Let behaviours model conventions
Workplace Principle 3: Facilitate Collaboration
A great way to naturally encourage collaboration at a workplace is to create home bases that attract employees, and from where they want to carry out the majority of their tasks (read more on that here).
In order to maximise the effectiveness of these spaces, you should let each group’s needs and behaviours guide the way. One way to do this is by creating separate office zones with their own sets of rules and conventions.
Determine work patterns
In home bases that house workspaces, agreed-upon conventions can vary to match the needs of different groups. For units whose tasks demand a lot of individual work, it can be beneficial to establish rules around minimising sound, while those who need to integrate with each other and collaborate need to create rules that do not inhibit these interactions.
Rules are especially important for groups that are less mobile. Research shows that these groups (like those reliant on paper) change their workspace less frequently, which decreases productivity due to noise and interruptions. Thus it becomes important for these groups that rules of conduct in the home base meet their needs.
This makes it important to identify less mobile groups and create an environment that works better for them.
One way to differentiate between zones is by creating guidelines regarding sound level. In zones intended for focus work, the environment should aim to be kept quiet and free from interactions. Meanwhile, environments that allow interaction should be more tolerant of noise. That way you create different areas for different types of activities.
Yet studies show that it is common for employees not to follow these guidelines. One reason for this is that the rules might be considered ambiguous, which could come down to how the rule was created.
For example, a rule might be instated based on how loudly you can talk in a space, which could be very relative – what is considered loud for one person might not be loud for someone else. A rule like ‘no digital meetings allowed in this space’, however, might be easier to abide by. Either you take a digital meeting there or you don’t.
One way to establish working conventions is by dividing spaces into colour-coded zones. Let’s provide some examples.
- Red zones – for individual work with a focus on privacy. In these spaces, interaction, conversations, and collaboration are not allowed. They could be private work rooms, spots in a library, workspaces with high dividers in silent rooms or in parts of an open-plan that are more secluded.
- Orange zones – for individual work with some degree of interaction tolerated. Spontaneous and short collaborations are allowed, as are conversations or meetings that haven’t been booked and that don’t go on for more than 5 minutes. Digital meetings are not allowed. These spaces often include desk areas with dividers of various heights.
- Green zones – for individual work that permits availability, meetings, and interactions. Both booked and spontaneous meetings – digital and in-person – are allowed regardless of length and form. These spaces also work well for individual tasks where co-workers can be available to each other and aren’t bothered by noise. These spaces include desk areas, project spaces, open meeting spaces, and temporary workspaces like touchdown-spots.
By designing home bases from the perspective of the group’s needs, and placing groups with similar needs in the same home base, you can create an environment in which employees feel that they can carry out most of their tasks.
Avoid designated desks
Within a home base, employees should be able to sit wherever they want. To maintain flexibility and make sure that the home base isn’t perceived as lacking in individual workspaces, you should avoid creating home bases within home bases – in other words, that some spots within the home base only can be used by specific people or groups.
If you start designating desks, flexibility will decrease as the buffer for desk spaces decreases. A consequence could be that if a group is ever larger than usual, employees might feel there isn’t enough space in the home base. At the same time another group may have less people at the office that day, but it won’t feel natural for other groups’ members to use the empty desks that ‘belong’ to another group.
Click here for more information about the five principles and the Workplace Adequacy™ Framework.
This article is based on the book, Workplace Strategy for the Flexible Office by Aram Seddigh. For more information on the book and workplace strategy in general, click here.
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