February 4, 2012
Although work today is primarily digital, most organizations still have a spatial dimension, and most of those spaces have a designated organizational role. Even in the digital age we still think in terms of space. The key thing is that both the organizational structure and space greatly influence the patterns of work. A few years ago, the typical organizational design meant that work was divided into multiple parts that were simply added together to create the product. Individual workers did not need to know much more than what was specific to their individual tasks to complete their jobs.
Today, the results of work are not brought together at the end but are communicated throughout the process. A growing number of people are involved in generating ideas and information and bringing those ideas together in collaborative sense making. Work is interaction. Communication is not talking about work. Communication is work.
There are three archetypes of communication in firms. The first type is communication for responsiveness and coordination. This creates the need for transparency. The right hand knows what the left is doing. The second type is asymmetric following. It is about a Twitter type of information sharing to help people keep up with new developments. The third type is serendipitous inspiration. It is spontaneous and helps people to come upon the unexpected. The third type of interaction often occurs between people who work on different things and draw on different disciplines. These people don’t often meet in traditional work arrangements. They don’t normally have a lot to do with each other.
Most managers will acknowledge the role played by the organizational structure, but few understand that physical space is equally important. Structure and space both influence how we work and where communication takes place when we meet.
The goal is paradoxically to increase the value of work and at the same time save costs. This means that you can expect to see more of the clubhouse type of co-working spaces. Clubs are places where only members and their guests are allowed in. The rooms are defined according to a function, such as eating, reading, and meeting. These rooms are open to all, rather than being assigned to a single worker. You can book a more private room for a specific purpose, but in a clubhouse, you cannot put your name on the door.
Members of future organizations will use these new co-working spaces for projects, networking and for concentrated individual work but they are not going to have spaces to fill with their personal belongings.
Many people bemoan the loss of a personal designated space. However, I believe that they are going to learn to appreciate the value of freedom of choice and the escape from the control system of being seen in the office nine-to-five.
If you are in the middle of a conversation with someone, you seldom pause to talk about the conversation itself. But today, it is time to pause and consider how we work together and where we meet to do that. Although work is digital, we are still going to meet, also physically!
The inspiration for writing this came from meeting my good friend @elsua face-to-face for the first time a few days ago. Thank you @villepeltola and @sakuidealist
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