In conversation with… Despina Katsikakis

Industry leader and workplace transformation consultant

The social value of the workplace has changed and this is particularly relevant with renewed focus on mental health issues in the workplace. There is so much data around how people are so much happier when they feel connected to others in the workplace.

People who have friends at the office are at least four times happier at work than those who don’t and 71% of millennials want their co-workers to be a second family. So this notion of being connected and having a sense of community becomes a really critical issue.

The real power behind the growth in the co-working environment is around belonging to a creative community, a creative ecosystem. And the more we become seamlessly virtually connected, the more important physical place becomes to bring us together in very meaningful ways.

The physical environment is constantly giving messages that influence behaviour, and you can either use that as an organisation or ignore it. Sadly, the majority of organisations ignore it.

I work with companies where on so many occasions I’ll speak to senior managers who say that they want to be open and inclusive and accessible and they’re sitting behind an enclosed door with a secretary in front of them who acts – with the best will in the world – as a guard dog. The message that gives is not accessible, not open, not inclusive.

If you change that and put the same person for part of the day in an open, social setting where people can talk to them at any time, they’re giving a very different message. This is the physical environment combined with behaviour and attitude.

The open-plan office was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright at the turn of the century and it was designed to enable the uninterrupted flow of work and clear visual subversion. It worked exceptionally well but in 100 years a huge amount has changed and not so much has changed in the physical environment.

The physical environment is constantly giving messages that influence behaviour, and you can either use that as an organisation or ignore it. Sadly, the majority of organisations ignore it

We know now that open-plan offices tend to be the antithesis of collaboration, sometimes actually promoting isolation. But if you begin to layer the work environment with places that support connection, places that allow people to be open and spontaneous and accessible to one another, you can actually create the opportunity for innovation through collaboration.

If  workplace professionals were rewarded on increasing the perception that the organisation looks and feels like a great place to work, then their driver would be very different in terms of what they were delivering.

To truly enable a people-centric workplace you absolutely have to have management vision and practices. You need to have the right culture and behaviour and you need to have the right space, technology and services. Unless you have those policies and practices in place and people are walking the talk, there’s no point.

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