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3 Strategic Opportunities for the Connected Workspace


Illustration of workers with puzzle pieces, to show connected workspace
Image: bestpixels -
In my last WorkSpace Connect post, I explained that in addition to improving the employee experience, the connected workspace can help create organizational capabilities, or the qualities in our people and organizations that enable a business to be successful. These capabilities consist of human, organization, and social capital.
The Most Obvious Opportunity: A Role in Organization Capital and a Direct Impact on Business Results
Organization capital, or the value provided to a business by the way it organizes its people, is the most obvious opportunity to focus on for both digital and physical workspaces.
This is firstly because organization capital is really important. Most effort in my own profession, HR, tends to concentrate on individual employees, but we increasingly understand the organization has more impact on business performance than just the people themselves. For example, Dave Ulrich, HR guru and business professor at the University of Michigan, suggests that the organization has four times the value of the workforce.
Secondly, the connected workspace plays an increasingly important part in organization design. While organization design hasn’t traditionally included the physical workspace, or, in more recent times, the digital one, it does need to do so. This doesn’t mean organization designers need to worry about the size of meeting rooms (when people start using them again!), but they do need to ensure the rooms and other aspects of the physical workspace align with the organization’s structures and processes, etc. And particularly with so many people working at home now, the digital workspace has basically become the organization for many people. So I often recommend to organization designers that the most popular representation of an organization, McKinsey’s 7-S Model (style, skills, systems, structure, staff, strategy, shared values), is broadened out to include an eighth “s” — space — as a further organizational element.
As an example of this approach, the digital workspace could focus on providing information about business changes, ensuring employees can align and collaborate with other people around new opportunities, thus helping to increase their impact on the business. While doing this wouldn’t create new qualities in the workforce (human capital), it would enable people to work more effectively, providing value from the way we organize them (organization capital).
Therefore, in this scenario, both digital and physical workspace designers will need to work closely with organization designers to ensure space plays a key role in helping people do their work better. By contributing to the creation of organization capital in this way, these spaces will have a direct strategic impact on the businesses they exist within.
Note also that the connected workspace includes people too, so digital and physical workspace designers do still need to work with HR to ensure integration across all these areas. However, the focus here is on the organization, not the people, so HR’s role is simply making sure the people have the skills they need to use the workspace effectively.
A Second Major Opportunity: Developing Human and Social Capital and Indirectly Impacting the Business
However, there are other opportunities. In particular, digital and physical workspaces can also be used to develop the value provided by people, rather than that provided by the way they are organized. This is about enhancing employees’ capability to perform, either by developing human capital, the value of the people, or social capital, the value of the connections between the people.
In most organizations today, a difference in business performance results from the way people work together (through collaboration, cooperation, etc.) rather than the qualities of the individual employees (their skills and engagement, etc.). Therefore, out of the two types of capability, social capital is generally the more important. So… I recommend extending McKinsey’s model with yet another “s,” this one: social relationships.
One example of this could be a digital workspace that provides learning opportunities that help people, communities, or networks develop. In this example, digital and physical workspace designers would need to work alongside HR and organization development professionals to integrate their approaches to supporting learning and enabling communities and networks to thrive.
This means that rather than or as well as focusing on space as organization capital and its direct links to business results, designers can also support and enable their businesses indirectly, through the impact of workspace on human and especially social capital.
An Additional Opportunity: Enabling Processes Leading to Human and Social Capital
Finally, there is a third opportunity, which is to use digital and physical workspaces to support processes that create human and social capital, rather than to develop these capabilities more directly.
An example might be a digital workspace built around providing guides and information on using an organization’s HR and other management processes. In this case, these processes inform human and social capital, and the workspace just provides the knowledge and support for this.
Prioritizing One Opportunity
While the connected workspace will generally support all three opportunities, it can be useful to prioritize one above the rest. Doing this can provide a more strategic focus for the workspace in comparison to designing it around more transactional use cases.
As suggested above, the most obvious focus for the connected workspace is acting as an integrated part of the broader organization to create organization capital, especially as we now understand the impact the organization can have.
However, the second opportunity to develop human and especially social capital may be even more important. HR guru Ulrich suggests that the organization has more value than its people but his estimation of organizational value would include social as well as organization capital. Therefore, the most transformational opportunity may be to focus the workspace on enabling the development of people’s connections in order to grow the organization's social capital.
As a final suggestion, I would note that the connected workspace is now so important that all designers should be focusing on one of these two main opportunities, not just using it to support organizational processes (the third opportunity above). Prioritizing one of the two main opportunities provides the basis to make the connected workplace a real generator of business success.