Special Article (November-2018)
How HR can contribute to workplace design?
When was the last time we as HR commented anything about the work place design? Probably when we had a new office inaugurated. We either admired the new office with its colorful design and funky layouts or just left with a feeling it could have been better arranged. In both the cases, we surely did not think much about the work place design other than its aesthetics. We consider it as natural since workplace design is considered a part of facility management's responsibility. For those who argue FM comes under HR, then my question is, what genuine contributions have we made other than overseeing the cost aspect, if anything at all? Surely this state of affairs must be corrected.
So how can HR contribute more to work place design and importantly why should it contribute in the first place? In other words, by "contribution" I mean to ask "what possible value can HR bring in to the workplace design?
Research shows some interesting data indicating how workplace design is related to higher productivity. There is a direct correlation between better performance and workspace design factors such as Work stations, Noise, Temperature, Lighting, Air Quality and General ergonomics. Though these are primarily aspects attributed to the role of Facility management, there are many HR associated goals that are affected consequentially.
To name a few; Better Communication, Ideation/ Innovation, Flexibility and the general overall engagement level complimented by a good culture. All of us would agree, these factors come under the purview of HR, and if these are not addressed, they will have a detrimental effect on the overall health of the organization.
A working paper published by Micheal Housman 'The good, the bad and the productive'(1) throws some interesting data; it states a symbiotic pairing of workers in physical space can improve performance by some 15%. If we go by that then the work place should be designed in a manner which can have closer proximity of the two workers. This calls for a creative way of designing the work stations as a pairing cubicle. HR's contribution can go beyond by identifying which types of workers should be paired together, how we can create symbiotic relationships by pairing those with opposite strengths.
Another aspect to the workstations' design is providing a range for an employee to reach out to a manager. Though this is an age of technology, an in-person human interaction has its own merit. The workstations can be designed in such a way, any employee can reach their manager in the shortest range physically possible. Communication can be super improved through creative designs involving a circular arrangement of workstations so that the pairing cubicles and manager's cubicles are part of a circle. Simply put, any employee should be able to view his fellow team members and manager in a single frame of his vision. Such circular arrangements with well - designed shapely desks are linked to positive emotions which aid creativity and productivity. These in turn promote the development of a collective mindset, thereby bringing teams closer together.(2)
At the heart of Innovation, is the participation of the workforce. Employees can be involved in contributing ideas for an Innovative work design. This can be for the new workplace that is coming up or even to the existing workplace design. HR can play a key role in getting the involvement of the employees for the top 3 or 5 ideas each quarter and this can be an ongoing initiative. Such initiatives not only contribute to Innovation but also bring in a sense of belongingness amongst the employees with the organization.
In the high technology era, Consumers and Customers expect constant innovation and are quick to punish the products or services that fall behind. And since Innovation in itself is a continuous process, HR can contribute to foster an innovative environment through its workplace design. One way of doing this is through expressions of a continuous organizational learning method such as the Nonaka SECI model or Crossman 4I model. These models push towards Innovation in the workplace design through "Zones". For e.g.: Specially designed architectural 'I' zones can be created to promote Crossan model of Intuition, Interpretation, Integration and Institutionalization, and this can be an explicit zone to share ideas about Innovation. Such a workplace design can propel overall organizational learning tremendously.
Flexibility is definitely one of the key aspects HR can control well. To begin with, we should not force workplaces on people. Now, I'm not saying we should design every single station to the whims and fancies of individuals but definitely we can create a certain degree of flexibility for employees when it comes to their workstations. Research states, employees who are able to control their workspace have higher productivity. Providing staff with adjustable desks, options for lighting and temperature control, and variety in work rooms increases job satisfaction and team cohesion. Variations in work rooms can include private offices, conference rooms of different sizes, and collaborative tables.Not all of these provisions are possible for each business. However, allowing your employees mobility when possible and the power to choose the environment they work in, gives them the environmental resources to maximize their productivity while at work.
So there it is the "how and why" HR should contribute to the work design of its organization. And while they do it, they should merge their contributions to a positive work culture. A culture which is open to learning and innovation and importantly a culture which is agile and adaptive. HR can lead the way by collaborating with the FM (Facility management) and ensure to serve as responsible custodians of two of the most important drivers of business performance - people and place.