We know that Weinberger was speaking of a metaphorical room, yet the developments in space-based sensors are progressing in such interesting ways.
MIT researchers put together a sensing board that can track motion, sound, pressure, humidity, temperature, light intensity, electromagnetic interference, and more.
It could be used to do things like figure out how many paper towels you’ve got left, detect when someone enters or leaves a building, or keep an eye on an elderly family member.
Or more. (Link)
Over the past decade or more, "workplace strategy" has been about financial metrics (as measured in square feet per person and people per seat) and very little about purpose and meaning. However, as automation and AI applications begin to perform jobs better than or at lower cost than people, a significant social and cultural challenge will begin to arise.
It seems appropriate that a new generation of workplace strategists begins to move toward the ethical side of companies and governments and shape the "workplace" of the post-work future.
I don't want to exploit the displeasure of others, but I am hopeful that the recent chaos in the air travel space will lead to some beneficial self-examination by airline execs and better experiences for all of us.
Somewhere in time, almost every space where people collect to work, to find entertainment, to live, to travel, an argument about cost savings has driven every consideration of purpose and pleasure out. People used to go to work to achieve good things but were housed in high-walled cubicles and made to feel that interaction with others is counter-productive. Now, they're working from Starbucks. People sit on the couch at home rather than experience the mess, distractions, and discomfort of theaters. Social behaviors erode. People are crammed into tiny seats, with no legroom and in competition for an arm rest on always-delayed and overbooked flights. Now they're rioting at airports.
Perhaps we've come to a turning point. Perhaps the accumulation of stories of bad experiences, and perhaps the "disruption" of higher quality experiences are the front edge of a return to civility and socialization. Perhaps we'll find that it really is much better to be in places where others are, to interact in places other than a screen, to feel good, to enjoy places, spaces and people in the wider world.
It's a matter of design, of quality, of human dimension, of civic space.
Every organizational change program inevitably requires a workspace transformation project. Every workplace design project inevitably requires an organizational design project.
This linkage between space and organizational culture is really rather fascinating. Almost every organization feels it, yet few have the courage to fully exploit it.
When companies begin to feel the need for change – when productivity declines, when attracting essential talent is unsuccessful, when staff begins to move elsewhere, when competitive innovation is a struggle to achieve – they begin to look around. The leading companies in their industries have deployed a workspace designed to support and enhance the experience of work, to foster the creativity and innovation that makes them leaders. In their own workspace, however, the lagging companies see the remnants of an older management philosophy built for control, a workspace built to reduce interactions, to reinforce hierarchy and process order, to take attendance.
The next move for many companies is to say, "Design us something like Google," assuming that replicating the style of a creative and innovative workspace will bring them the performance that they envy in others.
But, as Tom Goodwin observes, "We’ve come to celebrate the theatre of innovation not the workshop of it. Innovation is sweaty, risky, terrifying and takes balls...It's not a session, it can't be shipped in, or outsourced for a sunny Friday. It's a culture."
The workspace you've been in has shaped your culture. The next one may do that as well, but the right one will be the design the reflects who you truly are. For your next move, make sure you get it the right way around.
I feel a great sense of loss over the absence of community-based retail. Amazon, a key agent in killing it, is now trying to replicate it. And it threatens remaining local employment with its "frictionless commerce" technology. Link
Uber, crashing, crashes. Link
Uber and Amazon, platforms, "are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence." Link
2. Build your strategy around platforms. Link
Autonomous shuttles are the net right thing, anyway. Link
Nice: In a perverse kind of way, I think of slow food as “agile” and fast food as “waterfall”. Link
Although the dominant narrative is about relentless urbanization, America continues to experience relentless suburbanization. (And a resultant segregation around levels of education.) Link
Why people leave your company and about 7 rules to use to keep them. Link
A taxonomy of remote work organizational types. Link
But are those geography-based types or communications-based types...or management types? Link
The US and UK governments imposed a ban today against carrying electronic devices larger than a cell phone on flights originating in a number of specified countries. Most of the reporting and commentary seems to be about the underlying issue, apparently a fear of terrorism, and the uncomfortable implications of arriving with a carryon and being unable to carry it on.
But the idea is rather delicious isn't it? Imagine an entire plane full of people who are unable to open up a laptop to use it as an antisocial cue to a seatmate and an extraordinarily inefficient way, anyway, of getting business done. Even on the very first of those flights, passengers will turn to each other to grumble and moan about the ban. One will ask "How am I to get my work done?" The other might ask, "What kind of work do you do?"
Soon, in this back and forth, civility might gradually return to flight and to the world. People will get to know each other. New connections will be made. Anger at the reclining person in front of out will subside because it just won't matter anymore. People will disembark still taking with each other, writing down phone numbers, making promises to connect later in the week. Friendships will form across boundaries. The pleasures of peace will be the ongoing subject, not suspicion and the threat war.
Eventually, the airlines might even realize that providing the best social experience is to their benefit. Rows will be spaced better, seats will become wider, real food will be served. Why did't the government think of regulation earlier?
The latest M-Shaped Weekly is out and can be found here.
It's a periodic compilation of articles from other places that you might find interesting, along with some of my own thoughts, like this –
Designing avatars and designing for them Buildings are frequently shaped by a client's "program." This, in the weakest but the most typical practice, is a list of spaces, sizes and functional relationships between them. Absent are the descriptors of the purpose of the building in supporting the work of people within. To get past this unremarkable thinking, we tend to build personas, or avatars – representative characterizations of the people who work in the building and their activities and relationships. We build them through interviews, observations and workshops. These representations allow us to test our designs for their effectiveness in the real work of the place. We avoid the typical labels of "office" or "lab" or "conference room" by using a lexicon of activities, behaviors, purpose and culture.
Check it out.
The ongoing chatter about the open office
The quality and character of the workplace remains a huge subject decades after walls began to come down and as the office eventually became more social and interactive.
A recent article in the Washington Post blasted out one more frustrated perspective on the open office. The more than 750 comments that followed illustrated that the workplace is not, or ought not to be, one thing. Nor is a single person’s perspective on the work of the organization and personal workspace something that can be considered complete.
When we start a project to design a new workspace, we immerse ourselves as much as is practical into the people and work of the organization. We make observations, analyze space, sometimes conduct surveys, and always do as many interviews as we can.
Interviews are always illuminating, bringing to the surface opinions we expect to hear (everybody assumes we are there to take away their offices) as well as some surprising insights into culture, work, operations, flows, productivity and other organizational performance matters that people tie strongly to the planning and design of the workplace.
That is, we find that the workplace many times matters more than the organizational structures that manage the workforce.
Here’s a good example of what we uncover. In a recent round of interviews with a client’s staff, we spoke to one of the company’s key engineers. He leads their most advanced and competitively differentiating work. It was important to the company that he should be able to concentrate on the subjects that made him so valuable. He made a very good case for being placed out of the mainstream and shrouded with walls.
His statement about his value was not merely ego. His colleagues agreed that he was, indeed, a very important part of the company. What was illuminating in our interviews with those others who affirmed his value was their testament to how valuable he was to them. He had experience, expertise, and creative insights that, when he was engaged with them, increased the value of their work. When he was not available, their productivity and their value to the company declined. His colleagues’ interest in interactions with him was important to them but those essential interactions became classical workplace “distractions” to him.
So now, what do we do? Walled off, and with a moat around him, he is individually productive. Without a bridge, however, everybody else’s productivity, engagement, and satisfaction drops, and the cost of their work goes up.
This, of course, is a management issue, and a cultural issue, but is also a workspace design issue.
The author of the Washington Post piece, beyond shopping for a bright blue noise-cancelling headset to signal focus and reduce distraction, began to scratch the surface of better workplace design with some of her observations.
She notes the importance of protocols in the open portions of the office. (We think visible leadership modeling is more effective.) She notes the expansion of relationships that emerge from the interactions of the open office. (As we found when the CEO of a client organization asked to sit in the open office, placing high value on exposure to those interactions.) She notes the value of meeting rooms for focused work. (We think it would be even better if they were designed for their real use, as retreats for individuals at those times when they need to concentrate.)
She now might come to the insight Google did not “get it wrong” and that the open office is not “destroying the workplace.” She will find that the matter is not closed or open, is not office or cube, is not bullpen or conference room. What we call “the office” needs a new language of form, one that allows us to creatively design the right spaces for the many different activities and work styles we engage in.
Organizations with a new workspace design project might start with thoughtful consideration of the purpose of the company and how it builds its value. They might make careful observation of the interactions people have, to understand what brought them into the open office to work together instead of working alone at home or in Starbucks. And they might begin with some interviews to understand how the variety of people and the range of work styles may need a more nuanced response, one that offers more than a binary choice.
The spaces and settings of the workplace that emerge from that critical thinking will support the culture of the organization, assure the effective flow of information, and influence the performance and satisfaction of its people.
On the science and practice in the trend to vertical farming in urban contexts.
Headhunter Casey Abel explaining the challenge in attracting top tech talent to the once-dominant Japanese car companies. "You've got some engineers making 20 million yen ($170,000) a year. Then you try to fit them in the traditional manufacturer-based salary structure where it should be 7 to 9 million yen."
We typically see our world as relentlessly moving toward the digital, and assume that the analog represents an archaic and increasingly lonely resistance to this movement. We cite the changes in society, advances in technology like VR and data visualization, the more than 50% of the workforce made up of digitally-savvy millennials, and other observations about our world to verify the emerging digitization of the universe and validate our direction.
We then expect that this digitization of work means profound impacts on the way we program and design. We imagine a paperless workspace, a free-address workplace, a location-agnostic organization, etc. Walls become digital display surfaces. The only horizontal plane is the floor. Everybody wears headsets.
There are two places where I/we are engaged where these underlying assumptions are playing out in a relatively cluttered way.
We are designing a new headquarters building for a construction company where we have found the lie in the paradigm of generational difference. Although the company's younger staff members assert digital preferences, most of them have a workspace indistinguishable from those of an older generation where paper is the preferred and tenaciously-held working medium. With a more nuanced analysis, I think we’ve found that those who work with spreadsheets use digital tools (estimators), but those who work with drawings and specs (PMs, PEs) appreciate the rapid access to the binder or roll of drawings over the inadequate search and visualization tools of the digital environment.
We are also transforming an existing building into a workplace for people doing product development work. We see almost all of their work work being done digitally, but most of the design/engineering review and approval process being done on paper. Even though engineers sit in shrouded workstations doing their design work, they paper the walls of the “obeya” rooms with large scale plots of parts and printouts of project process diagrams and schedules. They use big post-it clad boards for task management, and use whiteboards as the principal meeting medium. Parts in development are everywhere.
In each location, as at so many others, the IT department is seen as the most significant barrier to digital advancement. People talk about the great tools they’ve pirated into the workplace that work so much better than the tools provided by IT. (Despite their proven advantage, when IT finds them, they are purged from the system.)
But when we listen carefully and observe the goings on, it just seems that across generations in the workplace, paper provides an efficiency not found in the software world for work that requires the visualization of complex assemblies such as buildings and automotive components.
That is, the selection of work media is not generational in nature, but lies in the kind of work that people do.
What have you observed? What do you think?