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What is the Workplace?

24 August 2019, by

“One of the challenges in our industry is the myriad of definitions and technical-terms used interchangeably to describe the “workplace” or aspects of the workplace”, says TwentyTwo Director and Strategy Lead, Duncan Mitchell.

“We are just as guilty! Clients regularly hear terms like workspace, workplace and working environment being used to describe the place where work is done.

But here is the problem – the “place” where work is done is only one element of the “workplace” in our view.

The use of varied terms is not only confusing but perhaps in hindsight, it has also limited our ability to have more meaningful conversations across organisations on what the workplace is and the potential it holds.”

We’re passionate about the role the workplace can play in businesses success, so TwentyTwo’s workplace expert Nick Ray has tackled the definition, providing a considered solution and solid grounding on how we believe organisational leaders should be thinking about their workplace.


 How would you describe the workplace?

 The first question is whether you consider the workplace the building you work in, or a space within the building where you work? Or is it something more conceptual, encompassing different elements such as the people you work with and how you work? 

The reason I want to consider this conundrum is that I believe many organisations are not able to have an informed discussion about how and where the physical environment fits into their strategy for driving organisational success. 

As Duncan highlighted, over the years we have used a variety of terms to try and explain that the best workplace solutions are about so much more than just a great design, but the message can be confusing with an imprecise use of language.

So here is the challenge. I want to be able to talk about the dynamic model we have for understanding the “system” (of which the physical environment is part of) but what do I call it? Do I introduce a new term into the arena and hope that people work out what it means or do I use the term workplace knowing that it could mean something to you that it doesn’t to me?  


What workplace means across teams

I spend my working day focused on this area, but I often wonder how this plays out to the leaders within organisations. I imagine they are inundated with new initiatives from across the business all involving the “workplace”. Consider these examples:

  • The people and culture team might be seeking to change employee experience by using the workplace.
  • The organisational strategy team are talking about enabling the workplace to drive innovation.
  • The IT team have changed how they organise work and need an agile workplace.
  • The Property team see the rapid changes in the organisation and want an agile workplace, but not the same agile as IT.
  • The new “people working policies” mean more people are working remotely, so we need a virtual workplace.


The TwentyTwo Solution: the Workplace Model

For me all of these initiatives encompass a more accurate definition of the workplace, which is why we have aggregated these into four key elements: 

  1. People and organisation
  2. Technology
  3. Operations
  4. Physical Environment

To develop a true picture of the workplace it needs to encompass an organisations' people, their skills, experience and behaviours; the organisations systems, processes and procedures; and the technology used to support how work gets done - alongside the more obvious physical environment.

 TWTWorkplaceModel 1 

So to come back to the name. I don’t think I can throw out the term workplace. It is a phrase used by so many different parts of the businesses we are working with and in so many different ways that it in fact talks to the complexity we have been grappling with.   As a result, we’re calling it the Workplace Model.  It’s multi-dimensional because to develop a high-performance or optimal workplace you require all four elements and some bigger picture thinking. It requires a systems approach where all aspects are considered part of the solution. My next blog will start to unravel this complexity and present a new way of understanding an organisations unique workplace needs.




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