The 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity: Chapter 12 – The 6 Factors and Workplace Design

The 6 Factors Knowledge Worker Productivity describe a sort of ‘social infrastructure’. Fundamentally what we’re saying is that where organisations or units depend on creativity, ingenuity and knowledge for their business success, the 6 factors are vital in releasing the energy, commitment and insights of individuals and organisations and focusing it on business goals. Workplace design is a crucial tool that can be used to boost workplace productivity.

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For those in ‘workplace making and managing’ professions (Real Estate, Facilities Management, Workplace, Design, Project Management) the 6 factors provide a new ‘science’ to be used to guide the office design and management of the workplace. Leaders can use the factors in discussions with colleagues in HR and IT and with senior leaders who we’re finding ‘get’ the 6 Factors. Instead of workplace design being driven by fad and fashion, at last we have some positive science against which to design and manage the workplace.

So how can workplace professionals use the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity? Here are a few thoughts, including some playful ideas…

Fresh start

If you are involved in an office relocation or the creation of a new workplace you have a moment to be the catalyst for a discussion based on the question ‘As a business, what are we trying to achieve and how can the workplace be used as an enabler?’. All too often this moment is lost along with the opportunity to use workplace transformation as a mighty weapon in the battle to modernise the organisation and set it on its way for the next 5, 10, or 15 years.

Clearly if enhanced workplace productivity is one of the things you are trying to achieve, you have the opportunity to share the science of the 6 Factors with leaders and design your workplace to enable the 6 factors to be brought to life. You can also use your change management programme to let people know about the 6 factors and what behaviours you’d like to cultivate.

Social cohesion

It’s clear that if you sit next to the same people every day you can become very socially cohesive with them, but you do so to the exclusion of relationships with other members of your team, division or organisation.

Getting people to sit in different places, overhearing different conversations and enabling the formation of new friendships and sharing of knowledge are key to social cohesion and so a mobile workplace infrastructure (IT, space, services) is key to making this happen.

Another organisation ‘gamified’ the idea by operating ‘desk bingo’ where in a month you have to have sat at every desk in your team area.

There are other things you can do to facilitate social cohesion spatially like making sure each team has a “home” which reinforces the sense of team identity and is meaningful to them – but doesn’t serve to make others feel unwelcome. In addition, having shared community spaces on each floor, creating a ‘heart’ for a building, and encouraging people to come out from their own locations to meet or eat; designing restaurants as a ‘destination’ social space; running lunches and social events with different themes to bring people together that may not normally come together should enhance cross team cohesion – so often lacking in many of today’s silo’d organisations.

Social cohesion is a critical aspect that must be incorporated into the workplace design in order to maxmise workplace productivity. If unsure, speak with an AWA workplace consultant in regards to how to master this important factor.

Perceived Supervisory Support

Create workplace design that will enable leaders to sit with different members of the team every day, allowing for continual yet non-invasive support and coaching. This will enable the leader to demonstrate support and allow the team to get to know the leader better as a person. Include places for quiet coaching conversations that don’t feel like you’re being taken to the woodshed.

Having a leader locked in an office may aid his/her ego/ability to concentrate, but it deprives the leader of a powerful source of information about what’s going on in his/her team, who is feeling what and reinforces the ‘power difference’ between leader and team members. But IF private offices ARE a part of your office landscape, consider fitting them out so they can double as meeting rooms when the occupant isn’t in.

And given what we described above about shared community areas, permission – and indeed encouragement – to use them and that double-as-a-meeting-room office is crucial.

Information Sharing & Transactive Memory

Support visual persistence – give teams walls, boards or other methods to write/post things related to their work and their progress. We’ve seen systems like u-channels that can support 4’x8’ lightweight boards, so they can be displayed in one location (say, the team’s project room), then taken to another (like a presentation room to review things with senior leadership).

Make sure the team has places to do their group work in close proximity, but without distracting their not-in-the-discussion colleagues, to make quick updates or just-in-time problem solving easy. Knowledge sharing in a knowledge economy can have significant workplace productivity effects on employee performance.

Make a workplace design fit for collaboration, it requires a different approach to meeting spaces. For example, try giving them crazy names. Why, because your people’s recall of the experiences they have in a place is aided by the memory of the event and the place. Create meeting rooms that are designed to maximise eye contact with ‘easy to use’ IT tools to access and share information. Introducing social tools like Yammer, Jive and Sharepoint enable you to share knowledge, get help and know who knows what.

Vision and goal clarity

Here, again, support visual persistence with graphics and/or mobile displays to make visible the team’s vision, purpose and key goals so that the team are reminded of their contribution to the larger objectives of their department or organization, as well as their own team so they and other teams they work with can see how what they do links to the others. I visited a car manufacturer some time ago whose main goal was to reduce the time from the ‘idea’ to the introduction of a new model. I was astounded to see that each department was locked behind a secure door, there was no way of knowing what each department did and it for sure didn’t send the right message about working together to reduce time to market. Interestingly, they also had a ‘street’ and were surprised that it didn’t seem busy and people were not using it for the purpose it was designed for.

External communication

As was mentioned above, Yammer and other social media tools can help workers to learn more about others in the organization and their skills and interests. All very helpful if their team needs expertise they don’t already have.

No reason why Real Estate & Facilities Management can’t be the catalyst for ‘show and tell’ sessions, facilitating a systematic programme of cross organisation presentations or events perhaps at lunch time. Adding in some fun helps too. Another idea is to facilitate a ‘work anywhere’ programme allowing people to work with teams in other parts of the building or in other buildings to be exposed to a different points of view or a different world than their own. This program goes hand in hand with agile working, giving your employees the ability to adapt and empower their performance no matter where they are.

Or, for teams who frequently need to coordinate with members of other teams, include touchdowns within the team’s own cluster of desks, so those ad hoc members can sit with the team as one of them as information or insights are exchanged, or problem solving happens.

Trust

Having only enclosed spaces with opaque walls so that people can’t see what’s going inside isn’t going to support trust. While some may be very appropriate, like the interview room in the HR department, having some measure of transparency not only feels more open to knowing what’s happening, it can also facilitate finding a colleague or feeling encouraged to join in on a discussion. Trust can be supported by making things both physically and behaviourally open and transparent so as to indicate that there’s nothing to hide. Trying to break down barriers between teams who need each other (and discouraging silo’d working) is harder when there are physical batteries between them. On the other hand, having some areas available for privacy and confidentiality means that sensitive conversations don’t have to take place where they can be overheard by those not intended to be party to the discussion!

Awareness

The 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity are an important thing for everyone to get involved in and to be reminded of. You can use walls with graphics of the 6 factors providing a constant reminder of these aspects that make a difference to indiviual employee performance as well as the performance of the team and community.

Finally, as a leader, adopting workplace ‘science’ in delivering your role will also enhance your professional standing in a business context because we’re finding that the 6 factors resonates with leaders and at last gives a baseline against which creative designers can use to create meaning workplace design projects.

Too often office interior design and office refurbishment is lead by the idea of creating a modern office. It is time workplace design is used to boost employee performance. A strategic design involves extensive space planning in order to capture the 6 factors necessary to improve workplace productivity. Get in touch with myself or a workplace strategy consultant to discuss how to create a workplace design tailored to the needs of your specific organisation.

Our next chapter will be discussing the 6 factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity and Workplace Technology

For more information contact an AWA workplace management consultant on +44 20 7743 7110 or email info@advanced-workplace.com with your inquiry. Advanced Workplace Associates are based in London, United Kingdom but now work internationally across the United States of America, Asia and Europe.