Catalyst, enabler and obstructor workplaces

The past few years has seen much focus placed by our industry on the importance of collaboration and the resultant spatial needs for people to meet and interact.

Based largely on notions that two heads are better than one and that knowledge is profoundly social, settings for collaboration and interaction are seen as key to turning mere information into competitive knowledge. And, if we think of the knowledge creation process, it includes stages of socialisation; brainstorming and reflecting on things together with colleagues. But, despite the evident importance of collaboration, our research shows that the vast majority of us also need to work individually. We need time to internalise and put to “paper” our collaborative ideas and concepts. Across our database, ‘individual, focused work, desk-based’ is the most important activity based on volume, with 93% of our respondents saying it is important to them in their work.

And not only is it important to most of us, our data also shows that individual, concentrative activities actually have a bigger impact on whether or not we feel that our workplace enables us to work productively. As we reported in our recent research report The Next 250K and displayed in the graph below, the biggest differences between those individuals who say their workplace enables them to work productively and those who don’t is found in whether ‘thinking/creative thinking’, ‘reading’ and ‘individual, focused work, desk-based’ are perceived to be supported or not. The smallest differences are found in the more collaborative activities. That is not to say that collaboration is not important, but the data reveals that it’s our individual, concentrative activities that are the “hygiene factor” when designing a workplace. Fail to deliver a workplace that allows employees to work individually, and no matter how well the collaborative spaces work, employees’ sense of personal productivity will be impeded. You need to get the “me” space nailed ahead of the “we” space.

data, workplace, behaviour

So, broadly speaking, we can divide the workplaces in our database into three categories: catalyst, enabler and obstructor workplaces. Catalyst workplaces are the ones that are giving the organisation competitive advantage, where the environment is proactively shaping the way people work, supporting their work in the best possible way and where, as a result, employees can perform at their best. They report high results on most indicators, including pride and productivity. Obstructor workplaces are environments where the employees are forced to go over one speed bump after another when trying to do the job they were employed to do. These workplaces are having a significant negative effect on the organisation’s most important asset (the employees) and are thus jeopardising the organisation’s opportunity to reach success. Between catalyst and obstructor workplaces sit the enabler workplaces. These are neither bringing competitive advantage by supporting the organisation in the best possible way, nor are they actively hindering the organisation from reaching its targets – they’re simply making work possible, but without actively pushing the boundaries. The enabler workplaces are perhaps best described as a lost opportunity to use a workplace as a strategic tool that fuels success.

people, workplace, behaviour

So, how do you create a high-performing catalyst workplace? Despite the predictions that the office of the future will be a place where one goes only to meet with other people, our data highlights the importance of accommodating the individual and focused work that your employees do. Because if employees cannot concentrate in the workplace, then where are they expected to go and do their individual, focused work? It is not unlikely that some will retreat to the sanctuary of home. When designing for concentration, it is important to understand the different types of focused work that the employees do, because not all focused work is the same. Sometimes we “snorkel” with our head down, and then a brief interruption doesn’t matter; we raise our head for a moment and can then put our head down and easily continue from where we left off. But some of our work requires deep-diving. If we get interrupted, we have to ascend all the way to the surface, losing the flow we had achieved. And diving back down to continue what we were doing will take time, and we might not find our way back to the place we just were. What is key is that our Leesman+ catalyst workplaces can support both.

So, going back to the ability of a workplace to support individual and/or collaborative activities, a workplace that supports neither is clearly an obstructor workplace. Workplaces that support individual activities but do not create opportunity to collaborate are enablers. And for a workplace to be a catalyst, it needs to successfully support both individual and collaborative work. But what may come as a surprise is that the workplaces where all the focus has been put on creating room for collaboration, while neglecting the need of the individuals to do concentrative tasks, will still fall into the obstructor workplace category. This is where the Leesman+ high performance workplaces beat the rest; they successfully support collaboration and interactions without jeopardising individual work. In these buildings, 82% of the employees said that ‘informal, un-planned meetings’ are supported (compared to 63% across entire database), and 80% said that ‘collaborating on creative work’ is supported (64% across entire database), while ‘collaborating on focused work’ is perceived to be supported by 87% (compared to 73% across the global database). But, most importantly, these “we” activities sit alongside the “me” activities. ‘Thinking/creative thinking’ is perceived to be supported by 71% of employees (compared to 51% across the global database), while 87% said that ‘individual focused work, desk-based’ is supported (compared to 77%) and 76% found that ‘reading’ is supported (compared to 59%). How do they do this? The biggest satisfaction score differences perhaps give us some clues as to where they excel: 63% satisfaction with ‘variety of different types of workplace’ (31% across the database), 70% satisfaction with ‘informal work areas/break-out zones’ (37% across the database) and 49% satisfaction with ‘quiet rooms for working alone or in pairs’ (28% across the database).

We activities

Leesman average support/satisfaction vs Leesman+ support/satisfaction

Informal, un-planned meetings
Leesman average 63%
Leesman+ 82%
Collaborating on creative work
Leesman average 64%
Leesman+ 80%
Collaborating on focused work
Leesman average 73%
Leesman+ 87%

Me activities

Leesman average support/satisfaction vs Leesman+ support/satisfaction

Thinking/creative thinking
Leesman average 51%
Leesman+ 71%
Individual, focused work, desk-based
Leesman average 77%
Leesman+ 87%
Leesman average 59%
Leesman+ 76%
Variety of different types of workplace
Leesman average 31%
Leesman+ 63%
Informal work areas/break-out zone
Leesman average 37%
Leesman+ 70%
Quiet rooms for working alone or in pairs
Leesman average 28%
Leesman+ 49%
Back to Leesman Review