At a recent workshop I held, an attendee referred to their current work environment as “like working in a chicken coop”. This made me wonder how many more people are having this experience of work and what's going wrong to make them feel this way?
We all intuitively build images of our physical space; undersized, noisy, cramped. But more importantly we understand how it feels. The emotions behind the statement above allude to being under-valued, not being treated as an individual and unable to control their own experience. This experience can generate a feeling of hopelessness that can impact on performance.
So how do organisations end up with this type of work environment?
I think at the heart of the problem is workplace planning that is too focused on the efficient use of space and providing everyone with the same work environment. Treating every desk based role as completely interchangeable ignores the needs of teams and individuals and the things that make an organisation unique. This seemingly democratic one size fits all approach fails to support the way work gets done and can, I believe, limit the potential of the organisation.
The need to recognise the needs of individuals and specialist teams has been brought into focus for me over the past years I have worked on a number of projects with science and innovation focused organisations. These organisations are full of individuals, who do really interesting stuff to help answer complex questions and they need specialist environments. The challenge is how to deliver a workplace that truly supports the needs of specialist groups and the individual whilst not compromising the ability of the organisation to meet its financial targets.
A change in thinking
I believe that the key to this is to identify the “value”(of your people) within your organisation and recognise that to generate the right outcomes you have to give individuals the right workplace.
Working with the science based organisations it is easy to connect how specialist work environments support the work that gets done but they often come under the same pressures we see in an office based workplace. The financial pressures within organisations leads to discussions on areas such as reducing the sizes of specialist facilities, merging specialist requirements together, the removal of allocated workspaces and introducing flexible working. Maintaining the balance within the project to ensure the right workspaces are provided is achieved by keeping sight of the operational needs of the organisation, the opportunities for improved performance and recognising the value in its unique way of operating.
Returning to my earlier observations on the delivery of standardised workplaces these are often justified by the application of benchmarked standards that ignore the unique requirements of the organisation. In this “space planning by numbers approach”, specialist needs are merged together into broad categories of space and can lead to dumbed down solutions. This approach can be seen as a great model for delivering the chicken coop experience.
Organisational specific workplace solutions are complex by necessity with the need to support operational needs, organisational strategy, management practices, the role of technology and the organisational culture. Recognising and embracing this complexity is vital to developing a solution that will deliver for the organisation in the future. The failure to recognise the real needs of the specialist teams and individuals can have a profound impact on engagement, performance and organisational culture.
If organisations ignore the needs of individuals and the specialist skills they bring and fail to provide an appropriate work environment, then they are restricting the opportunity for these employees to deliver their true value. Recognising the potential value of providing specialist environments for scientists is obvious, but every person in an organisation is appointed because of the specialist skills and the knowledge they have, so why don’t they get provided the right environment in which they can perform best?
In todays competitive world where everyone seems to be looking to disrupt and do it differently why do we continue to restrict the way our people work and limit their ability to be different and meet their potential?