Our present culture is all about information. I may be preaching to the choir here, making such an evident claim on a platform for the tech community, but in the industry of workplace design, it’s tough to ignore the implications of an ever more referenced menu of metrics. In a reality where no metric is siloed, today’s workplace is more than an office; it is a tool, used to drive organizational change, improve performance, heighten engagement, and attract top talent, and does so while maintaining clear cultural messaging and a strong representation of an organization’s mission.
Knoll recently brought together leading members of the design community from across North America to share current themes and future solutions relevant to today’s workplace. In order to identify those solutions, we need to understand what’s driving change in the first place. The group identified a few commonalities:
It’s not surprising to see that 4 of the 5 trace directly back to people. The remaining driver, real estate, even still has implicit ties to employees; real estate decisions can impact people in ways both groundbreaking and devastating. Notably unsurprising, though, is culture’s position at #1. Culture may be a tired buzzword, but more so, its influence dictates the success of every other driver on the list.
Culture is no more than a sum of its parts. Many of those “parts” are people – the ones who make up the internal culture of an office, or even the ones who make up the culture surrounding an organization’s product. Focusing solely on internal culture, there are so many factors at play. Just read about Uniqlo’s effort to poke holes in the hierarchical ethos of their headquarters in Japan by introducing elements more reminiscent of a Silicon Valley tech startup. Sure, a cultural norm imposed by decades of an unchallenged traditional work model is an extreme example, but we all know the status quo does just as much to shape our organizations’ future as it does to reflect on our past. So how do we throw a wrench in things for the better?
Identify what you have, and magnify it.
What is it that makes people enjoy their work? Perform the way they do? Enjoy their teams? Find what’s great – about your team, your space, your workflow. Better yet, ask. What made you want to work here? What keeps you here?
Next make room for what you discover. Plan around it. And know that the solution doesn’t have to be literal. Privacy comes to mind – many employees working in large, high cubicles struggle with a loss of privacy when moving to an open environment. While the loss of their cubicle may be a hard hit, introducing quiet, accessible spaces for solo work can mitigate the pain of the change and meet a need when alone time is necessary.
Nix what needs to go.
Maybe employees feel they are stuck in too many meetings. For example, one large tech company in Bellevue dedicates an entire day of the week to solo work to address meeting overload. This solution isn’t for everyone, but it allows their employees time to finish a thought without rushing between conference rooms.
Identifying what doesn’t work isn’t all too difficult. The cost of making a change can be. If a change is worth making, given the potential ramifications, plan for them. Listen genuinely to concerns and provide alternatives to address them.
Dress for the team you want.
This mantra of “dressing for the job you want, not the job you have” is often shared amongst young professionals looking to advance in their careers, but it’s relevant on an organizational level, too.
It is important, if not crucial, to integrate parts of your past – the building blocks of your organizational culture – into your evolving workplace, in both design elements and continued shared values.
There is a significant difference, however, between holding onto those shared values and maintaining the status quo. When status quo maintenance quietly comes at the cost of achieving improved results in reference to your other business drivers – your ability to attract new talent or foster innovation, for example – you’re stuck.
The key is to make incremental changes. They say you can’t change a person, which is possibly true. But you can change her environment, and that environment may bring out something you haven’t seen yet. You can’t afford not to.