on corporate innovations, notes that progressive tech companies like Google and Facebook use workspaces as a way to establish a corporate identity, more than as a place to get work done. “Space needs to communicate the culture as a way to attract the right employee,” she told HuffPost, adding that flexible working conditions are a key determining factor in attracting and retaining top talent.

“At the end of the day, millennials don’t want to go to a place to do work. They are more interested in having an experience.” said Meister, who envisions a future office space that resembles a living room or even a bar.

“When you want to do the boring stuff like making phone calls, you can do that anywhere,“ Gale said. “But businesses will say, ‘Guys when you come to work, wouldn’t it be nice if you really looked forward to it? And you knew it was going to be entertaining, stimulating, engaging?’”

Experts we spoke to agreed that workplace amenities such as in-house cooks, gyms and health care will become more important than ever. But while Facebook and other companies may already provide some of these perks, few have truly adopted the full change in perspective that Meister and Gale expect to see in the coming years. 

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For example, Gale pointed out, most offices already have common areas where employees can socialize. “But it hasn’t got the ambience that’s actually truly social,” he said. “It’s a wipe-down place that’s a bit echoey. People will use it if there’s nowhere else to go, but it’s not part and parcel of your daily work routine. That’s the shift in the center of gravity to a different way of thinking and working.”

Whatever the workplace of the future turns out to be, it sounds like it’ll be an improvement. Twenty years from now, workers may reflect on the offices of 2015 as “dark satanic mills,” Gale said. “There’s no doubt about it. [They’ll say] ‘did you actually get up in the morning, commute for an hour and half, sit there and then go home again? You’re nuts!’” he added.

“Everyone wants to be open and wants to be collaborative, but when you really do the research, a lot of workers are struggling with being effective and productive in totally open workspaces,” said Meister, digging at modern-day office setups. “How do you enable collaboration without sacrificing a worker’s ability to really focus on the job at hand?”

Originally published on The Huffington Post, February 2015.

5 Workspace Trends to Look for This Year

image1. A Balance Between Public & Private

Though office spaces are becoming more collaborative, private areas are still required for phone calls, closed-door meetings, or focus work. Many companies are mixing up their space design—incorporating open desks and impromptu break areas, as well as small meeting spaces, phone booths, and conference rooms to support the various types of work that are required in a given day.

2. A Breakdown of Barriers

With more CEOs and senior managers moving out of private offices and into the open floor environment, the hierarchy of working relationships has shifted. This transparency encourages collaboration and community for everyone across the organizational chart. Sharing the floor also allows management to stay involved, know what’s going on and participate in a more meaningful way.

3. A Focus on Employee Health

We’ve all heard the news: sitting is the new smoking. In addition to the physical pain associated with slumping over computers all day, research has proven that sedentary lifestyles take a toll on health. Thus, more employers are encouraging employees to move throughout their day.

Popular desk alternatives include adjustable and standing height desks. Other than the health benefits gained by using this furniture, many companies suggest that greater creativity and a freer flow of ideas have been seen among employees who stand while working. Other chair substitutes including bosu balls and treadmill desks. In addition to furniture alternatives, companies are also promoting physical health through office design, including bicycle storage and spaces for quick workouts or stretching.

4. Collaborative Spaces

Breakout zones also encourage employees to collaborate outside the boundaries of meeting rooms. These playful gathering spaces that promote socialization lead to encounters among individuals from separate departments who may not usually interact.

5. The Workplace as a Home Away from Home

Many workspaces are becoming more casual, adopting a homey aesthetic. Rather than stiff chairs, formal desks and closed doors, today’s workplaces are incorporating breakout areas with cozy seating. These areas gives employees the opportunity to “create experiences that energize and inspire.” Employers therefore give employees options for a variety of comfortable yet productive environments to encourage longer work hours.

Content via Fast Company, January 8, 2015.

Workspaces that Move People

imageRecently published in the October issue of Harvard Business Review, the story, “Workspaces That Move People,“ promotes the strategic design of workplaces in order to “produce specific performance outcome[s].” The article’s authors suggest that companies analyzing performance metrics can understand how a “space’s design helps or hurts [employee] performance,” thereby gaining the following insights:

  1. Where and how you work define who you work with
  2. Who you work with drives group performance to a large extent
  3. Workspace performance metrics can now be mapped with organizational ones

With this knowledge in hand, companies are closer than ever to designing (and then continually redesigning) workspaces that actually help employees do their jobs, rather than struggle to do them. In order to gather the information needed to drive these designs and redesigns, the authors advocate for the deployment of sensors — in phones, in offices, or even worn around the neck — that collect the necessary breadth and depth of office data. With this data, employers and designers could begin understanding who should be working with whom, where, and why — a discovery that could hasten the end of the office as we know it.

By comparing the real-time data described above with such organizational metrics as "total sales or number of new product launches,” the authors argue that it is possible to “demonstrate a workspace’s effect on the bottom line.” With this connection established, companies could “engineer” their workspaces to improve overall performance.  

Though knowledge work has been confined to the office for almost a century, the article suggests that the emerging data may lead to the dispersion of organizations across cities – as with Zappos and the experimental “Downtown Project” in Las Vegas. The article also cites the “digital workspace” as a major consideration for design, given that technology hosts an ever-growing amount of knowledge work and idea-sharing.

The future of the workplace is a fluid as it is unknown. We look forward to moving with it in the directions suggested by the growing pool of performance metrics.

Part Two: Greg Lindsay on the Future of the Workplace

Earlier this summer, the marketing team attended an IIDANY Facilities Forum focused on the topic, “The Evolving Workplace: Change or Adapt?” Moderated by David Craig, Associate Principal at Cannon Design, the discussion featured insights on the evolving workplace and what this means for our industry from two workplace innovators, Greg Lindsay, Contributing Writer for Fast Company, and Bart Higgins, Director at ?What If!

Greg agreed to elaborate on some of his ideas for our blog, including explorations into what he calls “the blurring of the office and the city.” Read “Part One” of our interview here.

DH: You’ve written about Google and mentioned them at the IIDA event. Innovant has seen three global RFPs from them in the last four years, which is an extreme example of a company undergoing rapid growth at rapid speed. If you can speak to this, how do such companies deal with the chaos of space planning, workplace strategy, and establishing standards under these conditions?

GL: As a journalist, I’ve never been on the inside of such hyper-growth, so I can’t really speak to that. However, I am fascinated that the biggest cloud company in the universe is massively investing in physical space. The second Googleplex (i.e. the Bayview Campus) and London headquarters are evidence that Google values proximity.

DH: Do you think your amazement that Google is investing so much money in physical space relates to the idea of “engineering serendipity” that you’ve promoted? Are they really able to think in those terms when they’re moving so quickly?

GL: Yes, I think so. One example is Google’s “people analytics” group. The company was prescient enough to create a dedicated data analysis group to study how people in the company actually work. Eventually, most companies will follow suit in molding functions of HR and facilities management to actually manage people and space together as a single unit — or at least they should.

Another responsibility of Google’s people analytics group is to manage social interactions among Googlers. There’s a reason the Googleplex has a bee-keeping club, and it’s not to keep employees at the ‘Plex 20 hours a day, which is how such programs are typically seen from the outside. Instead, they’re trying to figure out how to mix employees in unforeseen combinations that go beyond corporate roles and politics.

I’ve seen the chronic coffee machine and water cooler metaphors come up frequently in this context. When companies try to figure out how to increase workforce cohesion or introduce people, the solution is invariably adding or moving the coffee machine around. After all this time, we seem to have no better idea for bringing people together than to leave food lying around the office kitchen, as if you were trying to attract a pack of wild animals. I’d be curious to track the people analytics group’s results, which may suggest new social modes for bringing people together.

The third example is Campus London, where Google has stacked an incubator, an accelerator, and two floors of co-working beneath a satellite office on the top floor. Google’s presence is the draw for the entrepreneurs who work there, while the appeal for Google is this hive of activity beneath them they can keep tabs on, learn from, and hire from. I think this is an interesting lesson for companies — especially considering we talk all the time about the benefits of industry clusters. Though the work clusters may not be competitive, they’re close enough to drive innovation.

DH: You also mentioned Facebook at the IIDA event, describing how Zuckerberg was very vocal in the design process with Gehry. How does Facebook measure up in the world of companies growing so quickly when they’re the ones driving the design of their workplace?

GL: I don’t think this makes Facebook much of an outlier since I imagine Google gave NBBJ a lot of input. Facebook is evolving, hiring, and adding new functions so quickly that the company believes it must be able to spawn out a whole new product group at a moment’s notice. The result is that it’s very reluctant to conform to planted physical space. Instead, they’ll just mount work surfaces on castors so they can rearrange the space as necessary. I think this is: A. Really interesting, B. It’s similar to the urban dynamic I write about, which describes why cities work so well, and C. If I were an architect it would scare the hell out of me because they’re basically saying, “You can’t figure us out. You can’t design spaces for us that morph as quickly as we need them to, so just give us a big box.”

DH: We’ve seen sit-to-stand workstations established as a standard in Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe at a rapid pace. In the US, however, that’s been lagging. Recently, Innovant has seen a surge in requests for adjustable height desks. Do you think this notion of adapting our workplaces for health and safety reasons is a real and sustainable shift, or is it just a trend?

GL: I don’t have informed opinion on this, though I would say yes. I think it’s a real trend, which is part of the larger notion of choice and the awareness that people no longer have to sit in an uncomfortable chair at an uncomfortable desk. Instead, they’re demanding a range of motions and a range of environments for work.

As Nilofer Merchant put it, “Sitting is the smoking of our generation.” I’ll be curious to see whether this achieves the status of a crusade, though it will be hard to trace its origins since there seems to be a greater acceptance of design and choice in the US. I certainly think the desire for public space and a range of motions at one’s desk are a part of a larger trend.

DH: Based on what you know about how work is changing, how do you envision the workplace of the future?

GL: The key is that it’s not just a workplace. The workplace of the future is merged intimately with the other environments around it. You’ll have environments that exist either to put your head down and work alone, or you’ll be involved in socializing; either you’re plugged into the cloud or you’re really involved in physical space with people while executing multiple work modes at once.

The workplace of the future won’t start by walking into an elevator lobby or parking your car outside a suburban office complex and going inside to sit at a desk, where there’s nothing but desks and there’s nothing but work. I imagine the street intersecting with the building, so that the moment blurs when you walk into the office out of what today would be a coffee shop, restaurant or retail complex.

The people you’re working with are not necessarily your professional colleagues. You chose that space because it’s designed for the kind of work you want to do and it houses the kind of people you need to work with (or not work with). I imagine you won’t necessarily be choosing where and how you work based on who is paying you. Instead, you’ll base your decision on a space’s relevant functions, which will blend with the city somehow.

The word I keep coming back to is permeability. We need to break open the walls of the office to allow other elements in. This will allow the office to leak out into the city and the city to leak into the office. I think the next step is to determine exactly how that looks. We’ve begun talking about multiple environments in a workplace, but when we take that further, the discussion will be about the environments of the city and vice versa.

DH: What I find most exciting about your vision is the notion of choice –

GL: Exactly! Choice, something we don’t normally associate with going to work.

DH: Right, it’s empowering to think that someday we’ll have the choice to flow throughout the office (or even out of it) in an attempt to find the right workspace.

GL: I don’t think this change will come because employers are more enlightened, which is what we’re seeing with technology companies now. Anybody who’s involved in knowledge work knows what it takes to come up with good ideas. What makes a good working environment on paper is a diversity of opinions and backgrounds, a certain environment, and a certain mental mindset to even be able to think warm thoughts and come up with good ideas. Employers are going to give you the flexibility of choice so they can better harness your work, not because they’re warm and fuzzy. They simply want the best work from you.

DH: What will it take to convince employers that giving employees the flexibility of choice will produce the best work?

GL: Everything I’ve said so far is a mix of anecdotes and hypotheses. The real question is whether we can test any of this — what new styles of work, collaboration, and organization are emerging in cities? What kind of environments will be disrupted by these shifts?  What solo- vs. group work patterns exist, how are they evolving, and how can they be mapped, understood and enhanced? How can new ways of organizing work in cities make people more creative, productive and happy? And what are the benefits of doing so— better retention rates? Higher productivity? Greater innovation? And how do we measure any of this?

I’m putting together a team of architects, data scientists and researchers to explore some of these questions. I’ll let you know when we have some answers.

Part One: Greg Lindsay on the Future of the Workplace

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Earlier this summer, the marketing team attended an IIDANY Facilities Forum focused on the topic, “The Evolving Workplace: Change or Adapt?” Moderated by David Craig, Associate Principal at Cannon Design, the discussion featured insights on the evolving workplace and what this means for our industry from two workplace innovators, Greg Lindsay, Contributing Writer for Fast Company, and Bart Higgins, Director at ?What If!

We were particularly excited to hear from Greg as we had posted his New York Times article, “Engineering Serendipity,” on our blog. This post summarized Greg’s commentary on workplace policies by the likes of Yahoo! and Google, describing how a company can boost employee creativity and productivity by engineering social interactions.

Greg agreed to elaborate on some of his ideas for our blog, including explorations into what he calls “the blurring of the office and the city.” Read on for his insights into 21st century ways of work and places for work.

Deborah Herr: Gensler’s recent survey effectively pointed the finger at open plan environments for declining workplace effectiveness. Are you noticing a looming shift away from open plan or seeing any real trends that address these complaints?

Greg Lindsay: The open plan office is never going to go away, just like the cubicle is never going to go away. But what I find most interesting is the recognition that one size does not fit all. In the ongoing quest to squeeze every good idea and every last bit of productivity out of people, we’ve realized that working at one, generic environment for 8 or 10 hours a day is ineffective. Instead, we need to physically mode switch on a moment to moment basis to glean every last bit of efficiency out of people.

DH: Speaking of these modes, have there been any suggestions about what the “right” ratio would be for these modes? Is there a certain balance of “we” and “me” spaces that we should aim for in a single workplace?

GL: That‘s the $64 billion question. You’ve highlighted the absurdity of someone, somehow publishing research with the “right” ratio based on the number of hours we collaborate. Though it probably won’t be right, we will convince ourselves that it’s right enough.

I imagine the companies that try to do this are going to end up going in two directions. Either they’re going to oversimplify it and get an office with one really intense environment and one really collaborative one. Or, they’ll have eight different work modes in a single office. In this case, the office becomes a fantasy land of different working types, which I would imagine is good for sales, but difficult for most companies to implement. This is why I’m personally more interested in work and city relationships. This would involve encouraging people to leave the office to find different work modes and in the course of that discover something new – whether it be a new idea or new people.

Ultimately, I think the larger notion of “the office” is reaching its functional limits. The struggle to come up with new ideas, push faster and move farther has exposed us to these limitations. The innovation we strive for requires face-to-face, high bandwidth communication, but we still try to do it in an environment where you see the same people day after day. These two trends are in inevitable conflict.

DH: The idea of the office reaching its limitations would alarm a lot of people in my industry. We will have to wait and see, but I can hardly imagine the day when someone may say, “You don’t need to be sitting at your desk for me to realize that you’re being productive.”

GL: Well, it’s a question of, “What is your desk?” I don’t think the desk will ever go away. Desks will be around as long as we’re typing on a device. Instead, it becomes a question of, “What is your desk that is not your desk at your employer?” I think this question will lead us to all sorts of fascinating answers – it will be a desk at someone else’s office, or a temporary desk in a co-working space. Rather than choosing between two or seven environments in one office, you might have two or three environments in your employer’s office with multiple workspaces located across the city. It will be interesting to see how this network of workspaces evolves, which is separate from the ongoing design evolution of desks and chairs.

To me, the more interesting question of what should alarm Innovant is the notion that people find the office to be so ineffective that they’re willing to take their laptops and work in sub-optimal conditions just because they can. If people are willing to shed the productivity-enhancing elements of the office in favor of choice, we are failing them somehow. Perhaps we need to balance this by designing better environments for work outside of the designated office.

DH: You’ve mentioned technology as having a significant role in the evolving workplace. This was obvious at NeoCon 2013 where a lot of big industry players focused on technology as a way to mitigate some of the problems of open plan environments. What sorts of tools or technology do you see contributing to workplace effectiveness?

GL: One longstanding problem that people are interested in solving is the need for systems that track employees down when they’ve been encouraged to wander. I’m dubious that furniture or office equipment makers will be able to design software that can iterate fast enough or function as well as the offerings from software companies.

This is why I’m interested in the potential use of social networking or GPS tracking systems to figure out who’s nearby. At some point, I imagine that as a function of employment we’ll all have an employee badge app on our phones or we’ll wear badges that contain these functions. A recent New York Times story described retailers using smartphones to track people’s movements through their stores. Eventually, we’ll do the same for the office – or we should. Once you do that, you can perform all sorts of interesting big data analysis of who’s actually working and where. I imagine that this would be the grail for a lot of companies since the org chart is the barest approximation of who’s actually working together. Once you understand what’s really going on, you can start rearranging the office in real time. It will be interesting to see how an office manager of the future might intervene on the fabric of an office to either support employees or shake things up a bit.

Please check back for “Part Two” of this interview, which will be posted next week.