blog post

7 Tips How to Design a Quieter More Focused Workplace

7 Tips How to Design a Quieter More Focused Workplace

Problems with distraction and inability to focus?

  • Do you, your coworkers or employees complain about unwanted noise and distraction in your open office workplace?
  • Do you wear headphones to quiet the cacophony of sound around you? Do you have no place to go to make private phone calls? Or do you wear them to avoid getting interrupted?
  • Do you work from home as much as you can to avoid being in your noisy office?

If you answered yes to any of the questions you likely are experiencing some design shortcoming in the layout, design and detailing of your office or workplace. To help you and others maybe avoid this in the future we offer Seven or so tips which if followed might contribute to a higher performing open office work setting where you can collaborate, innovate yet work in quiet when you need and want it.... 

How To Cultivate The Best Value From Activity Based Workplace Design

Tim Oldman - CEO and a founder, Leesman speaking at the workshop

Tim Oldman - CEO and a founder, Leesman speaking at the workshop

Applied Learning in Boston

Recently we attended an exceptional seminar given by Leesman Index at 9OFS in downtown Boston sharing their latest research findings on Activity Based Working.  The seminar was hosted by Tishman Speyer, a global real estate, design and construction consultancy. Facility managers, workplace strategists, interior designers, real estate developers, software companies and architects like ourselves attended. 

Rising Augmentation, need for trust and self-direction

Moving further into the 21st Century finds us veering away from mere knowledge based work alone so crucial to productivity and success in the mid to late 20th Century. Today we increasingly work with processes and systems augmenting our own knowledge and abilities with artificial intelligence (AI) hybridizing how and why we work, how we write and more.  Today we already have begun to learn to work in tandem with these smart tools as they begin to auto-prompt us with predictive intelligence and suggestions helping us (if we are willing and able) to work smarter and at greater capacity than ever before.  

With this increasing augmentation of how we work, employers, depending on industry and type of work processes, are finding the need to shift towards more trust based work cultures relying more on self-directed workers.  More than ever before, critical thinking, curatorship, creativity in complex problem solving play an ever increasing importance requiring more autonomous trust based management styles. This strongly contrasts with work processes relying on traditionally managed knowledge workers working within more traditional 9-5 work settings rooted in late 20th century work styles.

Those older management strategies relying on more hierarchical and fixed in place work, worker and workplace design mindsets may no longer suffice.  Hence the recognition of the value and rise of alternative business transformation strategies like Activity Based Working and Workplace Design where choice, variety and integrated operational and soft systems reign; All working together to empower employees to behave and work differently because they have to.  We think competitiveness and value differentiation demands a shift in mindset transforming how, why and where we work along these lines.

Thus Activity Base Working and ecosystem workplace design offer a clear alternative pathway to help transform business processes and fuel innovation.  But we have to be careful to be thoughtful and ensure as Tim Oldman, the Leesman Index CEO said, "Define fit to purpose when considering shifting towards such transformative business model."  But it is surely not the only answer.  We know one thing to be true, these principle, and others like them, must be tailor fit to each organization's business processes, workforce, brand promise and culture. 

There is no cookie cutter approach to workplace design.

Why did we attend this event?

We went to learn more about this design framework and gain a clearer sense of its value to the mission driven companies and organizations we like to work with.  We wanted to know if ABW might be valuable and adaptable to our clients needs and helping them thrive over the long term.

A year or so ago Leesman released its first version of this survey detailing the rise of Activity Based Working. This work established the context and promise of measuring ABW as a business transformation strategy. Leesman had the goal to revisit research progress with the participants and companies 12 months later to assess and report back on ABW's continuing effectiveness and rising use.  Last week, they were in New York City and Boston where we saw them. They were reporting back their findings over the last twelve months with updated information.

You might wonder what Activity Based Working means and how best to cultivate its value for your organization?

So first, what is Activity Based Working? 

Activity Based Working (ABW) provides employees with (a variety of) purposefully designed settings to best support the many different activities that are undertaken in a workplace. Rather than an employee carrying out their work in a single allocated desk or cubicle, ABW encourages (the recognition) different work activities can be better supported by spaces and features designed specifically for that task.
Spaces are designed to create opportunities for different activities, from intense, focused work and solo telephone calls, to impromptu meetings or more formal collaborative work.
...ABW requires a different approach to workplace design and this often results in visually stimulating spaces. But it also needs an equally different approach to to technology and manegement/staff behaviour.
— Leesman Index, The rise and rise of activity based working

Many confuse this working approach to merely hot-desking, hotelling or flexible sharing desk sharing strategies to assist in providing greater facilities operational flexibility, or reducing needed office square footage. A sticky point for ABW adoption and success is the 'clean desk policy' which come with not having personal and 'owned' workspace.

Example space program closeup

Sometimes viewed as anathema to expectations for a 'space of one's own' at work, ABW's business value proposition relies on shifting mindsets around work, working and the workplace. When well aligned with business fit, purpose and mobility oriented work processes, ABW and the matching ecosystem workplace design help transform businesses Leesman data shows. But it requires thinking differently about mobility based work, people and place.

Mobility Adoption

Leesman's study reviews four different types of Mobility Profiles working in ABW work settings as compared to traditional workplace strategies with 'owned' personal workspace and more familiar office layouts.  We find it really interesting how they define these Mobility Profiles and feel they have great value for consideration and reflection for design and planning purpose by a high performing organizations regardless of ABW adoption.

The Mobility Profiles

  • Mobility Profile 1: I perform most/all of my activities at a single work setting and rarely use other locations in the office.
  • Mobility Profile 2: I perform the majority of my activities at a single work setting but also use other locations in the office.
  • Mobility Profile 3: I perform some of my activities at a single work setting but often use other locations in the office.
  • Mobility Profile 4: I I use multiple work settings and rarely base myself at  single location within the office.

Cultivating Value Through Adoption of Activity Based Working and Workplace Design

Where does the value lay for organizations of various kinds, the most befitting management and organizational styles, business sector types, prevailing business processes and transactions?  We think Activity Based Working and Workplace Design offers value in the following ways, especially in combination with more than one of the factors below. Barriers to adoption must also be considered as well.

  • Mission and Purpose: Mission driven companies, valuing active and strong culture and pride in place.
  • Processes: Business processes requiring a high degree of mobility, agility of thinking, creative group and high value remote collaboration, and combined with self-directed working in high trust cultures.
  • Team with a team: Silo'd teams within larger corporate cultures with a degree of independent autonomy and internal oversight.  "They can help drive innovation within a larger organization." says Ed Cortis, CTO of Rocket Space, who said his "ABW team of 300, worked within an IT team of 1500 when he was a Bankwest."
  • Creative collisions: According to Cortis, "When there is value placed on enabling 'creative collisions', especially amongst agile teams which rapidly assemble and disassemble."   
  • Informality: More informal, flatter organizational work cultures valuing "We" not "I" performance, rotating leadership, servant leadership styles at all levels.

Barriers to adoption

  • Organizational misalignment: Mismatch of activity based working with incompatible leadership, management styles and culture, behavior.  (This is a hard one to parse out but it's worth a closer examination in applied research)
  • Look and feel focus versus really doing it: Admiration for appearance of activity based workplaces but unable to adapt to required workstyles and mindset shifts. You get the snazzy workplace but people aren't prepared to use it properly.
  • Poor acoustics and space planning: Lack of planning for acoustical quality with sound insulated walls, glazing, ceilings and floor surfaces. Poor space planning and lack of variety of open to more closed and private (quieter) spaces.
  • Not adapting and listening: Over-zealous unyielding management unwilling to adapt ABW framework to reality of their people, work culture and processes.
  • Inflexible, fixed mindsets: Team members with fixed mindsets, rather than those open to change. Can be people of any age or experience level. Not generationally specific. (Be careful of generational confirmation bias here.)
  • Ineffective technology infrastructure: IT support system, equipment and processes not in place to effectively support a more fluid, changing work setting, workers moving around on and off-site. 

Summing up

We have been thinking about Activity Based Working for some time and looking for learning ways like this seminar to better understand its value to our architectural and workplace design practice.  Clearly this framework has great potential and will continue to mature. This system appeals to architects and strategists like ourselves on many levels.  However, we must remember to not force this upon our clients when the fit isn't there.  

Remember, when considering this framework, ask the hard questions, examine with your design team your organizational DNA, culture, management styles, work processes and technology support capacity.  Like many things, perhaps adapting aspects of this framework to your design project has the greatest value and the conversation about it will surely unlock invaluable insight how best to design your office to help your business and people thrive.  

That is why we do what we do.

(More About Leesman)

If you have not heard of Leesman, also known as the Leesman Index here is a little about them. They are a data and analytics firm which provides 'collective intelligence' measuring how the workplace best supports people.  They share their data freely and widely, stemming from their practice measuring thousands of workplaces globally over the course of many years. They leave it up to others to use their data and insights, applying and synthesizing them to project work and professional practice needs.  

If you would like to learn more about ABW or other aspects of our design and professional services please contact us.

How to optimize your firm's social media work for success

It Started with Headlines

About six weeks ago we re-evaluated how we did our social media work, recognizing we needed to get more organized. We felt something lacking from a coordination standpoint in all of our social media postings across the platforms we regularly use.  We took a deep breath and looked around a bit knowing something was missing.  At some point we remembered the headline analyzer offered by CoShedule we had been using successfully for well over a year to help us write our headlines for articles and blog posts.  Why not explore the headline analyzer and other aspects of CoSchedule's products.

First a little bit more about the headline analyzer.                                                               

The analyzer, with a learn by doing process, helps you write your headline. By using it we became more adept at writing headlines in active rather than passive voice, the importance of character length, word count and word balance.  Word balance proved especially interesting as the higher ranking headline scores achieved a balance between common, uncommon, emotional and power words.                                                                                                            

Using the analyzer helps us write more pointed and directed writing as well.  The best writing advice we ever received usually begins with well, you guessed it, a great headline. What's helpful about letting the headline lead your writing is the clarity and focus of your thoughts which evolve out the act of ideating multiple headline concepts.  

Screenshot of running this headline through the analyzer - An example

Screenshot of running this headline through the analyzer - An example

The calendar organization tool

One day, we checked out what lay behind the Headline Analyzer and learned more about CoSchedule the company which runs it and its social media tool set, most notably the calendar. The calendar is the one stop place to organize your social media and marketing work.  We use it in solo-preneur mode with only one team member in charge of organizing it and doing our social media and blogging updates through it.  

Through the calendar we can set up in advance a week or two in advance social media activity across all of our social and professional network sites.  Doing so helps us stay focused doing our regular architectural, design and creative work for our clients.  We use the calendar to target our messaging about news, information, tips and best practices we think our various communities would like to hear and learn about. 

A screenshot of our emergin calendar. (Last week is greyed out)

A screenshot of our emergin calendar. (Last week is greyed out)

Along the way, we sprinkle in targeted messages highlighting recent design work, in the news bits and blog posts about us all creating convergence to our website and ultimately our contact us pages.  Using the calendar helps us share our connective content out there freeing us up on the back side to interact, respond and engage with our growing social community on and off line from those scheduled posts and shares.  

Right now we mostly post social media messages, choosing what optimized times and day of the week and which platform we share from.  We seek to offer inspiring ideas and best practice information on Mondays and Fridays. Then during the middle of the week we share more about our architecture, interior, workplace and creative examples and services paired with specific advice, unique stories we follow which fall in the quirky category.  As you can imagine with a new tool like this we continue to test new ideas regularly and open to suggestions and community feedback on how to add more value to you our Arocordis Design community..

Here's a how to video on more about CoSchedule

Next steps for our Calendar

Over the coming months we hope to use The calendar and its functionality in more ways to deepen our engagement and interactions with our Arocordis Design community creating positive brand energy.  And you will continue to see engaging and to the point headlines from our work with the headline analyzer.  

We will check back in on this process and tool sometime in the next six or eight weeks to tell you how it is shaping up for us. 

If you would like to learn more about our architecture, interiors, workplace and creative visualization work click on the contact us button below.  

Looking around for inspiration

When designing your home, office or place of work where do you turn for design inspiration? We often look for inspiration locally, in the place and region we are working in. We do so to help clarify the mood and character of the place and spaces we hope to cultivate and design. We think its crucial to the place based design we favor. We think its critical to get outdoors, to take a walk, hop in a canoe or get in the car and go experience and see your surrounding looking for inspiration in unlikely places. 

Here is a recent example from Stephen Frey.

Recently I drove around where I live looking for design inspiration for our architectural, placemaking and creative work.  The hills outside of Montpelier have lots to offer this time of year with the seasonal transition from winter to spring.  I look for intriguing forms, shapes, textures colors and compositions.  Here's a historic 100 year old plus 1-1/2 story cape style farmhouse, mid-house and barn combination I found.  The creaking bend in the barn frame caught my eye evoking the timeless play between building and landscape, and the inevitability of nature and time.  Also, the simplicity and sturdiness of the forms intrigued me as well as almost matching roof slopes between home to barn.  

For me, I find inspiration in the barn board, the red time worn color on the siding, the white trim, field stone walls and foundation, and yes the grass, mud and snow.  I also get a kick out of the form follows functionality of the barn windows sizing and layout. Often these windows are laid out reflecting the internal milking stalls providing views outside during milking.  Also, the front-house, mid-house, back-house barn connected building layout is an enduring aspect of our vernacular landscape.  Note how the site is cut with the barn's levels allowing easy access to the middle floor and lower levels at opposing grades?  This appears to be a smaller general purpose barn used to farm a small tract of land with a small amount of animals and room for hay above. 

Barn on Kent Corners Road - Stephen M.  Frey 

Barn on Kent Corners Road - Stephen M.  Frey 

What do you have around where you live? Do you have common to your area vernacular building forms or traditional buildings?  They often have a lot of endearing qualities, even more so, if you don't own one and are trying to keep up with all of the quirky ongoing maintenance. 

That's another story.  Bottom line, get outside and take a look around and really look to see what lies in plain view for inspiration for your design project's materials, colors, mood and detail character.  Try to suspend your preconceptions about what's there and really take your time looking.  You won't regret the effort.

You will no doubt find unexpected insight and a treasured memory.