The discussion around the shape of the workplace is very active these days. Changes in management philosophies, redesigned business models, deployment of mobile technologies, and other factors have illuminated the archaic nature of the workplaces of the last generation. New workplace concepts have emerged to open up the work environment, get people more connected and support the changes in the ways that we work.
Most of this conversation however, whether in resistance or adoption, is about the contents of the workplace. While those contents are essential tools for getting things done, we have not done as much with the platforms that support the work. Until we do, we'll be unable to fully gather the benefits of engaging people in the organization and enhancing their accomplishments using the new ways of working.
Here's what I mean. Imagine your workplace empty of its furniture. For many of you, maybe this is best visualized by recalling the office spaces that you've toured when you were considering a new lease. What did you see? Acres of undifferentiated carpeting now worn and wrinkled. The soft underbelly of architecture in the form of the endless monotonous two foot by four foot grid of acoustic tiles and fluorescent fixtures. A four foot high band of windows wrapping around the space where you would walk to take in the view since nothing in the space otherwise caught your eye. Dirty, dinged, scraped partitions.
What of all or any of that expresses who you are, what you do, the value you bring to the world, and the attractions you offer to bring the most creative and motivated people into your organization? Imagine that state – nothing in your workplace after removing the removable, leased stuff, says anything about your purpose, your values, your value, or your care for those who work with you.
Take out the last of that stuff, the ceilings, the carpeting, and all the rest. Now, start to build your workplace back up.
Consider the people who work with you and the ones yo want to work with you. If you sent them into that empty place and asked them to begin to shape the environment that they'd do their best work in, what might emerge? Would they first gather together over a cup of coffee and a snack and start to talk about what matters? Do you have a space where people can do that now? What kind of space would support that activity?
When they start looking around the space and see where the sunlight comes in, what might they place there? When they identify the best views, what will they choose to place there to enjoy it most? Will they assume a large undifferentiated floor, or will they begin to imagine different clusters of people and activities?
Consider all of the types of work that you do. What would be the best environments in which to do that work? Okay, now that big empty floor is beginning to get a variety of spaces identifiable through different lighting, acoustics, toolsets, display devices, and types of furniture that you don't have anywhere in your office now.
I think you get the point. There is very little in the environments we work in now that has any substantial or valuable connection to the work that we do. One way to get out of that condition is to reframe the conversation about work. Leave out of the discussion the clutter of cubicles or offices, of high or low panels, of desks or benches. Start with why you what you do. Move to the people you want to that with you and how they connect with each other and their shared purpose. Consider the real toolsets and environments that support their work. As you move through this furniture-less conversation, and build up your new workplace, you'll find yourself leaving out the things you used to take for granted but that now no longer have value. You'll start to design the things that haven't existed before but that you've needed in order to do your work better.
You'll see a much richer, relevant and authentic environment begin to take shape. You'll experience a more vibrant, productive and innovative business.