Corporate organisations are embracing the fact that our workplaces have a lot of power over how employees think, feel, behave, and how we understand our purpose during the day. Eyes have been opened to this power and management are being strategic to bend the forces of our environment toward promoting behaviours that increase impact, inspiration, and above all productivity.
A whole new world of workspace consultation is taking place to accommodate better productivity, engagement, talent attraction and retention because there is simply no escaping the power of a working environment and the effects it can have on employees and their organisations.
Design or default
Humans have evolved culturally to walk the path of least resistance. Sheer survival, the hunting-for-food-and-building-shelter is what we’ve evolved for and, simply put, sheer survival has been all but guaranteed for most people for generations. As such, it’s easy to fall into a rut and just go along to get along.
When it comes to the spaces in which we work, being adrift means submitting to the forces of an environment to dictate the quality of your work day. When the behaviour of an organisation is the product of a variety of forces, those contributed by the environment can’t be underestimated. Amicus’ Workplace strategists use the Touchline Model to define: what are the aspirations of an organisation and then how physical information and organisation flow delivers a desired behaviour from the organisation or that is, those working within the environment, to achieve the aspiration, the rest of the Amicus team then take care of design and delivering the construction and furniture of the new workspace. The process is awake to the myriad subtle ways work environments affect those within it.
Not just a coat of paint
Thinking deeply about workspaces is not just naval-gazing about what shade of white to paint the walls or flicking through an office chair catalog. The Amicus Touchline model is a relatable and no non-sense explanation for management that covers how workspaces operate: they are comprised of the rituals and rhythms that exist within the organisation and the space. If you have read this far into the article you would be right in thinking that a new office really does need CEO input, perhaps HR and also Marketing.
It starts with a simple question that spawns a complex web of ideation: What is it that we want our employees to do in this environment? What behaviours do you want to promote?
In general, these aspirations fall into collaboration, communication, talent retention and attraction, and wellbeing. All of these can be boosted, in part or in full, by considered approach to the development of workspaces and one beyond the cost of bench top finishes. The Touchline approach is wise to the virtual environment as well, and has techniques for pushing deliberate change in the information layer. Whether it’s a stream of chat in Microsoft Teams or notes scribbled on an in-office whiteboard, the inscription of information – literally how things can move from one person’s head to another – is both integral to your company and the unique reason we gather to work in the first place.
What does this all look like?
Once we know what behaviours we want our new office to promote, we can start to think about prescribing possible changes. In order to promote a friendliness with their clients, a recent client of Amicus have chosen an entry space that invites their customers to dwell and do their own work within the space. At Amicus, we have no reception: there’s no fence between you and us. You walk right into the kitchen because you’re amongst friends. Coworking startup WeWork wanted to promote collaboration and did so through using their operating environment to lead to more chance meetings. “We’re very specific when we’re drawing work plans,” WeWork co-founder and chief creative officer Miguel McKelvey told Fast Company. “We think about the chances of when a person gets off the elevator where they will go. We think about how people get to a coffee machine, when they go and get their lunch.” This depth of understanding about the operating environment leads to making intentional choices about how to remake it. What does this all feel like? There was a lot of hype around Activity Based Working (ABW) when it first peaked in 2005-2013. Magnetic because it was perceived as saving money, packing more people into less space and getting away from allocated desks. But managed incorrectly, there can be all kinds of dodgy side effects: bottlenecks and territoriality, companies losing contact with their team at a heavy cost.
Smart flexibility is the ABW of 2017 and beyond and takes a few pages from the ABW book but maintains a focus on training staff on agility, with intent and reflection. We don’t unthinkingly embrace ABW, instead we create our own living office models when we make recommendations to clients. For example, one such model developed for a recent client uses soft boundaries: where team bases grow or shrink depending on who is there each day. Amicus’ Touchline E/X Framework is a diagnostic and planning model that simplifies and enriches employee experience (E/X) analysis. The framework shows the employee enveloped and interacting with three elements (or “touchlines”) in the environment: the physical, social, and organisational. These touchlines influence a person’s inner world of thoughts, feelings, and knowledge. A person’s behaviour is a result of the interaction of the touchlines and their inner world.
An approach to design
When working with Amicus’s People and Culture consultants the first thing that is achieved is a direction-setting module which covers our report and design-briefing document, we take into consideration all three touchlines in an integrated fashion. This means in practice that we unpack your aspirations for the move into practical implications for not just the physical space, but also the information space (e.g. your technology toolkit) and organisation space (e.g. routines, meetings, spatial protocols). The goal for any new workspace should be a capitalisation on what you can truly achieve. The office lease or motivation to move only rolls around every 5 years or so, so ensure your organisation makes the most of it.