Think about your workplace and your company’s way of working. Is it easy to make the right decisions at the workplace? Those that lead to positive results? For lots of organisations, this may not be the case.
By creating the right working conditions at the office and remotely, you can increase employees’ adaptability to the space, hence guiding them towards making the right decisions naturally.
Increasing adaptability is one way to make a flexible way of working really thrive, and is one of the five overarching principles in the development of a workplace strategy (Workplace Adequacy™ Framework). This article will go through some of the more psychological elements at play in the way we work.
Taking the easy route
Are you familiar with ‘nudging’ or behavioural economics? What these concepts touch on is that we humans don’t always make the most logical – and in the long run, profitable – decisions.
Instead, we tend to fall for short-term rewards, take physical and mental short-cuts, do as others do, and follow old habits. We stick to these behaviours even if we realise upon reflection that we eventually would have benefited from acting in a different way.
For example, we might stay in a noisy space rather than moving to a quiet one, even if our work is demanding, or write out longer texts on our phones rather than using a computer.
The mental processes behind decision-making
Why do we do this? In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman highlights two mental processes that impact our ability to make decisions – the fast System 1 and the slow System 2.
System 1 is an automatic system that processes information with little effort, often without our own conscious involvement. System 2, on the other hand, steps in for activities that are intellectually demanding and that require active and conscious decision-making.
When System 2 is at work, we are focused on the task at hand and feel that we are in control. But System 2 is also comfortable. While it controls System 1’s more uncritical course of action and steps in when the former falls for errors or steers behaviour in a less desirable direction, it is characterised by a certain laziness and prefers to rest. Thus when things are up and running, System 2 will often accept the other system’s understanding of what is happening as well as its suggestions.
Further, System 2 is sensitive and finds it easier to give up when tired or when it has been used for a long period of time. Utilising System 2 for routine decisions would be ineffective and demanding of resources, while we do need to use it in situations that are complex, require precision, or that are mentally arduous.
The impact on workplace strategy
To create a good workplace, we need to design the environment – the physical, organisational, and the technical – so that it doesn’t place demands on the sensitive System 2. System 2 should be ready to solve problems that are related to the task at hand.
We can make things easier on the brain by doing two things:
- Making it easy for an individual to choose an environment that best suits the activity at hand, and
- Creating the conditions for the right choice to be the simplest choice. Because remember, we humans will almost always make the simplest choice.
How the workplace is designed certainly plays a role (read more on that here and here). But a good workplace strategist also needs to design the choice architecture in a way that simplifies the decision-making process and removes barriers for desired behaviours.
A so-called ‘nudge’ involves the use of different tricks to urge an individual to act in a certain way. For example, people make less mistakes and work more effectively on demanding tasks when it is quiet, so how can the office be designed so that an individual decides to move when he or she needs to focus?
Further, increased interaction and meetings are usually sought after goals when changing to a new way of working, so how do we create spaces that people flock to when they need to work together? To succeed in this, you need to focus on how both the physical and technical environments are planned.
If you’d like to learn more about concrete ways to increase adaptability at the workplace, we’ve compiled a series of articles around this topic.
This article is based on the five principles for the development of a workplace strategy that we at WeOffice use to create bespoke workplace strategies. You can read more about them here.
References are taken from the book Workplace Strategy for the Flexible Office by Aram Seddigh. For more information on the book and workplace strategy in general, click here.