Workspace Design for Innovation?

In the HBR article Workspaces that Move People, authors Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay present a case for workspace design that can lead to more interactions within the workforce that in turn leads to improved productivity that obviously means more business for the company. They quote examples of Google that has designed its office for serendipitous encounters between its diverse teams and Yahoo’s decision to cut down on telecommuting – a trend that was experimented with in last few years. The quote examples with data on the changes made and the corresponding change in productivity. 

I have two contradicting views on this. Yes, meeting more people always improves business for various reasons. It is always easy to deal with real people than virtual. Conversations, specially around the coffee machine often lead to new ideas and new interactions tend to cut down bureaucracy to a large extent. New connected dots create new opportunities so organizations should do whatever they can to improve these exchanges – including changing the design of the office. This could be as simple as articles mentions in an example – have one coffee machine for 100+ people rather than for every 5-6 persons, restricting their access to those limited people.

On the other hand I feel sometimes small points like re-designing the office get too much importance when they are put up as if that is all that matters in bringing down inefficiencies. These can be small experiments that can be used to shake up the stuck energy in the organization and the bigger changes can be done based on how well they have been received by the teams and how well they have worked for the organization vis-a-vis the investments done to make the changes.

Telecommuting as an idea failed primarily because team members feed on each other’s presence and on live interactions rather than those enabled by technology only. While tech based communications are a part of our lives, they at best compliment the real-world interactions, and can not replace them, at least not yet.

Anuradha Goyal