Return to site

'Better Environments' (BE)

A Big Boost to Productivity Growth!

· Productivity,Better Environments,People

"The spaces we occupy shape who we are and how we behave. This has serious consequences for our psychological well-being and creative performance. Given that many of us spend years working in the same room, or even at the same desk, it makes sense to organize and optimize that space in the most beneficial ways possible."

The key metric companies use to measure space—cost per square foot—is focused on efficiency. Few companies measure whether a space’s design helps or hurts performance, but they should. They have the means. Empirical findings from several organizations suggests that creating collisions—chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization—improves performance. I have also learned that spaces can even be designed to produce specific performance outcomes—productivity in one space, say, and increased innovation in another, or both in the same space but at different times. By combining the emerging data with organizational metrics such as total sales or number of new-product launches, we can demonstrate a workspace’s effect on the bottom line and then engineer the space to improve it. This will lead to profound changes in how we build our future workspaces. Now, this is what my ideology of 'better environments' is all about. Put simply, it's about engineering spaces that makes us tick as unique individuals or as unique corporate entities - in a way that it fosters better engagement and better human-centred performance. This BE ideology, to a large extent also applies to residential, hospitality, retail and educational settings.

I remember the consulting and design firm, 'Strategy Plus' estimated that office utilization peak sat 42% on any given day. By that logic, the best way to manage cost per square foot is to remove “wasted” square feet. However, evidence from data gathered reveal that investments in re-engineering space for interactions over efficiency can increase sales or new-product launches. The design features that make spaces effective results from a profound shift in mind-set: Most innovative companies think of the offices not as real estate but as a communication tool.

Spaces can be designed to favor exploration or engagement or energy to achieve certain outcomes. For example, if a call center wants improved productivity, the space should favor engagement—getting the team to interact more. Higher engagement is typically accomplished not with open social space but with tight, walled-off workstations and adjacent spaces for small-group collaboration and interaction. The team’s break area becomes a crucial collision space. At one call center, the company expanded the break room and gave reps more time to hang out there with colleagues. Paradoxically, productivity shot up after the change. Away from their phones, the reps could circulate knowledge within the group. The data collected over some weeks showed that when a salesperson increased interactions with coworkers on other teams—that is, increased exploration—by 10%, his or her sales also grew by 10%. An elegant correlation. So the executives asked, How can we change our space to get the sales staff running into colleagues from other departments? In this case, the answer lay with coffee. At the time, the company had roughly one coffee machine for every six employees, and the same people used the same machines every day. The sales force commiserated with itself. Marketing people talked to marketing people. The company invested several hundred thousand dollars to rip out the coffee stations and build fewer, bigger ones—just one for every 120 employees. It also created a large cafeteria for all employees in place of a much smaller one that few employees had used. In the quarter after the coffee-and-cafeteria switch, sales rose by 20%, or $200 million, quickly justifying the capital investment in the redesign.

Managers might be tempted to simply build big social spaces and expect great results, but it’s not that simple. Companies must have an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve (higher productivity? and/or more creativity?) before changing a space.

With the Usual Esteem & Appreciation,


Opinions expressed on our blogs are solely those of the author or commentator, not of ChrisAligba.Com, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by ChrisAligba.Com's guidelines as spelt out in its Terms & Conditions.

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly