ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - July 2000

Issue Highlight - WWW
- Friends of mine showed me a letter recently that I thought you might find interesting. It might be a sign of things to come in this New Economy:

In This Issue...
Is Anyone Out There?
Increasing A Good Idea's Profitability
Internal Quality Audits
Every Summit Beckons A Conqueror
Finding Your Way Home In The Workplace

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street
Sites Unseen

Finding Your Way Home In The Workplace
Multi-disciplinary Group Meets to Create Spaces That Enhance Community

   Think back to the last time you sat on your living room couch plugging away at a business problem. It was late and you were tired, but happy to be in the comfort of your home. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take that comfort to work with you?

   According to a multi-disciplinary group meeting over the past two years, you should.
Most organizations focus on space from only one aspect, be it design, utilization, cost effectiveness, etc. and fail to create innovative environments where even smell and taste can enhance the vital connection between workers and organizational profits.

   The group will soon have a listserv and discussion session on AQP’s Member’s Only section ( and the December issue of The Journal for Quality and Participation will feature this topic.

   Be it ever so humble.... there is no place like home. Not only is it where the heart is, it is where many of us experience the joys and sorrows of life. And with all the talk today of making work have meaning beyond the dull routine of the Industrial era, how many of our workspaces embrace the value of home and hearth? Not many. The sad truth is that while organizations rush to connect with employees on a deeper level, these efforts are inhibited by the space that they take place in. And in the 24/7 world, space has become an issue for retention and recruitment. The “with it” companies now create spaces that encourage workers to come together in many unexpected places. Picture a Thai restaurant or café in the center of your work space—and if that is too radical, a simple coffee shop with complimentary beverages and bagels.

   Since 1997 a group of architects, interior designers, social psychologists, futurists, and human resource and organizational development professionals have been meeting to discuss the impact of space on building and sustaining community. Most recently the group met in Cincinnati, Ohio to share the latest thinking and discover common ground around the design of space and the use of environment to enhance highly interactive communities.

    What have they learned? Architects, facility planners, manufacturers of office equipment, meeting planners and end users each bring unique perspectives to the issue. For architects the mindset is around circulation, sightlines and matching space to function. For facility planners, the major issues reside in cost-effective use of space and the maintenance costs and flexibility for the space as requirements change. Meeting planners focus on the choreography of using the space, for example, the relationship of the space to food service, size and capacity of the room and access to transportation. While end-users, those who will actually use the space, are the least conscious of the effect of space on performance.

   The Cincinnati meeting was aimed at sharing and consolidating these views and to finding methods to make everyone more aware of the impact of space on the individual and performance.

   Jeff Austin, corporate strategist, First Union, Charlotte, N.C., began looking at space as a result of the increase in needs for telecommuters. “Today, there is a fundamental shift in how companies work. A tension arises between centralized versus decentralized and flexible vs. inflexible,” says Austin. “We honor and revere empirical knowledge, however the advent of a more human, well-rounded knowledge is upon us. We are discovering that empirical knowledge does not render truth, only more questions.” So in the age of the knowledge worker and collaboration among various disciplines, how does space help or hinder these efforts?

   “Many people,” says Betty Hase, leading environments leader, Herman Miller, Las Cruces, N.M., “think that space for collaboration means no privacy. This is not true.” Hase discovered that her clients would simply ask for a space for their teams without considering the type of work the team was doing. She learned many people mistake coordination or cooperation for collaboration. Through extensive research Hase defines collaboration as “when two or more individuals interdependently work together towards an identifiable goal with the exchange enriching the work of all members and creating, by the end of the process, a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. The result is a new creation that could not be achieved individually.” Based on this definition of collaboration, Hase and Herman Miller have identified a series of characteristics for spaces that enhance teamwork. Such spaces are visually stimulating, allow for visual display, provide for safe neutral territories, enhance visual contact, allow for control of access and ensure ready access to technology, among others.

   The ideal embodiment of these attributes might very well be a hotel lobby. Fritz Steele, Ph.D., organizational and environmental consultant, Portsmouth Consulting Group, Brookline, Mass., feels, “Hotel lobbies are great. Many people doing many different things. In fact, with all these different things happening, you might think they would fight each other, but they don’t. There is a party mentality and that helps create a learning space. In short, play is where it is at.”

 Space Creates Behavior

    As in play, our mind works on both a conscious and unconscious level. Environmental Psychologist Judith Heerwagen, Seattle, Wash., believes that we do a better job designing spaces for the conscious mind. The unconscious mind is associated with insight and pattern identification. For example you cannot solve a Rubik’s cube with only the conscious mind. Like a hotel lobby, the unconscious mind allows you to pick things up that you are not really aware of. The natural process of creativity moves fluidly back and forth between the conscious and unconscious mind. “Nature is going to be more and more important,” according to Heerwagen. “We did not evolve in a sea of cubicles. If we understand what nature is about we will be much better at designing spaces. What, in fact, is richer in design than nature?”

   What is missing, it appears, is a lack of understanding of how space has the extreme power to change relationships and behavior. In essence, space tells us how to behave. Imagine meeting your best friend in a five-star restaurant. You noticed the friend across the room and quietly ask the maitre’d to inform your friend that you are here. Now picture meeting the same friend at your local pub. You stand up, wave and proclaim loudly that they should join you for a beer. This simple illustration carries powerful meaning. We do not think about space, except in the most general of terms. Sue Mosby, principal, CDFM2, Kansas City, Mo., points out, “How many restrooms have you been in where the handicap stall is at the far end of the restroom? Making the very people with the most difficulty travel the farthest.”

 It’s About Freedom For You and Me

    But there are examples of exciting, conducive spaces. Some of the best examples are children’s museums, which emphasize hands-on, interactive learning which appeal to all senses; visual, smell, taste, etc., according to Ed Krent, principal, Krent/Paffett Associates, Boston, Mass. Some companies have adapted these techniques for their own usage. For example, the 30,000 square foot Oldsmobile Vision Center in Rochester, Mich., is one example designed by Krent’s firm. This next generation training center allows participants to reshape corporate culture and methodologies, learning new ways to communicate both inside and outside the Oldsmobile division. The center includes break-out salons for small teams and spaces for content delivery, first person experience, and teambuilding places that involve people from all over the organization in a common effort.

   In a very real sense, space is about freedom. And according to Peter Block, partner, Designed Learning, Westfield, N.J., “Institutions do not want to talk about freedom. Our spaces should carry the message that freedom is what I am put on this earth to experience. Every room I am in should be an example of how I want the larger world to be.”

   And after all, that is home—a place that is deeply connected to the individual. When we invite someone into our home, we invite them into our lives. How would the conversation change if the next time a coworker invites you into their office for a chat, that you both felt you were sitting in a family room? The real challenge then is to change our conception of space as static and a cost item. Perhaps one day soon, most workers will have two homes—-both where the heart is.

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