Workspace “activation” – emerging concepts to move beyond workplace “branding”

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I’ve spoken frequently of my appreciation of the “white space” of the workplace. I appreciate most the power of these spaces that lie between function and interaction to energize and activate the workspace.

These places are rare in the normal allocation of space in organizational real estate, especially in times of constrained spending. Yet, perhaps because they may more authentically represent the culture of the organization, we’ve found that these are the places and spaces that evoke the commitment and engagement of staff and enhance their performance. These are places, in other words – normally cut from organizational space allocations – that allow people to more rapidly and effectively comprehend, support and achieve the organizational mission.

We are preparing proposals for an organization who sought a dramatic transformation of its culture as an essential factor in its sustainability and its ability to contribute effectively to the sustainability of its partner organizations and the communities where they do their work.

Their new “offices” – in a formerly mistreated and largely abandoned high-rise – has a model proportion of “white spaces.” These spaces – unnamed in the functional program but provided through “net-to-gross” conversion factors – support several cultural and behavioral shifts:

  • From closed to open
  • From assigned to free
  • From entitlement to activity
  • From formal to casual
  • From secure to invitational

Most importantly, these spaces provide places for the staff to meet with members of partner organizations in extended occupancy – a few days or a few weeks – to work on problems and develop programs to benefit a constituency or community. What had previously been scheduled, agenda-driven and formal now can accommodate a project timeline and become appropriately and effectively extended, adaptable, resource-rich, collaborative, and focused on impact rather than time.

Now, in the last phase of their implementation and move, we are transforming our commission – develop and implement an identity and wayfinding signage program – toward a program for what we’re calling “workspace activation.”

We have generally moved away from more conventional, and commercial, concepts of “workplace branding.” We believe that the best expression of the brand of a company or organization is its work, and that the visible display of its work is much more effective than the display of corporate identity or communication of motto. We also believe that this “workspace activation” resonates into the effectiveness, influence and impact of the organization and its people.

Some emerging guiding principles include –

  • You are your brand – make your work visible; display what you do and how you do it
  • Make the workplace a canvas for discovery – “collaboration” so many times references production, yet a key culture of leading organizations is creating knowledge, as well; encourage communication and experience sharing
  • Design for experience – allow adaptation of the workspace to enable immersion in the work by shaping the space to meet the needs of the project

We are therefore developing a palette of graphic and other resources to animate the space with color, movement, image, information, invitation and hospitality. Neither “wayfinding,” nor “branding,” nor “signage,”  our program proposes a set of cues, clues, samples and examples to encourage a culture of information openness, collaborative participation, and continuous communication.

We hope to provide a canvas for uncovering potential, giving coherence to capabilities, and initiating sustaining transformation.

© Jim Meredith/MEREDITH Strategy & Design LLC

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2 thoughts on “Workspace “activation” – emerging concepts to move beyond workplace “branding”

    • Adam, thank you very much for your comment, your challenge, and your implied call for more disciplined editing. I appreciate all of it.

      A quick, perhaps as faulted, response –

      The organization we are working with provides resources, coordination and guidance for non-profits working in the region. Beyond shaping their own work culture transformation, their new offices are also intended to be a place where the other organizations they work with can reside while collaboratively shaping a project or program. It is also a workspace that may have a high proportion of non-employee volunteers residing there for short or extended assignments.

      In the sense, then, of this more open and accessible kind of workplace, I was using the term “wayshowing” as a means of aligning with the organization’s mission as well as to shape a graphics and technology project. Yet aspirational and certainly not fully formed I hope our work may –

        Convey a sense of hospitality – provide visual cues and other devices to pull people into the space and help them feel a sense of ownership, encouraging them to shape the space to their own needs
        Support the development of a more open and collaborative culture – by providing the tools and models for the visual display of information, encourage open display of ongoing work so that others there can see it, learn from it, contribute to it, find their place in it
        Support more effective work – by making the work more visible and engaging more people in it, to use and show best practices in action
        Contribute to engagement – if the space can become more expressive and tell its own story, then the volunteers who work here may feel more committed, and the people who visit here may understand better how the resources they contribute will impact their communities, and those they speak to may also visualize a way to become part of the organizational mission

      “Wayshowing” here, then, is pre-techological. I use it, I guess, in interpretation of Per Mollerup’s sense – “Wayshowing relates to wayfinding as writing relates to reading and as speaking relates to hearing. The purpose of wayshowing is to facilitate wayfinding. Wayshowing is the means. Wayfinding is the end.”

      Beyond the resources of this project however, I yearn for and can see the potential and power in what I might interpret your sense to be in your transformational “elements of networked urbanism.” I’d hope for most if not all of those elements to in some way characterize this space. I’d also be pleased to see that what occurs in this space acts as an influence on behaviors, programs and cultures throughout the region – a networked urbanism both supported by AR as well as operating beyond it.

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