Culture created by use of space

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Change Management Institute UK put on a great event hosted by Kinnarps and Condeco on Tuesday night about how the use of space is an essential element for creating the culture or an organisation.  These are some of my key takeaways:

How important is a desk?

Useful analogy for a desk as a Swiss Army knife – can be used for lots of things, but there are lots of other places to work that might be seen as individual, specialist tools. For example, an informal break-out area for collaboration, a coffee area for information sharing and relationship building.

Home working not for everyone

View desk based working to working anywhere as a spectrum and identify where your organisation needs to be on the spectrum – not every role needs the complete freedom of ‘work anywhere’ as some need specialist equipment. I was also interested in comments from Dr. Nicola Millard recently about recognising that home based working might work for some, but for Millennials, they might not have a home they can or want to work in. In Hong Kong flats are small and air conditioning is expensive, it is much nicer to come to an office which has space and comfort. Extroverts are energised by the company of others, so home based working doesn’t suit them, they need to engage with people to do their best work.

Culture includes place

Kinnarps shared a Venn diagram of digital (technology solutions) overlapping organisation (culture integration, leadership and behaviours) overlapping physical (space, furniture and design) which is a helpful reminder that in any cultural change programme, factors other than behaviours have to be considered.

Technology can make things easier

This was highlighted by the presentation from Condeco who shared lots of examples of new digital ideas. I think we were all captivated by the biometrics example, where use of facial recognition would allow me to access buildings, and allow a desk to recognise it is me and so set my facilities as I need them – appeals to me as I share a stand up desk with someone who is 6ft 3in so I am forever having to lower the desk before I can start work! We also loved the demonstration of voice interface, asking Alexa to book a room, extend the meeting time etc.

We need to move more!

Some very interesting statistics on how we work, demonstrating that the age of collaboration is upon us: for office workers, only 34% of their work is writing, with 29% of their time in planned and spontaneous meetings – so collaboration with people is nearly a third of time spent. This was reflected in the requirements for space, which are dominated by demand for informal spaces and creative places to brainstorm with colleagues.

Perhaps this is something we should encourage from a health perspective, as I found the statistics on how much people move in an office horrifying: 21% of office workers sit all of the time and 38% sit most of the time – 2/3 are virtually immobile! 16% never leave their desk and 44% only move 1-3 times per day! So space planners need to give people destinations to move to, so that we are encouraging walking around. For me, this hit home because of the research that shows how much more creative and how many more problems we are able to solve when we change our physical environment. Moving to a different desk, table or chair even within the same office gives us a different view on the world, which frees us to see an issue differently. At the Change Management Institute event at the Home Office last December I remember hearing how they are using ‘walking meetings’ to stimulate ideas and reduce stress, and in a recent Financial Times article, there were examples of how organisations are using their reception areas and lobbies to provide workspace so that people have somewhere other than their offices to work, and how this change of perspective increases productivity.

Changing use of space is still a behaviour change!

Finally, from a behavioural change perspective, an important statistic from the Kinnarps survey was the evidence of the learning/performance/satisfaction dip – it gets worse before it gets better. When those who had been given amazing new work spaces were asked to rate their satisfaction, the scores moved from 3.43/6 before the move to 3.37/6 after 6 months, and 4.56/6 after 12 months. So return on investment is not instant, it takes time for people to adjust to new circumstances.