- BRW Lists
Published 28 October 2013 07:48, Updated 28 October 2013 09:17
In terms of workplace design, software engineers could be the new ‘lab rats’ with which organisations experiment with ideas and ways of working. Photo: Peter Stoop
Software engineers are the new lab rats and your office storage space allocation signals your level of importance.
In the world of workplace design research, there are some fairly unusual ways of measuring things. But for universities that are re-evaluating their role in a world of free online education, these lessons may just help them remain competitive.
Recognition of the link between the way a workplace is designed and the role of the organisation is growing.
It’s a message that is in the minds of employers and one that is forcing many architects to get a better sense of the business needs of their clients.
Demonstrating that link is difficult, however. It’s an inexact science, as many variables beyond the immediate design also influence a workplace’s boost to innovation and creativity.
But there are ways, says Jason Heredia, vice-president of marketing for Steelcase Asia Pacific, a workplace design company. And the best ways are call centres or software engineers.
“Call centres and software engineers tend to be fairly experimental subjects for us,” he told BRW on Friday. “You can measure their outputs. With call centres, you can measure the number of calls and the quality of the calls. With software engineers, you can assess the number of lines coded and the quality of lines coded. Let’s call them the test objects, the modern version of lab mice.”
Call centres and software engineers ... Let’s call them the test objects, the modern version of lab mice.
The changing world of work, which means employers face a battle to keep staff motivated and loyal, is forcing physical changes to workplaces just as much as it is to issues of remuneration and promotion.
With call centres not as popular an industry as they were 10 years ago, software engineers are a better bet these days. This is an industry that relies on the knowledge and creativity of workers. And the experiences of a team of software engineers at an unidentified US car maker show that redesigning their workspace into groups of six taught them to be more collaborative – and productive – over time.
An environment that encourages collaboration can speed up the pace of innovation. But balancing moves towards greater collaboration by staff with the resulting loss of privacy creates tension. A move to activity-based working for example, means less individual space for storage, something office workers see as a measure of their value by the organisation.
Still, if these can be overcome – and will with a generation of workers that identifies items such as a higher-quality company laptop as a better sign of value than locker space – it will go a long way towards boosting the ability of institutions such as universities to position themselves as places where people can learn by collaborating and working with others, says Mark Roehrs, principal of design firm Hassell.
In an era when universities can no longer just be repositories of information – given that most information is available online – workplace designs that permit academics to work more closely with research teams, and even encourage undergraduate students to become involved in research, will give traditional institutions a competitive edge over the emerging world of massive open online courses, says Roehrs, the head of Hassell’s education facility division.
An institution of academics in rarified offices, who emerge only to lecture students before disappearing again, is no longer sustainable. Universities cannot be designed on a model of simply dispensing knowledge, Roehrs says. Rather the survival of universities depends on them creating environments that locate lecturers and researchers among students, and do away with the physical barriers between research and teaching, he says.
“The more you can expose students to becoming inquiry-oriented, to be learning through solving problems and interpreting information – that’s where universities are differentiating their proposition,” he says.
The lab rats are no doubt waving their paws in approval.