hybrid workplace jargon

B is for Behaviour – Decoding Workplace Jargon Series

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A short series attempting to decode hybrid workplace jargon to foster a more nuanced discussion on future work capabilities, workstyles and workplace in a post-pandemic world.  Part 2 “B is for Behaviour” focuses on need for purposeful design to support value-adding Future of Work (FOW) behaviours and capabilities.

B is for Behaviour

Behaviour-driven design for purpose not for photography

How vs Where Work Should be Performed

The first in this series of ‘workplace alphabet ’ articles suggested that despite the high levels of trust bestowed between work colleagues and their leaders during the pandemic lockdowns, the desire to control resources and people underpins much of the leadership thinking around future workplace strategy.

Similarly, the desire to control, to work in way that feels familiar, suppresses the opportunity for organisations to engage in a conversation around how work could be performed in favour of going straight to where it should be performed.

‘Return to office’ often sounds alarmingly like a metaphor for return to how things were – office work that’s fundamentally little-changed in over a century but for the addition of email and smart phones in the last 20 years!

It seems to me that in too many cases workplace professionals are forging ahead redesigning offices for the way people have been working for decades based on the binary assumption that some activities will predominantly be done at home and others in the office.

We haven’t achieved what we have on this planet by going back in time.  Despite so much hype in mainstream management media about the ‘Future of Work’ (FOW) we seem to have missed the concept that FOW is happening now, every day, and if anything the need for FOW skills has been accelerated by the socio-economic responses to the pandemic.

We have an unexpected but timely window within which to redesign work activities and align behaviours with the emerging needs of the digital economy and of the incoming Generation Z workforce.

Focus on Work Styles Rather than Work Places

A focus on work styles rather than work places will help us understand the behaviours and experiences that contribute to performance.  The purpose of the future workplace  – and hence its design – will flow from what successful work looks like for an organisation and its people.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report lists many of the top capabilities that have been highlighted by researchers, institutions and management consultants for the past five years.  Key amongst these for workplace design are analytical and critical thinking, active learning, initiative, creativity, social influence, flexibility and resilience, problem solving and dealing with complexity. 

Instead of asking how many desks we need to support focus work and how many meeting rooms and informal ‘collaboration spaces’  we need for group activities,

let’s ask ourselves how we might purposefully compose and arrange different types of furniture, levels of enclosure, sightlines and pathways to support the development and expression of critical FOW behaviours.

I acknowledge this seems to be easier said than done!  New workplace projects are often under time and budget constraint, and there is understandably a strong temptation to skip business needs analysis and go straight to concept and furniture selection.  During a recent conversation with a colleague responsible for global workplace experience he shared an anecdote about a recent office refurbishment project-managed by an internal committee obsessed with design details rather than purpose.

Although the result was a “perfectly good looking design” the various settings and connector spaces lacked the ability to nudge behaviours intuitively in the desired direction.

We agreed that more effort needs to be directed towards developing a performance brief for the workplace to inform purposeful design.

Behaviour-driven design for purpose not for photography is even more important when office footprints are reducing.

Every square foot of space needs to justify its existence, its contribution to employee effectiveness and experience.

This requires us to precisely define the intended purpose of different spaces and settings, and translate this into a design that communicates its intent intuitively, without the need for instructions at the door or taped to the table.

The next article in this series will explore one of the key activities at the heart of many new workplace strategies,  and expose the risks in a generalised one-size fits all approach to activity-based workplace design.