Author: Mike Jebber

4 Elements of a Successful Open Workspace

In recent years, many people have written about a wide range of experiences with Open Space Work Configurations. Some have experienced benefits to productivity, innovation, and collaboration, while others have witnessed a decrease in productivity, team morale, and focus. This discrepancy in outcomes has resulted in a facile argument heard in offices across the world: “Yeah an open workspace works for some companies, but it would never work here.”

 

Image result for the office jim and dwight“Our office is…special.”

This difference in experiences is not necessarily due to limitations in the Open Workspace Concept, but rather a misunderstanding in their application.

I have been fortunate enough to be in and around over 40 uniquely different space configurations (some less “open” than advertised) both early in my career as a member of different teams, and later as a consultant helping others create effective space.  I have witnessed amazing improvements in collaboration, productivity and morale from successfully implemented open space settings, as well as the fallout from poorly implemented ones.

The successful configurations all had four common concepts working for them:

 

The “Open” SpaceThe Main Collaboration Areas

2-hootsuite-blog-0534Flexibility is key here.  Flexibility allows for those who use a space to own its function, and ownership contributes greatly to the initial and continued success of any space. The more flexible the space, the broader range of activities it can accommodate.

Improper planning and implementation of an open space area can create a very limiting and sometimes chaotic environment.  To avoid this, an effective open space should be designed to allow teams to conduct many types of work efforts.  This helps promote a layout that is practical, dynamic, versatile, profitable, and fun.  Also, you don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of money to create an effective open space.  Simplicity, flexibility and diversity of configuration should always be a top focus. Save your money for talent, quality tools of your trade, and comfortable chairs!

 

The “Other” Space – Complementary Quiet Gathering and Break-Out Spaces

The “open” space is only part of an effective space.  An effective structure is a blending of open areas and private gathering spaces.  Ensuring sufficient “other” space enables private conversations, group break-out sessions, or occasional quiet/focus time, all of which are necessary to maximize any team’s potential.

This structure also allows for better utilization of many existing configurations. I’ve seen effective setups where offices and cubes which were primary work spaces become breakout/quiet space and former large meeting areas become the base locations of teams to gather and work.  Open space without complementary gathering/break-out space will fall short of achieving gains and may fail altogether.

 

Utilization of the Space Complementary Techniques, Tools, Ceremonies, and Cadence

get-a-way-spaceA great space (open and other) does not guarantee team success on its own.  In many cases, the open space concept and structure is completely foreign to those expected to utilize it.  Teams need to learn how to effectively leverage the newly designed space in ways that enhance productivity and innovative thinking.

Learning and leveraging complementary techniques for working and collaborating in this new environment are critical to gaining early positive momentum within the space and key to achieving sustainable success within it.

 

 

 

 

Focus on Sustainability Proper Mindset, Team Dynamic, and Organizational Support

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So you have the space, the techniques, and the talent…but will it last?  Companies have started open space concepts with successful early outcomes only to watch the benefits fade over time.  If given enough time to mature, the success of an open space concept will become part of the cultural dynamic of the organization.  Organizational and cultural support for the approach during the early stages of learning and over a sustained period of time is necessary for long-term success.

Eventually, given time, a productive space teaches leaders and talent that it’s less about the way people work together in a specific part of the building and more about the way people work together period.

Team Building: Diversity Uncovers What Experience Can't

 

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Diversity tends to bring a broader perspective and a broader perspective is critical to strong team building. A good friend of mine recently told me a story that illustrates just how important diversity (in skill set, age, gender, background, etc.) is to building successful teams and how diversity finds things experience alone will not.

My friend’s daughter recently started an internship as a mechanical engineer with a well-respected global company who manufactures plumbing equipment. Her first assignment was with a group of very talented and experienced engineers who were working on a defect issue with one specific line of faucets. Returns were extremely high and customer ill-will toward the company brand was growing.

The faucet sold well because of style and features, however, defects on the model were abnormally high.The engineering team, as all good experienced teams would do, had been pouring over every aspect of the manufacturing process, looking at packaging, looking at suppliers parts, doing detailed reviews of designs and design specs, assembling and dis-assembling loads of units right off the line trying to find the issue. My friend’s daughter, being new to faucets and having never installed one before, grabbed a finished product right off the line, sat down with the instructions, and proceeded to put the faucet together according to the steps provided.

No one else had thought to do this! To her amazement, the instructions walked a customer through a group of steps which not only broke the faucet, it voided the warranty as well. The product was mechanically sound and functioned perfectly when assembled properly; however, the average non-plumber customer follows instructions and doesn’t rely on a mechanical engineering degree or years of experience working with plumbing to install their own faucets.

An issue that had cost a company a considerable amount of money, capacity, and consumer ill-will, was solved by a rookie mechanical engineer intern without her utilizing her engineering skills. All of the team members working on the project had been putting faucets of ANY kind together for many years without ever pulling out instructions. They could assemble a faucet sight-unseen, on the fly and it would work perfectly, so no one even thought about considering the instructions as a source of the issue. It wasn’t ego, it was human nature. The team had been so close to the product for so long they could skip steps to get to a “quicker” result. They also had very similar backgrounds, and experience levels. It happens in every industry.

When asked by management what made her decide to look for problems with the instructions, my friend’s daughter said this:

“I wasn’t, it seemed like a logical place to start. Women and men think differently. I always read the instructions first. You have a lot of women customers so you need more women engineers.”

The perspective that diversity delivers is important. Don’t make the costly mistake of overlooking it.

Learn more about doing things differently in Climbing Mountains With Agile Methods.