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Exploring the Future of Work

Workplaces need to support the nonlinear workflow model prevalent in offices today. Photo courtesy of Gensler

This week, global workplace leader Janet Pogue will join fellow Gensler principal Jim Williamson and Roman Richey, managing director and head of global real estate for Corporate Executive Board (CEB), on a webinar to discuss how shifts in generations, work process, and real estate are changing the workplace landscape.

If you’d like to join Janet, Jim, and Roman for this discussion, which will take place Thursday, April 11, 2–2:30 pm EST, please register for the "Exploring the Future of Work" webinar here.

In anticipation of this event, we sat down with Janet to gain some insight into the process she uses to help clients, such as CEB, understand their own workplace needs and find new ways to foster innovation in the workplace.

When you look at workplaces today, where do you see the biggest need for change?

The meeting space. There is a lack of availability of space where teams can work together and collaborate. People are often reluctant to collaborate out in the open because they don’t want to disrupt their colleagues. Meeting sizes have shifted from larger meetings to smaller meetings on a more frequent basis. With this shift, many organizations have the right amount of meeting space, but the mix is now all wrong. They have too many large conference rooms and not enough smaller rooms.

I think this is happening largely due to fundamental changes in the way people are working. We’re seeing a shift to more of a nonlinear workflow model. People prefer to work individually, come together to discuss and brainstorm collectively, and then focus again as an individual. Collaboration is occurring in meeting spaces and through quick, spontaneous interactions amongst workstations. Those people who need to focus are sometimes forced to do so in the only quiet place available in the office: a conference room. When workers aren’t able to find space quickly to suit their needs, it can create frustration and make them counterproductive.

What other types of space conflicts do you see within organizations?

Differences in work processes across departments can be a major challenge. When one group is noisy and another group needs quiet space to concentrate, it can cause a major conflict between the groups.

We saw this in action at CEB. They have quarterly sales campaigns that last several weeks at the end of every quarter. During this time, the sales teams are reaching out and calling their clients. At the same time, the research department may be developing new products, which requires peace and quiet, as they’re researching and analyzing data. The research team needs the kind of space that allows them to collectively step back and look at their data and “read the tea leaves,” if you will, and put everything up on an ideation wall. When the sales team needs to strategize and plan their quarterly campaigns on the same wall, you will see “do not erase” on the conference room white board walls because both teams are going through an ideation cycles at the same time. Understanding the different work patterns and work flows of various functions can help avoid space collisions before they occur.

How can an organization identify or prepare for these types of space collisions?

Most of us only notice a problem in extremes. Consider heating and cooling at the workspace. We typically only notice it when it’s really hot or really cold, not when it’s working well. So, when the space is working well, most of its occupants don’t perceive it. They only know when it’s not working.

A bird's-eye view is important. Step back and look for things that might be a symptom of a bigger issue. Do you not have enough available conference rooms, or are the rooms just not the right size to fit the way people meet today? Are functions vying for the same space at certain intervals, and other times you have too much space? Are groups complaining that it’s too noisy or too quiet? It may be that your existing space needs to change, or you may simply need to change which functions are sitting where. The solutions are drastically different and could possibly lead to unplanned or unintended consequences, which can be either negative or positive.

Other than just overall capacity, what are some other issues you need to take into consideration when planning for your workplace?

You’ve got to take different work styles into consideration. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Different work patterns and different functions match up differently against individual work styles. There are people who are outgoing and thrive on the energy of people around them, and then there are people who prefer a quiet, library-type environment in order to work the most effectively.

Two work styles that intrigue me are the Makers and the Managers. Managers host meetings and collaborate with others to get work done. Their day is often scheduled full of hourly meetings with their various teams to review projects, update team members, and manage the overall process.

Makers are the more creative types who typically need a three- or four-hour block of time to create something. This could be writing a proposal or article, designing a project or process, or creating a presentation. If Makers try to operate on a manager schedule, by the time they’ve warmed up and really gotten into their work, the hour is over.

Most businesses have roles which require both Manager and Maker work styles. In fact, many of us work as both a Maker for some tasks and Manager for other tasks. However, I often see schedules driven by Manager needs. This leaves the Makers trying to get their creative work done in the evenings and weekends because it’s the only time they can count on working without interruptions or distractions. It’s the only time we can carve out the right block of time to sit, think, and create.

How can you design a space to meet both needs?

Design a variety of spaces to accommodate a range of needs. Provide choice and options at an individual, team, and organizational level. Consider where you locate different departments and functions. Managers should be closer to conference rooms, and Makers should be near quieter zones, where they won’t be subjected to so many distractions. Cluster like groups together so that the noise generators aren’t near the people that need a little more quiet.

Since many of us work as both Managers and Makers, provide alternate spaces for workers to use when needed. This provides individual control and can alleviate issues. If neighboring teams start getting too loud, the person who needs to concentrate can remove himself from the environment by getting up and going to a focus room or alternate place. Sometimes just giving choice and control can make all the difference.

Janet Pogue is a Principal in Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office. She co-leads the firm’s Workplace Practice and is a frequent writer and speaker on the critical issues affecting the design of high performing work environments. Contact her at janet_pogue@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (1)

Excellent reading!
04.22.2013 | Unregistered CommenterFarid Apandi

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