Although work today is primarily digital, organizations still have a spatial dimension in one way or another. 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. This created the offices we have today with separate meeting rooms for people to use when face-to-face communication with others was needed.
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 and an ongoing meeting. Communication is not talking about work. Communication is work.
Three archetypes of communication can be seen 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 kind of information logistics to help people keep up with new developments that are contextually important for them. The third type is serendipitous inspiration from ad hoc encounters. 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 on a daily basis.
Most managers will acknowledge the role played by the organizational structure and the process chart, but not all understand that physical space is equally important. Structure and space together influence how we work and how efficiently communication takes place when we meet.
There is an interesting benchmark available: private clubs. These clubs are places where typically only members and their guests are allowed in. The rooms are defined according to a function, such as socializing, eating and reading. 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 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, a little home away from home. 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 same traditional office cubicle 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, not only the new digital tools, but how we work physically together and where we meet to do that.
And yes, we are also going to continue to meet face-to-face in small groups in the future.
The inspiration for writing this came from meeting my friend @elsua face-to-face for the first time a few days ago. Thank you @villepeltola and @sakuidealist
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