LinkedIn recently shared a fabulous photo series titled “Where I work” featuring workspaces and work habits of what it calls “thought leaders” – essentially all knowledge workers. Each of the 50+ places were described by their occupants. It was just awesome to see them and the amount of thought and insight that went into their design and customization.
The LinkedIn article was a pleasant complement to my current re-reading of “Peopleware” – one of the all-time classics for management of knowledge workers. The book dedicates one of its complete sections to “The Office Environment” and how it is one of the key components of effective work (and the most abused and ignored one as well).
Going through the picture series, I could not help extract common themes and patterns even from a widely eclectic and diverse collection of people and businesses. Not surprisingly, many resonate with the ideas in Peopleware. One cannot emphasize the importance of a personalized, open and comfortable workspace and the impact it has on one’s work.
Here are the common themes I found (you are welcome to add to them):
Customization Everyone customized their workspace to a great extent to cater to their style and preferences. We are all unique and with quirks and subtleties that work just for us. A smart worker leverages those in her workspace. She makes workspace an extension of herself. It may be doing their one-on-ones in a long walk or on a couch than ‘across’ a desk, putting motivating memorabilia, placing an array of comfort couches to nap in, picking a color scheme, orientation of their desks, having adjustable standing desks or simply having a good company in your office.
Move away from Traditional Offices The nature of work has changed significantly and so has the workspace. While you may find traditional corporate offices but the new customized and innovative workspaces seem to be catching up. And there is nothing fundamentally wrong in it. Workspace is a means to an end; not an end itself. While Oliver Bussman’s case may be extreme, the workspaces today are certainly more different, diverse and creative than they were about 50 years ago (a time when knowledge workers were not that pervasive). Some are truly different and possibly an affront to the conservative, but then you can expect anything from Richard Branson.
Value in the View Not everyone can have a window office but where possible folks leveraged (and boasted) the view from their workspace. Having myself worked from a place with a fabulous view of mountains for years, I can relate to the boasting and more importantly its impact on productivity. Whether its a view of the Manhattan skyline or goat paddocks, a great view always adds an aesthetic dimension and serves as a source of inspiration and relaxation.
Focus on Organizational Needs One’s workspace is an extension of oneself – but it is also a manifestation of what the organization is and needs. A collection of workspaces needs to contribute to organization’s objectives and culture. An open floor, collaborative and franticly electric floor suits the high-activity and real-time demands of Bloomberg business or CNBC (everybody including CEO sits on an open floor in Bloomberg). It does not make sense to be segregated in cubicles or offices when most of the work is real-time and collaborative. On the other hand, Deepak Chopra’s mind-body healing clinic provides a serene and calm environment that compliments what he wants to do. While personalization is important, it cannot be antithetical to the organization’s aim.
Sunlight Alongside the value of view, another precious commodity is sunlight. Having a sunny and naturally lit room adds to a productive workplace and serves as a key tenet in modern workplaces. Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO even has started doing his 1-1s walking in the sunlight!
The value of Glass Glass walls or partitions offer a perfect tool to provide private space without compromising on openness and connectivity. Many executives today seem to have a preference of having a glass office which while affords them privacy keeps them connected to the others (and even lets them communicate silently). Glass gives an overall open feeling to the entire office, specially if the overall covered space is limited. There is great Power of a Glass Wall.
The Standing Desk I never knew standing desks are so in vogue now. Health conscious workers who know they would be sitting most of the day have taken to standing desks. There is one with a treadmill. There is an even standing desk movement! They believe that your chair is your enemy.
Peopleware said that the cost of an employee’s workspace to the company is about 1/20th of what he is paid in salary and benefits. Considering the immense productivity and cultural benefits of a good workspace, it is foolish to save money on the space. Its like you attempting to save a small portion of a dollar to sacrifice a large portion of the 20!