Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
This time last year I was getting geared up to do a TedX talk on the Future of Work. Now I am gearing up to do a Corenet talk on Keep Moving: The Rise of the Mobile Worker. As last year I'm wondering why what seemed a good idea at the time now seems like a big challenge. The good thing is that I'm not presenting alone so there are two of us working on the presentation. I'm presenting the overview sections, and John Risteter from Huntington Bank is presenting his case study. We're being guided in how we set about developing the presentation by Nancy Duarte's excellent book – Resonate on how to develop presentations – it's become my bedtime reading companion(!) She also gave a compelling webinar, Mastering Remote Presentations: A Guide to Persuasive Conversations which I got tips from that helped me develop the webinar I gave last week Collaboration, conversation or chat, knowing the difference, which discusses mobility from the angle of collaboration. It's now freely available to listen to here.
What Duarte says is that successful presentations first establish 'the big idea' and then structure around that. So, what can we draw on to develop our big idea around mobility? Well I'm a fully mobile worker, and I've done a lot of work on workplace mobility programs. Currently I have the intriguing role of remotely co-ordinating an internal mobility program that we've established back in the corporate office. I wrote about the first week of it in a previous blog and we're about to start week four. John (my co-presenter) is Manager of Strategic Space Planning and comes at mobility from the corporate real estate perspective. We spent a morning together the other week collecting up first thoughts (and having a laugh doing so). The big idea however did not emerge clear cut in this initial meeting on the topic. But looking over our notes and then having a couple of follow up phone calls it has taken shape. Our big idea is that managing the rise in mobility means managing a multitude of competing and interwoven tensions.
Sparked by the topic 'Substituting traditional symbols of power and status e.g. corner offices, for new symbols of power and status (and why this matters).' The action learning group I am working turned the discussion into one on performance and motivation incentives. This surprised me a bit as the three questions we'd been posed were:
1. How much is workplace associated with hierarchy/power/status and is this important to the client's business performance?
2. What questions and approaches would help us understand our clients' emotions around status/power/space?
3. How can the workplace support our client in developing a defensible point of view around power/status.
But what they'd picked up on was a line in one of the pre-read articles Is open-plan working really the future for lawyers? Meet the evangelists "Obviously there are firms that have open-plan offices, but it's something that we're reticent to mention early on in the recruitment process. It's not a selling point. I've never met anyone who says that they actually want to move into an open-plan office. Having your own office – that's an incentive."
Between May 27 and June 10 (today) I've been in various cities: New York, Oxford, Brussels, Paris, Los Angeles, and today Chicago. I've been in Union Station (Washington DC), Penn Station (NY), Newark Airport, London Airport, Brussels Airport, a coach to Paris, the Dover-Calais ferry, Eurostar, Gare du Nord, St Pancras Station, and Oxford Station, LA Airport, Chicago Airport. I've been in several different hotel lobbies and public areas and countless cafes and restaurants.
I'm not writing this list to illustrate my current insane nomadic life but to ask a question. Why in all these places I am forced to listen to one or all of piped music, television broadcasts, and public service announcements? This noise is competing with people talking to each other (conversational pitch), on their cell phones (extra loud 'phone voices'), EMS and police sirens, traffic noise, additional noise from repair or construction work sites, and street buskers.
I have a particular fury with piped music which seems to be everywhere except the quiet coach of the Amtrak, the Eurostar, and an aircraft once it has taken off. The effect of having to shout my coffee order to a barista because she cannot hear above the music has now led me to write my regular order on a card and hand it to my server.
Running a session this week on organization design led to the participant group raising questions and then discussing the differences and similarities between workplace design, workplace strategy, workplace design strategy, and organization design.
There was no real conclusion except that semantics matter, and in order not to confuse our clients and ourselves we need to clarify the terms, or stick with one agreed short description that covers the range.
Attempting to clarify this for myself I found an article by Eric Olsen, Workplace Design Strategy: An Alternative View. In this he compares Galbraith's Five Star model with Hurst's soft bubble model. He does this in the context of discussing a paper, Solving the Right Problem: A Strategic Approach to Designing Today's Workplace, written by Arnold Craig Levin in the Spring 2007 issue of the Design Management Review.
Levin's paper builds on a previous one he published Changing the role of workplace design within the business organisation: A model for linking workplace design solutions to business strategies published in the Journal of Facilities Management in 2005. In the abstract Levin notes that:
This week the project that I'm working on has taken another turn. People are looking at office layout floor plans and realizing that, it's true, there are not going to be any private offices. Any space that looks like private offices i.e. one person in one room, is going to be shared and the room itself will be available for others to use if the designated occupants are off-site.
Lots of people are getting hot under the collar and wondering how they are going to get their jobs done. There are pleas for special consideration – usually to do with the nature of the work which seems reasonable to consider. The mitigating factors boil down to three: client demands, confidentiality requirements, and security (of documents, etc). However, all of these can be addressed without recourse to a private, single occupant office. Underlying this plea, and what may be driving it, is what is not stated. One reason for a private office that people don't talk about is that of position in the hierarchy. So, unspoken is the comment, 'I've worked n years, clawing my way up the corporate ladder, I'm at the top – or nearly – and I'm entitled to the corner office with the windows.'
Many organizations are in the throes of supporting people as they transition from current ways of working to new ways of working. For many people the new ways of working are radically different. Among other changes they are moving from
- Own desk/office space that is assigned to them to shared space, perhaps desk sharing or hoteling
- Roaming or teleworking from the assigned space to roaming or teleworking from unassigned space
- People having private offices based on position in hierarchy to people having enclosed work space based on job function.
- Traditional one-for-one space assignment to neighborhoods or zones with fluid boundaries
In making this cultural and working practices shift people tend to concentrate on space planning and work practices and processes. But there is another factor around the cultural change that is worth investigating.
This week has been one of discussions on value propositions. In the first we were working out what we were offering various stakeholders in returning for investing time, effort, and obvious commitment into supporting the development of 'living labs'. On this project we are planning intentional experimentation on the interactions between people and workspace. So, for example, if we invite people to work in open bench style workspace rather than the current individual high walled cubicles and they accept the invitation what impact does it have on things including their work practices, the work flow, and their productivity?
Clearly inviting people to work in a different space layout will incur various costs e.g. in new layouts, perhaps new furniture, risks to productivity and business continuity, etc. But there may be benefits - more collaboration resulting in higher customer satisfaction, higher productivity, swifter decision making because people are communicating more effectively and so on. But we don't know and this is the 'lab' part of the project. Thus the value proposition discussion.
Last week I was sitting in a 'finish concepts' meeting with a group of architects and designers looking at floor tiles, color swatches for wall coverings, and so on. There were five concepts presented. Each one with an accompanying photo of something from nature - flower, rock, etc - than inspired the concept.
This was all interesting to me as I haven't been in one of those types of meetings before, and it was fascinating to see the way the participants handled the samples, discussed the pros and cons, and went into all kinds of details like how would you join carpeting and tile in a 'designed' way?
What they didn't talk about was what effect the color and finish combinations might have on worker productivity. I was pretty sure I've read articles on that topic and surely in designing office space (as we were) worker productivity and motivation should be part of that discussion.