- Jul 4 2016
You have said that the design industry today is stuck in the same conversation. What is the current discussion and what needs to change?
Rex Miller: We have been talking about lighting, air quality, and ergonomics since the 1980s. These issues are still relevant, but they should already be embedded into design; they shouldn’t be new conversations. Think about it this way, you wouldn’t still be using your old flip-phone today. The fact that a phone can call people is expected, but now it’s got to be able to do all these other functions to truly add value. For space design to be successful it must embody the values that are important to the company – you should be able to see who is involved in the decision-making process, what type of work is being done and the culture of the office just by looking at a space.
You reckon that office space and office culture have to align. Can you tell us why?
R.M.: Today in the US, 20 percent of the workforce is actively disengaged – a figure that is even higher on a global scale. This “toxic” environment costs American businesses upwards of $500 million a year. A healthy workplace can help turn this around.
Unfortunately, companies are really missing what culture actually is fundamentally. Many focus on mission and value statements, but that’s not company culture. Culture is what happens when you’re not there – it’s the invisible attitudes, habits, values and behaviors that run the place when leadership is not there to direct and hold individuals accountable. Many leaders make the mistake of thinking they can just create culture. But culture is already there, the rest is just gardening – you protect and nurture the good parts and weed out the bad parts.
Are there fundamental guidelines that companies should keep top of mind?
R.M.: Companies need to design change around the culture and they need to realize that once they change the physical space, they will disrupt workflow patterns. This is why the process is vital – having a collective understanding of the business strategy, engaging employees to come up with solutions and trusting that you’ve got smart people, really understanding how the work gets done every day – all these elements together can create a distinct, unique solution.
Would you share an example of a successful case of space change?
R.M.: I examined a large brokerage firm in Los Angeles that was looking to revamp their offices. At the time, the company “rock stars” occupied huge, shiny private offices and were seen as being prized and pampered. The company leadership decided that if they were going to be more successful in the future, they needed to be more collaborative and work as a team. So management engaged 25 percent of the office to think up a smarter use of space. They collaborated, tested ideas, shared these ideas and asked for feedback from anyone in the office. Eventually the company shifted away from an “entitlement” mindset – both in terms of culture and space. The new space took into account the work each person did and created 16 different venues where employees could circulate – including open meeting spaces, phone rooms, tech zones and neighborhoods.
Is there a common slip-up that companies make during the process of change?
R.M.: In my experience, it’s more about how you get to a solution than the solution itself. In other words, a social and engaging process creates a social and engaging environment. So let’s say an outside group comes in and does extensive research and comes up with a great space. There will be pushback. Successful change needs to involve everyone concerned. Gandhi had a saying, “whatever you do for me and without me, you do to me.” This is exactly how people feel about change.
Rex Miller is a futurist, business consultant, thought leader and author. His books provide a compelling picture of a changing world and the new leadership skill necessary to adapt and succeed. His most recent book: Change Your Space, Change Your Culture: How Engaging Workplaces Lead to Transformation and Growth
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