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Ralph Dopping

The Shock of the New: Technology and Work Space Solutions

By: Ralph Dopping | June 27, 2013 | 
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The Shock of the New: Technology and Work Space SolutionsBeing in close proximity to each other is how we have traditionally harnessed, and leveraged, our collective knowledge.

Then along came technology.

Asking if technology has changed communication is like asking if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has changed the climate.

We inherently know it has, but we are so immersed it’s hardly noticeable.

Sure, we still meet, talk, and work together, but because of technology we are not as closely tethered to each other anymore.

Do we need to come together, face-to-face, to build consensus or can we do that remotely too?

How does this affect corporate culture?

Culture Shock

Culture can be defined as common behaviors stretched across a period of time, or as people acting on stimuli in close proximity to each other. Without direct proximity, would culture not exist or is common behavior alone enough to form culture?

When you think about a corporation, the probability that each person is in direct contact with more than a few people at a time is unlikely. Employees can’t possibly interact with more than the people in their immediate surroundings on a regular basis.

Regardless, humans are social creatures and they will always seek a way to express themselves to their tribes…in close proximity or not. The result, in a corporation, is culture. Proximity is relative. Behavior is what drives culture.

The New Reality of an Emerging Workforce

It’s common to be connected somewhere: At home, to and from work, and at the office. For the knowledge worker the freedom to work anywhere has become a reality.

The multitude of readily available cloud-based tools is breaking down the barriers of fixed work environments, and continues to support more efficient and effective ways for business to be conducted.

The next generation are key influencers in demanding the opportunities created by flexible work space solutions. What happens when the next generation emerges beyond them? What will they demand? It won’t likely be physical space.

Think of this as the new reality of business and the new reality of an emerging workforce.

How Far and Fast Will the Pendulum Swing?

It will depend on how secure corporations feel with the virtual world. Cost to maintain technology will always be a driver of a corporation’s ability to respond to the new demands of the knowledge worker.

The management response to the idea of a transient workforce is still tenuous. The idea that visibility – being in the office – means results is going to have to change as a workforce evolves alongside technology.

The idea of results-based performance is one of the most challenging hurdles when addressing the evolution of a workforce. Open-minded and trusting business relationships are still opportunistic for most of the corporate world.

The End of the Corner Office?

Utilization and space efficiency studies can expose ‘space waste’ and help organizations begin to understand better how space can be used. For example, senior management, often out of the office, in meetings, or building business may never need dedicated space. Yet, we often see quite the opposite approach.

It’s not uncommon, by current standards, for the average footprint of workspace to be in the range of 225 square feet per person.

Considering ideas, such as shared or bookable work space, these established standards can be easily challenged. Studies have shown even a conservative space reduction of 20 percent is achievable in today’s technology driven workforce. And that can significantly reduce costs borne by real estate, operational requirements and physical assets such as furniture and fixtures.

It takes highly innovative attitudes to take advantage of these opportunities, and in many cases operational risk inhibits experimentation. That’s where the idea of scalability becomes a viable strategy to consider.

Space Optimization Needs Time to Become Effective

Implementing new workstyles requires flexible space that can be changed to accommodate the evolution of a corporation’s functional needs. If space is configured in a way to allow low cost change and reconfiguration, a corporation can be well-positioned to respond to refinements in its work space solutions strategy over time.

The value of fixed space needs to be carefully examined. Every business will have a need for some fixed built-in core operations space, but the remainder can be executed as a furniture solution. Furniture systems can offer solutions for all types of workspace but what’s most important is its inherent flexibility.

A sound real estate strategy coupled with a strategic furniture partnership can bring cost effective change management strategies to life allowing space needs to evolve as the business lifecycle evolves with the changing workforce.

Work Space Solutions

Post-occupancy evaluations (POE) can effectively demonstrate affect operations, employee productivity, culture, and the bottom line. A POE can inform the change management process, and the evolution of space can become part of a corporation’s strategic plan.

The strategic plan can inform future initiatives, drive case studies, and through employee engagement can become part of an organizations culture. Continuous improvement, accountability, and partnership become the cornerstones of such an initiative.

Let me leave you with this thought: Think about workspace as hotel rooms. We use them temporarily, then move on to another location to complete whatever else we have to do. We use hotel rooms to park ourselves, recharge, and store our belongings when we are travelling. They’re simply a touch point in our day.

Why can’t your workspace be considered as transient – and as flexible – as a hotel room?

About Ralph Dopping


Ralph Dopping has called the architecture and design community home since 1987. He builds professional teams for a variety of project types, most recently as a workplace strategist. He currently plies his trade at DIALOG where his quirky, dry sense of humour allows him to maintain a strong results-oriented focus which relies on fun, passion, and hard work.

24 comments
Marketing Gal
Marketing Gal

Great post. As someone who work to jobs, one from home and one in a business, I get a good view of both worlds. I love working from home, but I find it would be helpful  to have a person in the next room to bounce ideas off of. Sending out an email, and not hearing back right away can lull my creative juices. 

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

Awesome. This is something very top-of-mind for me as I'm now working full-time out of a coworking space locally as a founding member. 

Simply being to consult with people from often disparately different careers and businesses makes my work that much better. 

Latest blog post: Poetry Friday: Ezra Pound

belllindsay
belllindsay

Ten points to the person who get's the reference in the title. :) 


barrettrossie
barrettrossie

One day, people will be writing articles like this touting the advantages of people congregating in a common area. They'll be better able to associate, concentrate, collaborate and motivate. Then go out together and become inebriated. :) 

susancellura
susancellura

Hi Ralph, Knowing that there have been articles on companies who have tried "open office environments", and reading that some people don't like not having a space for themselves, how long do you think it will take before the younger generations force such a change? 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Great post, Ralph! As I travel so much for work, I become very accustomed to working from where I am. So much so that I find it a challenge to stay in one place and get anything done at my desk. Yet I found only having a remote office isolating...so trying to find the right mix for me still. 

rdopping
rdopping

@Marketing Gal You nailed one of the biggest issues right on the head. Many corporations struggle with collaboration purely within the organization. Never mind the remote worker. Collaboration has been touted as the next thing in innovation which is, for better or worse, the minimum requirement in order to be competitive. 

We all need to be around people, don't you think?

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@Marketing Gal @RebeccaTodd Good point about having someone in the next room. We're virtual and since we can't be in the next room to bounce ideas off of one another, our workaround is keeping a Google+ Hangout or Skype call open - we don't talk, just work, but it's nice to have that person there in case we do need to bounce ideas off each other. 

rdopping
rdopping

@susancellura You know, one of the things we push heavily in our consulting is a "One size DOES NOT fit all" attitude. We also recognize and identify the "work styles" of an employee base. Introverts work differently from extroverts and the demographics, while homogenized by trends, all see work in different ways.

The Millennial Gen will continue to evolve the workplace and so will their successors just like Gen X influenced the Boomer Gen. Just not to the same degree. Because technology is such a huge factor for the next Gen we will continue to be challenged as designers to better understand the impact on "how" people work as opposed to simply focussing on "where" they work. 

Because we will always have a mix of demographics and now, more and more, cultural diversity in the workplace the issues is no longer open office vs private space. Space solutions need to continue to evolve with the growth of knowledge of the consumer. We are no longer satisfied with a desk in a cubicle farm. It's simply not good enough. 

rdopping
rdopping

@RebeccaTodd Hey Rebecca. Thanks.

The social aspect of humanity plays heavily into the solutions we try to find in office space these days. It's odd that the more technology advances the more our social nature as humans is being tested. I wonder if the expectations that the world puts on us to be everywhere at once drives us more than we care to know.

Marketing Gal
Marketing Gal

@rdopping @Marketing Gal 

No doubt! I work one job from home and in time, it may be the only job I need. However, I love the interaction I get from my second job. To be able to talk, laugh and see it all in "real time" is priceless to me. I am also the mother of 3 and I make sure my kids get OUT and are involved in activities that are not in front of a computer screen. 

rdopping
rdopping

That's awesome. There are similar type spaces on Toronto too. Notably, a local bank, ING, opened a branch downtown with workable space on their 2nd floor. I love the idea of sole proprietors having an opportunity to be in a space where they can share ideas and benefit from the assets a common facility offers.

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