Creating Workspaces for “We” and “Me”

Fostering organisational culture for group and individual needs

by Haworth, Inc.

In an era where collaboration and diversity of thought drive innovation, open-plan offices have become the standard for workspace design.

But the old adage, “If you build it, people will come,” has critics clamouring that the open office isn’t driving much of anything—let alone the creative thinking that leads to innovation.

How can an open plan be effective? Address the needs of “we” and “me.”

Designing for “We”
A work environment can serve as the visual foundation that nurtures an organisation’s culture. “We” spaces, or shared spaces, are designed to fit these overarching needs as well as those of the organisation’s subcultures. Workspace design for “we” is informed by the predominant culture as well as subcultures to provide workspaces that harness the ways in which teams work. 

What Is Organizational Culture?
It involves how an organization functions and expresses itself—it’s the organization’s personality, and encompasses three basic components: values, assumptions, and artifacts.

  1. Values – what a company does, its mission, and how it represents itself
  2. Assumptions – the attitudes, often unconscious, formed through company processes and actions that inform what employees think
  3. Artifacts – what a company represents in the form of products, technologies, publications, processes, dress code, location, and architecture

Culture creates a sense of order, continuity, and commitment that permeates every aspect of the organization, from how employees interact to customer perceptions. Leaders know that a healthy culture can be a catalyst for employee engagement, collaboration, and innovation—all of which help a business yield higher returns.

We use the Competing Values Framework™, developed initially from research conducted by University of Michigan faculty members on the major indicators of effective organizational performance. We’ve partnered with Innovatrium, a global leader in innovation, to leverage this framework as a key element in creating high-performing work environments. Each quadrant in the framework—Collaborate, Create, Control, and Compete—illustrates a pure example of a culture type. Most organizations have a dominant culture, while various teams reflect different subcultures. When we apply an organization's values, assumptions, and artifacts to this framework, basic tenets are revealed:

  • Collaborate: Doing things that last, with internal partnerships and team building, in a flexible, people-centered work environment.
  • Create: Doing new things first, differentiating itself with a high degree of experimentation and individuality.
  • Control: Doing things right, through internal procedures, with a need for stability and control.
  • Compete: Doing things fast, through external competition, with a drive for results.

Each culture type has different attributes and preferred methods for work. These categories provide a foundation upon which space planners can begin to structure their solutions. The Competing Values Framework creates a foundation for purposeful workplace design, resulting in a mix of spaces that help people do their best work. Designing workspaces that nurture culture can be motivating for teams, as the space aligns with their collective purpose and values.

For example, the ways in which a team collaborates can be attributed to their culture type. A Control team tends to collaborate differently than a Create team. Control teams leverage their excellence in process development and structure, and thrive on planned collaboration. Create teams, on the other hand, use their entrepreneurial spirit to collaborate spontaneously and frequently, making their collaborative spaces much different than a Control team.

Designing for “Me”
“Me” spaces, or personal spaces, centre on designing for the individual. This human-centric approach begins by applying an Affordances framework that encompasses a person’s cognitive, emotional, and physical needs. When applied effectively, Affordances help create the conditions that support well-being, allow people to do their best work, and enhance the workplace experience.

Affordances are divided into three distinct but interrelated categories: 

  • Cognitive Affordances help people do their mind's best work.
  • Emotional Affordances nurture a person’s psychological state.
  • Physical Affordances support the body's needs

Ultimately, what any organization wants from its people are the highest possible levels of judgment, planning, strategizing, analysis, creativity, and decision making—all impacted in the workplace by the cognitive Affordances. But organizations also want their people to be fulfilled, engaged, happy, collaborative, safe, and comfortable—all supported by the emotional and physical Affordances. By tailoring spaces to the specific needs of individuals, or designing for "Me," Haworth and our dealer partners can offer solutions that optimize human and organizational performance.

Applying research-based frameworks to design for both individuals and groups caters to the needs of the people occupying the space. By offering variety and choice for groups and individuals in an open-plan environment, you’ll support their spectrum of work activities. It gives people the opportunity to self-select where to work, increasing the potential for improved performance, satisfaction, and engagement.

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