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Creating a Connected & Best-Fit Workspace: What Matters


Illustration showing connected people
Image: whyframeshot -
Connecting all the elements of the workspace just makes sense.
This isn’t just about what I’d describe as horizontal connection or alignment, linking up the digital and physical parts of the workspace and the people using these. It also needs vertical connection, linking all these elements to the outcomes — the human, organization, and social capital — we need to create (see my initial post, “Getting Strategic About the Connected Workspace”).
The fact that we haven’t done this in the past doesn’t mean that there’s any logic in not doing so today. And although the physical workspace may not be the most obvious area of focus for many organizations today, it is actually even more important that we think about using both the digital and physical workspaces in as smart a way as possible once employees return to some of their previous, in-office work arrangements.
This is one of the reasons that thinking about the direct and indirect relationships between aspects of our connected workspace strategies is so useful, as I described in my second piece (see “3 Strategic Opportunities for the Connected Workspace”). By being clear about the outcomes we need to deliver business results; the processes, tools and activities that will provide the outcomes; and the mechanisms that will support these processes, we ensure that these workspace strategies are best fit, rather than these being based on best practices simply copied from elsewhere.
A best-fit workspace strategy is designed for a particular organization, its business strategy, and other contextual factors. These factors will often include the organization’s technological savvy; its history, and positive or negative experiences with strategic initiatives; its culture; the capability of its managers; and the expectations of the workforce.
The strategy should focus a workspace on what it would support and enable, and how using it would feel. It should be very clear that the workspace fits a particular organization’s needs — that it would have much less relevance for a near competitor, should that competitor want to copy it. Built following a best-fit strategy, the workspace provides a firm foundation for the organization’s culture and its corporate and employer brands, as well.
As a high-level illustration, a best-fit strategy would inform whether the workspace needs mainly to provide information to employees or to involve these people in decision making. Or, it would inform whether it should focus on supporting managers or empowering individual actions. And so on. All workspaces will need to do some of all of these things, yet small differences in how an organization prioritizes one against another can lead to large differences in how they work, and the impacts that they can have.
Potential Problems with Best Practice
Before writing further about best fit, it may be useful to explain why I think adopting best practice, while common, is generally a bad idea — at least without combining it with best fit, too.
My first reason is that best practices always use what has happened in the past as a base. Everything is changing so quickly now that copying something that works well elsewhere, particularly by the time the organization can apply it, risks being well and truly behind the times. We increasingly need to generate next practices that will take our organizations forward, not use past practices that anchor organizations in the way things used to be.
Secondly, the lack of vertical connection means there’s no clear link between the workspace and what the organization is trying to achieve. The workspace is really important and it’s not enough to ensure it provides a compelling employee experience. It needs to provide the right compelling experience too.
Thirdly, organizations are connected, integrated, holistic systems, which is why both horizontal and vertical alignment are so important. There are very few practices that are always positive in absolute terms. Instead, their impact tends to depend on the way they work relative to other aspects of the organization.
In my own area of HR, research by the University of Southern California suggests that the effectiveness of HR activities depends upon the business strategies being followed. For example, an organization focusing on innovation would seem to benefit strongly from investments in social networking activities and systems (correlation coefficient r = 0.33). However, investments in employee relations correlates in reduced performance for these same innovation-focused businesses (r = −0.16). That is not an issue with employee relations — other businesses, for example those using a sustainability-based strategy, would seem to benefit from investments in this practice area (r = 0.16). The research clearly indicates that what matters is not best practice, but rather best fit.
Copying a best practice isn’t always a bad idea. Doing this can provide an efficient way of doing new things, and most best practices are likely to do more good than harm. But best-fit activities should always accompany these approaches.
For example, a best practice in physical workspace design is to give people access to quiet and active spaces (with social distancing a new mandate). But what these spaces may look like for a particular organization should still be best fit.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2, in which I share more suggestions on creating a best-fit workspace.