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Creating Value Through Workspace Design


Illustration showing value creation
Image: VectorMine -
I’ve not had much response to my previous article suggesting the way we’re thinking about the return to the office is wrong. Perhaps my own thinking is suspect — that’s always a risk when you’re trying to see something from a different perspective. However, I believe the lack of feedback is down to something else, as this aligns with what I frequently see within HR — the connected workspace discipline where I spend most of my time.
I think workspace disciplines are too reserved and often insufficiently willing to challenge the status quo. I will hold my hand up and admit that HR often leads in this respect, but I do think it is the case in IT and facilities/real estate, too.
All these disciplines do need to focus on aligning with the business. But we also need to be able to raise provocations and introduce new insights and approaches that will lead to change. This is a critical requirement for moving from best practice to best fit, which I have written about previously.
Adding, Then Creating, Value
Being willing to see things from a new angle, and challenging the ways everybody else sees them, are also particularly important when everything around us is changing. And if there was one time this was happening it is now. Carrying on doing things in the way they were done in the old normal will clearly not be up to scratch. We need to take a different look at things and reinvent our approaches, not just try to fit old approaches into newly emerging requirements.
The current change is also very different from other major transformations in the past, in that the workspace isn’t just an important add-on to major strategic change. Rather, using the workspace effectively is actually the major organizational challenge that we face. We are going to have to shift the whole focus of the workspace and rebalance the physical and digital elements within it.
Given this situation, it will be important that we do not just try to redevelop the workspace to meet business needs, but that we use this opportunity to inform what the business may be capable of. An obvious example is that if we are no longer going to be able to use a physical workplace effectively, then rather than making the best of a bad job, we may be better off switching the way we work, moving to remote only, and using that as an opportunity to attract talent previously unobtainable due to the constraints of a physical location.
I call doing this “creating value”; it contrasts with “adding value,” which is what we do (and should do) most of the time.
Adding value is about aligning the workspace with business needs, ensuring the digital and physical workspaces, plus our people and organization, all support a company’s other actions to meet its existing business objectives. Adding value is really important and most HR teams I work with can certainly still add more value than they currently do. (I’m not singling HR out here — I suspect the point applies equally well to other workspace disciplines, too.)
Creating value goes beyond adding value, providing a completely different and possibly even more important opportunity. Creating value focuses on growing the value of the workspace, measured through the organization capital it delivers and the human and social capital it enables. Creating value provides a company not just the opportunity to meet existing business objectives, but also to set new or more stretching business goals. This means that rather than just using the workspace to align behind strategic initiatives in the rest of the business, we are creating strategic value from what we do in the workspace itself.
Why It’s Important
Creating value through workspace design is important for at least two key reasons. Firstly, the workspace is really important. As McKinsey & Co. authors suggest in the book, “Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage,” people, workspace, and organization effectiveness — organization health, in their terminology — is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage in today’s world. And that was written before adding in the paramount issue of organizing in the pandemic: how we make people as productive as possible by using and connecting physical and digital workspaces in new ways.
Secondly, creating value should be something that all workspace professionals want to do. If all we do is support a company’s ability to meet its existing business objectives, then we shouldn’t be surprised if other business professionals think about and refer to our disciplines as support functions. If we want to have a strategic role, and be seen as strategic players, then we have to create value.
Creating value is also essential when contexts and requirements change. So this is surely the best point there has ever been for us to be more strategic around the use of the connected workspace, and rethink from basic principles what it is that we need it to do.
We still need to take account of organizational strategy and context. It’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Particularly while working in the pandemic, we also need to focus on the opportunities inherent in a best-fit workspace, through the way that it creates organization capabilities (human, social, and organization capital), and use this to create value for the business.
As I wrote in my last article, focusing on groups and networks, and using asynchronous and synchronous technology, as well as smaller and larger meeting spaces, offers the potential for being a useful new workspace best practice. Businesses could tailor this to develop the creating value, best-fit, connected workspace strategies they need at the current time.