Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments

Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments

by Diane Stegmeier

ISBN: 9780471730415

Publisher Wiley

Published in Calendars/Architecture

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One


"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." -HARRY TRUMAN

Creative thinking that leads to innovation occurs in diverse fields of work: science, mathematics, the arts, and others. In many circumstances within these branches of knowledge, collaboration is central to the development of new ideas, procedures, products, and creations. To devise workplace environments that effectively support new ways of thinking, planners and designers can learn from parallel fields. Doing this, however, requires an open mind and an ability to translate work behaviors from other disciplines for use in the white-collar workplace. The Critical Influence Design approach will give readers new insight to help them make these translations.

In About: Innovation, Dr. Bettina von Stamm conveys a need for a shared language between designers and managers in order to break down communication barriers, which exist due to differences in education and value systems. According to von Stamm, it is a challenge to embed an understanding of design in business education, and vice versa. To meet this challenge, the emphasis should be placed on the benefits the client will receive by taking an interdisciplinary approach, one that brings design and business professionals together, rather than viewing one skill set as more important than the other to the success of a project. As von Stamm writes, we should be building on the strengths of these two disciplines: "The idea is not to find the lowest common denominator but make the most of the differences."


In 2002, I had the good fortune to meet Beth Harmon-Vaughan at the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER) Future Vision strategic planning workshop. Harmon-Vaughan was on the board of directors of this organization, which sets the standards for interior design education and conducts the quality assurance process of accreditation. I had been invited to facilitate the strategy session and guide the organization's design leaders through a process to gain consensus on common goals and establish objectives for the future of FIDER. (Note: FIDER, founded in 1970, is now known as the Council for Interior Design Accreditation.)

Four years later, I interviewed Harmon-Vaughan for Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments. Her insight on collaborative teams is drawn from diverse experiences, often working side by side with design firms and construction companies that, though competitors, shared a focus-the best interest of the client. In "The Case for Collaboration" featured in the Implications Newsletter (April, 2006) by InformeDesign, she argued the need for a new model for project leadership. In the past, the various resources could be deployed in a linear sequence, whereby one specialist's expertise could be built upon the contribution of the resource touching the process before it was handed off. A common concern about this type of approach is that it involves an extended period of time to develop the workplace design. To address that concern, Harmon-Vaughan recommends leveraging technology and adopting an iterative model, whereby the network of experts can quickly design and examine various alternatives, proceeding on a fast-track basis.

The iterative approach can result in savings of both time and money. Even more important is that the workplace solution is a much better one, comprising the synergy of multiple experts working together to contribute every step along the way.

Critical Influence Design also endorses moving away from a linear design process, and involves a holistic, integrated approach in managing the client's workplace changes, as well as other organizational changes impacting the human capital of the company. In my work as a change management consultant, I may be pulled into a project quite late in the process, for what I call the "bandage approach." The new workplace design, including numerous iterations, has already been presented to the client, but the communication strategy has not yet been developed and rumors are running rampant, resulting in an increasing level of resistance among employees. My job is to convince the workforce that they should accept the new workplace as "the right thing to do for the business," a task complicated by the fact that each employee is concentrating on what he or she is losing personally. Unfortunately, there is little fluidity at this stage of the game for negotiation. The decisions have been made, and it's really too late to do much more than help the wounds heal a bit more quickly.

What I typically uncover are numerous barriers to the newly designed workplace, preventing it ever having a chance to be successful. As people begin moving into the new office, the physical work environment becomes the perpetrator of all wrongs. Everything that is wrong with the company, its processes, and employees' behaviors is attributed to the new workplace. The openness of the new office is to blame for acoustical distractions and interruptions by coworkers. The new teaming area designed for collaboration is not being used. Inconsiderate workplace behaviors have not changed a bit and, in fact, seem magnified in the new space. All these perceptions reflect negatively on the organization's internal workplace transformation team, along with their external architectural and design partners.

Digging deeper into the client organization, I then discover a number of different initiatives or strategies being implemented simultaneously, yet independently. There may be significant departmental improvements, such as an information technology (IT) strategy focused on implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, a human resources (HR) initiative focused on increasing employee engagement, or a sales support client segmentation strategy to realign customer service and all internal support mechanisms. In each of these areas for business improvement, the workforce will be impacted by changes being driven by IT, HR, and sales support, in addition to the adaptations employees will be asked to make as a result of the new physical workplace solution. Ideally, the client should have implemented and managed change on an integrated basis; conversely, the introduction of a new workplace design should not have been carried out by the workplace transformation team in isolation, without the appropriate support from the enterprise.

From my research-and the resultant theory on the Critical Influence System impacting human behavior in the workplace-I share two key findings:

1. The success of workplace transformation is impacted by other influences on the organization's workforce.

2. Workplace transformation creates an opportunity to drive other changes necessary for the organization's success in the future.

Why does the development of a change management plan remain a linear step in the design process, rather than being integrated early, as part of an interdisciplinary approach? Too often, architectural and design professionals progress on the development of the workplace strategy in a linear, sequential fashion until they uncover stumbling blocks. At this point, an external change management consultant is called in to assist, to reduce human resistance to a manageable level. The linear process is then passed back to the designer. Not only does this approach waste time, it also results in a much lower level of employee acceptance of the workplace changes. Instead, parallel paths need to be established, with touchpoints along the way, to ensure barriers are identified and addressed as early in the process as possible-ideally, prior to the workplace strategy being developed.

What are the risks of not addressing workforce resistance early in the design of the workplace solution? Significant changes in the eyes of employees disrupt business processes and shift focus away from achieving the critical goals of the organization. Productivity declines as distractions increase. As mentioned above, too often, organizations are juggling the transformation of the work environment, as well as a number of other changes, in isolation, yet members of the workforce may be touched by many or all of the issues: adapting to new leadership and structures; fear of ongoing waves of downsizing; concerns over changing expectations for work behaviors; anxiety that the organizational culture will not be sustained due to mergers, acquisitions, or consolidations; concerns over greater individual accountability, or fear that functions will be outsourced. The list lengthens as complexities in the business world intensify.

The cost of helping overcome employee resistance to change through an effective change management process is typically much less than the costs of the associated risks:

* Loss of productivity prior to, during, and following the change

* Reduction of innovative outputs due to withholding of critical information by staff members

* Loss of intellectual capital due to unnecessary employee turnover

* Reduction of competitive advantage as members of the workforce join other organizations in the specific industry, or employers in the same geographic region vie for talent

* Decline in customer satisfaction and profitability due to a reduction in external focus

Workplace professionals are under intense pressure to produce physical space solutions that drive the desired organizational results. Their most innovative office design ideas may need to be compromised, hence diluted, to a less-than-optimal recommendation on how people should be working in support of the establishment's short- and long-term goals. Identifying and addressing barriers to change early in the design process is less costly than attacking those same issues later. Moreover, the design process may have to be interrupted to combat the threat of managers resigning from the company because their private offices are being taken away. This results-at minimum-in lost productivity, and the intended project deadlines being thrown out the window, whether or not key employees do leave the company.

Quite often, there is a perceived risk of a loss of control by the designer when another workplace authority is brought in to support the project. Will the planners and designers be seen as incompetent because they need additional assistance? How should the overlap of knowledge be addressed when a new expert is placed on the project team? Is the client paying for duplicate efforts? Although each professional contributing to the workplace project has a unique area of specialization, they share some common ground, which, from the outside looking in, one could construe as redundancy or knowledge overlap.

In fact, speaking from experience, there should be an abundance of common ground-after all, each expert is performing in the workplace field. You want your project teammates to have full awareness of your functions; that does not mean, however, that they are providing the same services to the client. And it certainly does not require handing over control to another expert who has been pulled in to contribute a narrow area of expertise. A shared commitment to do what's best for the client's project of course may require compromise; and the clear definition of roles is imperative as part of this effort. True professionals will make these collaborative engagements work as smoothly as possible and, in the process, will benefit personally from the knowledge gained through these experiences.

To illustrate the effect of unfounded fears, I'll share a situation involving Christopher Budd, a principal of STUDIOS Architecture, and a highly talented workplace expert. Budd truly "gets it." He is a rare individual who fully understands the workplace and the impact of physical space on behavior. As the story goes, a third party, looking from the outside in, knew that change in management was an important issue for a particular customer, but was extremely hesitant to rock the boat by introducing external consultants to the architectural firm and its client. At the time, Budd was director of STUDIOS Consulting Services (SCS). The third party was open in sharing his perception that a change management consultant would be "stepping on the toes" of STUDIOS, an architectural firm with a very strong consulting practice. After much delay caused by fears of the third party that he would lose the opportunity to sell products to the client if he ruffled the feathers of the architects, I was introduced to the project team. The professionals on this team welcomed the addition of change management specialists-and, by the way, saw no risk of losing control of the design process. They understood immediately how my education, research, and experience would complement the architectural firm's expertise. The only negative was the client's frustration that the third party had not introduced me earlier in the process!

Long story short, the fears of the third party were unfounded. Those confident in their talents are typically the most generous in sharing their philosophies and expertise with other professionals, and Budd is no exception. He possesses the intellectual curiosity that opens his mind to other workplace specialists' theories and approaches; and he has the kind of passion for excellence that ignites creativity in collaborative work groups.

Convincing other industry professionals that you, as an outside consultant, present no threat to their existence can be challenging for anyone put in the position of becoming a member of interdisciplinary workplace teams and contributing unique expertise. Often, it can be difficult to get people to understand that you are working with the client to identify and address the barriers to the successful implementation of the architectural and design professionals' workplace solution. When you get the "deer in the headlights" response, it may be much easier to tell them what you don't do. You are neither an architect nor an interior designer; you do not endorse a particular workplace design or product solution. What you do provide is:

* Education to the client's leadership team on the critical influences on their workforce

* Identification of specific barriers that may hinder the success of the workplace strategy

* Consultation on reducing those barriers in preparation for the workplace transformation


An interdisciplinary approach can also mean interpreting the client's industry-specific business issues by viewing the challenges through a different set of lenses and developing the workplace solution without assumptions about that industry or with preconceived notions about what a workplace should look like for a business operating in a particular type of commercial enterprise. To understand these concepts, consider the following practical example of a client wanting to change its internal processes from a linear sequence to a collaborative integration of efforts. You'll have the opportunity to read the entire case study on this example in Chapter 5, "Collaborative Workplaces That Work."


Excerpted from "Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments" by Diane Stegmeier. Copyright © 0 by Diane Stegmeier. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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