Workplace decisions - When the workplace hurts

When workplace sucks

No wonder that big companies are proud of their workspace and show it to the world. The workplace is one of the most important reasons to join a company. Workspace might connect you with company culture, because it expresses what you do not hear from people you inhale it and it gives you a feeling that creates assumptions. But I don't want to write about culture, I want to write about workspace. I want to write about what I've seen and what I've felt in different workspace and what is important to me at the workplace.

First things first

Let people decide about their workplace and they will give it back a thousand times. Overrule people about how their workplace might look alike and you ruin your connection to them. 

Walls are peoples walls and not owned by any furniture police or management. There is no room for discussion. 

Workplace at Zappos Headquarters. By lizzielaroo CC-BY-SA-2.0  or CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pigs and chicken at work

The workplace is where the magic should happen, if you got a workplace that does not hinder you to work. Not free in decision and slaved to a workplace overcrowded and interrupted by noise, a lot of workplaces are harmful. A pattern many agile transitions are heading for is colocation. Let people sit together if they are on a team. Sure colocation is powerful, but please ask the people how they want to sit together: one room, two rooms, how many people a room, whatever. As a chicken don't overrule them and put them together like pigs in a stable. Trust the people to get the job done and tell them the constraints.

Separation, fragmentation and casual interaction

Much harm is done if you separate people on a team. If people are disconnected from each other their work interactions might suffer, and usually they will. What will definitely get lost are their casual interactions. These interactions connect them to each other and create trust. You loose a lot if you do not let colocate them. Also dispersed and distributed teams create a lot of waste. If you are able to avoid them - avoid them.

McLaren pit stop 2006 in Malaysia. By Kamalsell (Flickr) CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Separation is harmful, but fragmentation is even worse. Let people work on more then one project, product or whatever leads to people that are barely focused and are widely unable to work without interruptions. They are struggling all the time, because they cannot keep track of their human interactions and therefore are unable to fall in a flow state. Before they finish one thing a time somebody else is pulling them out. It is like a formula one car forever in the pit stop: a lot of power but always changing parts. This very common workplace scenario creates more waste than value.

Silence and flow state

A flow state is a state when people perform easily and without noticing effort too much. Usually it takes some time to get into a flow state and during a flow state people are really doing the work. To get into flow state you need concentration and silence, because this is usually the a precondition for concentration. If you do not know what people need, ask them and they will give you a very good suggestion about what they need to get into flow state. Be humble and support them to create a better space. Colocation also helps if you want to get into flow state: people of the same team tend to quiet down at the same time, so there is usually less interruption. Again, think about what fragmentation does. Fragmentation finally leads to no quiet time at all.

Of course and ...

For sure, what I've wrote is nothing new, but far too often overheard. Most times it is not that management is unable to adapt these sometimes new concepts, but is hard for them to forget the old ideas, like John Maynard Keynes said.