posted 25 Aug 2004 in Volume 8 Issue 1
Put it to the board: Dan Holtshouse
The connection between the office and work is becoming indistinct. Work can currently be associated with a location (such as an office), a connection (online work from home) or with one’s attention (for instance, penning a customer proposal while sitting in Starbucks sipping a latté). Armed with an array of mobile tools, today’s knowledge workers have a multitude of options.
These options are essential, as every aspect of modern-day work – where we work, how we work and the tools and information available for us to work with – is changing. Change is accelerating due to a drive for profitability and the continuous business-process refinement required to stay competitive. Despite this, business changes affecting the nature of work are sometimes implemented without a comprehensive understanding of the disruption these changes could inflict upon work patterns and social networks that are the informal bedrock of the workplace. Often unintended consequences create knowledge bottlenecks when initiatives to optimise one asset, for example office space costs, cause a sub-optimisation of another asset, such as the disbanding of community work patterns and IT-support infrastructure.
Through an analysis of what has and hasn’t worked at Xerox over past years with a number of knowledge initiatives, we are developing and adopting a more holistic view of the workplace. A more integrated, systems-thinking approach to the workplace is required, ensuring a balanced and optimised perspective when changing the work environment. This perspective, a new model if you like, proposes that the future workplace should not be viewed as a single monolith, but as consisting of four interdependent parts, or spaces. The new work place requires the design, balance and care of four spaces: physical, information, organisational and cognitive.
At Xerox, we have found that by applying this model retrospectively to some high-level knowledge-management initiatives, knowledge flow that was initially bottled up and trapped in one of the four spaces was proactively released and put into action by knowledge solutions that were able to engage and activate all four workspaces. We have seen this activation pattern repeated over a range of work environments, including software engineering, field services, customer care and business strategy.
When change to a work environment is being contemplated, I recommend considering the four-space model as a way of ensuring a more balanced and optimised outcome, enabling the kind of high-performance work that is essential in today’s business climate.