innovation

Struggling with your Office or Workplace design project and process?

Growing, an adding team members? Seeking to better align your Place with your Culture and Brand while upping collaboration, engagement and productivity?

Are you and your management team, company leaders struggling with how to best move your office or workplace design project forward? 

See this brief video for more on how we can help.

 

How to develop a successful workplace innovation framework?

Confused about how to accelerate and inspire innovation in your office or workplace through its layout, design and culture building? To help, we share some insight garnered from an interesting Steelcase white paper "How Place Fosters Innovation." With its evergreen advice, we continue to refer to and share it with clients and partners year after year in our work with others. We feel its insights help frame and shape innovation related organizational thinking and workplace design strategies for large and small businesses alike.

an innovation mindset matters

Today's hyper-competitive business environments, whether in public, private or nonprofit sectors, demand high performing organization naturally seek a state of innovation, continuous learning and a growth mindset.  Successful companies adopt a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. To cultivate authentic and sustainable growth, especially with a focus on seeding innovation, mindset matters. 

Frequently though, we find the Place where people work and How they work misaligned with the needs of the business or organization adopting an innovation mindset. 

Frankly the office and workplace falls short!

We believe attuned place design supporting this natural drive for innovation can power healthy disruptive and sustainable growth, all the while providing the right resources for day to day work, pointing the way towards enduring success.

The Steelcase White Paper offers a framework for organizations to assess why, how, who and what is the work primary to their business. Through it, with the help of architects like ourselves and other consultants, they assess the kind of work culture they currently have, the work processes valuable to them today, and what they strive for in coming future that might be different than today with a growth mindset.  In light of this continuum, we believe it is critical to view your workplace as an ecosystem of flexible spaces and resources supporting your people doing their work. whether face to face and or virtual collaboration, heads down focus work, customer service, communication, potential development and human resources, training and development and more.  

The right kinds of spaces can help people collaborate, share knowledge, learn together and build social networks of trustful interactions so critical to solving big challenges.
— How Places Fosters Innovation - Steelcase Research | sourced 4/4/17 via https://www.arocordisdesign.com/blog/2017/4/5/culture-place-and-space-cultivating-innovation-at-work

Ecosystem Thinking

Aligning Place to purpose, needed work processes and collaboration requires choices of how, where and when to do differing kinds of work. We like to think of the office or workplace, or business as a unique organizational and space ecosystem. We use the concept of ecosystem to describe the workplace as an integration of people working within and together in their physical spaces, along with supporting technology, furniture, building systems and organizational systems. Doing so redirects the conversation away from entitled "I" space to empowered "We" spaces whether at the scale of one person, a small team or grouping of teams within a larger whole.  

Ecosystem thinking also acknowledges the changing dynamics of an organization, its culture and broader identity. Organizations themselves have lifespans and experience stages of growth, transformation. maturity and rebirth. Given these life cycles, placing them within a workplace ecosystem mindset seems entirely logical. Startup, mid-stage, mature and legacy phases constitute the major chapters of organizational life which if anything is dynamic rather than fixed. 

Photo by SrdjanPav/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by SrdjanPav/iStock / Getty Images

Your business is a work in progress just like you

This evolving process of carrying out and doing your business and its work befits what is really happening; we are all works in progress.  And yes work is messy, held together in some cases literally and/or metaphorically by duct tape more often than we like to admit, and full of failures which inspire potential future success.  Like natural systems, your organization fits into an eco-system with all of its parts and pieces serving some kinds of inter-related purpose.

We think the first step to more clearly understanding your organization's innovation oppourtunity is to closely examine and reflect together on what's your purpose and the primary motivations behind what you do. Or don't do.

Purpose and Cause: The Why

First look at your organization in the mirror with your team.  Do you have a clear sense of mission and purpose? Having a collective sense of identity and purpose forms a cultural glue uniting individuals into teams of mission driven performers able to carry out at different times, disruptive and sustaining innovation. If you lack organizational clarity and passion about your mission and core purpose likely it will be difficult to innovate together. 

The other aspect of this lies in the your organizational size and how your group, team or self fits into the overall whole.  Whether you have three or 5,000 colleagues makes a difference in how to work with an innovation mindset.  With smaller size comes greater agility and quick adaptability to change processes, tools and use your spaces differently.  The larger you are, the more complex the innovation equation becomes.  Also the greater oppourtunity.

Regardless of size, make sure you have a clear sense of mission and purpose and you authentically as individuals and teams can connect with it. If you don't, you have a terrific opportunity to codevelop and collaborate together on redefining your core mission and values. Then you will be ready to innovate together whether in disruptive or sustaining ways. The reason is you will already be innovating working hard together to cultivate and build your culture. 

Individual versus collaborative versus distributed work

Examine closely your ratios of how you actually work right now regarding how much is individual, group, collaborative and distributed work. Distributed work may be an unfamiliar term to you.  

In an increasingly global marketplace, a distributed workforce frees a business from the conventional constraints of time zones and work schedules, allowing work to be done seven days a week, 24 hours a day if necessary.
— http://www.inc.com/partners/comcast/the-distributed-workforce-why-theres-no-there-there.html

You may think you work in a traditional office setting with most people working out of your office.  But do you really?  You likely already work on the distributed work continuum. How often do you work from home, a local coffeeshop, park bench holding video calls with team members across numerous time zones and cultures? Likely much more than you did five or ten years ago.

Where you work right now, how much space is devoted to individual workspaces versus common work areas including social, learning and cafe spaces? Today's newer space ratios range closer to 60/40% for individual to common to 50/50 or even 30 / 70% in organizations taking pride in a more "We" focused culture.

In general today's innovation focused business work with less dedicated personal workspace emphasizing instead shared spaces ranging from heavily social to extremely focused increasingly popular quiet spaces.  Looking around your workplace do you see those ratios or do you see those from ten to fifteen years ago with a much higher amounts of owned workspace and less meeting spaces.

An informal collaboration space, Steelcase Global HQ - Grand Rapids, MI by Stephen Ml Frey

An informal collaboration space, Steelcase Global HQ - Grand Rapids, MI by Stephen Ml Frey

Depending on what your work is, you likely collaborate with partners and team members working from home, coworking spaces, other subcontractors assisting you with specialized services from a far needing occasional onsite workspaces.  The ratio of personally committed "owned" workspace versus shared in common, collaborative and just-in time work areas is very different than even five or ten years ago. 

You probably already work with virtual collaboration spaces like GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Skype for Business, Facetime or Duo. Some of you work like this daily, others less frequently. This shared virtual working is distributed working.  Compared to 10 years ago and technology tools available then, today's tools offer unparalleled convenience, ease of use and collaborative functionality. Plain and simple, we are all working differently and by extension,  innovating in new ways. We can only expect this level of disruption of how we work to continue infinitely.  

So honestly, you're working more differently than ever before.   So then, what models of innovation might work best for your organization, your work, purpose and brand? Your why?

Models of innovation: Centralized to decentralized

"Some organizations look inward; others look externally for fresh ideas and new ways of solving problems." From Steelcase's research perspective they have eight or so models spanning the innovation spectrum from centralized (closely held, proprietary) to decentralized (open or crowd sourced and more). Where and how do you do your best work, where you and your coworkers thrive in regards to innovation?  Choosing one requires close examination of your organizational leadership style and how you collaborate well as well as your purpose.

Those models of innovation are:

  • (Centralized) In-house marketplace model
  • In-house share model
  • In-house center model
  • Off-site model
  • Partnership model
  • Consultancy model
  • Network model
  • Community driven model (Decentralized)

Depending on the kind of business you're in, your size and organizational complexity, one or a hybrid combination of the above will likely fit.  In our design practice, we have worked in a variety of models to best help our clients with organizational fit to purpose.  For some larger ones we act almost as an embedded design and innovation consultant. For smaller ones we act in the consultancy role as outside architectural design experts working on a project by project basis. Or we work on larger project design teams whether leading the overall effort on behalf of the client or participating as a team member among many. 

Defining fit to purpose for innovation efforts

Finding the right model also speaks to where your organization is in its life space and maturity. The model you choose to work with also echoes your leadership model and style. as well as active practice of innovation with recurrent and well supported work processes and resources.  Choosing a decentralized crowd sourced innovation model within a heavily centralized leadership model may not align, however alternatively, following it may fuel disruptive innovation difficult to achieve within such an organization and its prevailing leadership style. 

Defining the fit of innovation efforts to your organizational purpose is extremely important.  Part of this plays into understanding if your are looking for sustaining innovation or disruptive innovation outcomes.   Examining innovation models in the context of space design and layout is an essential next step. 

So then, how to foster innovation by design? Here are a few principles borrowed from the Steelcase research as well as augmented in (parentheses) by us from our own practice and applied research experience.

Workplace design principles to spark innovation

  1. Make a Place (and Tell Your Story): Create and cultivate strong pride in place and opportunities for creative collisions and focused work. Given the rise of distributed work choices and capabilities you must have strong reasons to come to work, bond socially with coworkers and partners face to face. Make sure to leverage your interior environment to integrate branded storytelling, touch and waypoints reinforcing mission, purpose, and core value messaging. Select furniture, finishes and materials which reinforce your brand DNA. 
  2. Make it inspiring: As the Steelcase research shares "creating stimulating, engaging spaces can jump-start and sustain creative thinking." (and collaboration opportunities.) Bring nature near into the interior, daylight and views with strong connection to brand values with a variety of choices of informal and more formal spaces.
  3. Make it flexible and adaptive: (Take care to carefully balance long term space needs with avoiding permanent "monument" construction which makes later space changes and adaptations expensive and time consuming to make. Use easily changeable, movable walls, furniture and lighting where feasible in the majority of your work spaces leaving a minority of areas with more fixed architecture.  This fixed architecture might include storage rooms, restrooms, special conference areas, labs, production facilities and specialized manufacturing. Embed technology which allows for telepresence and forward flexibility adaptable to emerging technologies along with wireless capabilities.) Create communication protocols internally via technology with an agile focused facilities and operations team to assist in co-creating and adapting existing spaces.
  4. Make it Social (Yet Create Quiet Places): "Social capital between co-creators is crucial for innovation to occur. It builds trust, especially important when teams are doing intense work. Open and relaxed areas for informal conversations (and creative collisions) are critical components for successful innovation spaces."  (Sprinkled within active collaboration areas provide places of refuge and Quiet Spaces and places for innovators to think alone, recharge, work in small groups have risen in importance since Steelcase released these findings. Provide "clearings" amidst collaboration areas with shared common areas with comfortable cafe style seating adjacent to food and drink for recharging and relaxed informal interactions. Create a shared kitchen counter area to act as an interaction hub.)
  5. Make it Collaborative: "Innovation teams require a shared mind. Individual insights and memory need to become learning and memory" with easy visibility to project or innovation work history throughout the space says the Steelcase research. They go onto suggest the following: (Our additions in parentheses)
  • Position individual workspaces around group workspaces to maximize visibility. (and proximity to shared work)
  • Provide group areas for informal brainstorming and informal information swaps. (fostering creative collisions)
  • Plan for extensive dialogue with digital information and intense collaborations around computers (and smart devices , wall and furniture surfaces) involving (face to face) and virtual team work.
  • Provide for vertical (and horizontal) interactive displays, white boards (white board surfaces applied to walls)
  • (Consider mobile, easily reconfigurable furniture to encourage DIY team oriented project based reconfigurations)
  • (Maintain an informal and evolving set of collaboration and design thinking protocols easily understood and widely shared to create continuity and clarity about the collaboration process)
  • (Provide a maker space or series of mini-maker spaces with maker tools and support props for rapid prototyping and ideating developing concepts. [Legos for adults.  But leave in the Legos])

Innovation is evolving

Since work processes, technology continue to evolve in truly breakneck speed many of these above ideas may well need to be dramatically rethought and re examined in coming years. How will machine learning and artificial intelligence impact innovation process and capacity development? Could be extremely powerful in regards to inventing many new possibilities arriving from human and AI collaboration.  While the future is unclear in respect to AI, our shared drive for new ideas and impulse to innovate remain constant. 

Remember sharing purpose and cause fuels your drive to innovate and cultivate the right kinds of workspace and culture to do this important work.  We believe without this cultural glue your innovation efforts will falter and lack purpose, with stunted success. In the meanwhile, keep aspiring to do good things and keep a steady supply of duct tape around.  

You will need it! Do you follow or practice an innovation mindset or framework similar to what we share here? Do you practice any of these innovation design principles? Or do you see different forces at play impacting how, where and why you work?  Please share in the comments sections below.  Let's build a dialogue. 

Contact us if you have more questions or if you want to learn more about how to apply this Innovation Framework to your business or organization by design. We want to help you thrive.

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.