Thursday, July 28, 2011

a space of one's own

We recently completed a treehouse for our 10-year-old daughter in our garden. It's about seven square meters of real estate located two and a half meters above the ground. It has two windows, one of which opens with a special mechanism and a door that locks from the inside, as well as being fitted with a padlock on the outside, of which our daughter is the only one with a key. She loves it and has already spent a significant amount of time out there with a friend, concocting Harry Potter-style potions.

This evident desire we as humans have for a space we can call our own got me thinking about the trend towards flexible workspaces that we're seeing in the work world. These flexible workspace initiatives often mean that people don't have an assigned desk and so desks are available on a first come-first served basis. I can understand this from a company perspective. If you have a department where people don't sit at their desks all day because, say, they're out servicing customers or teaching for most of the day, those empty desks are a waste of precious office space.  However, these plans often don't take into account the human side - how territorial people are and how they want to have a space they feel is theirs and where they feel they belong. These flex-desks can be a very upsetting thing for many people.

Companies go to great lengths to introduce flexible workspaces - investing in fancy desks, barstools, creative spaces, knowledge spaces, learning spaces and the like. They try to distance the reality that they're taking people's desks away from them by cloaking it in language like "paradigm shift" or the introduction of "enclaves" (dimly-lit meeting rooms) where people can work undisturbed. No one these days wants to be seen as resistant to change, so people go along with these changes on the surface. But, not knowing where they're going to be working when they arrive in the morning can leave many people feeling insecure.

And if people feel insecure in the workplace, productivity goes down, which is precisely the opposite of the intention of introducing flexible workspaces. If you want people to take ownership for the work they do, it often goes hand-in-hand with giving them a space in which to do it. A space to call their own.

I searched for studies of the psychological impact of flexible workspaces, but found only a lot of comparison studies of open-plan offices vs. individual or small-group offices, so it seems there is room for further study into the sociological impact of these flexible workspaces. One of the most interesting studies I came across can be found here.

If your team is having trouble adjusting to a new way of working, J2 Research can help you get to the crux of the issue. And who knows, we might be able to design you a treehouse as well.

~ julie

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