The innovation of work is a big deal. The amount of summits, seminars and solutions with respect to workplace change, workplace strategy and well-being are numerous. And that is a good thing. Innovations with regard to connectivity, automation and collaboration have changed how we work significantly. Billions of euros are spend and made from helping organisations work smarter and happier. That is not a dirty thing; we drive safer cars, eat healthier food and live in more sustainable houses that all cost more to develop before it becomes mainstream. And organisations, especially fortune 500 companies like to be competitive by being at the frontier of new technologies or processes. That is how we progress (although not always in a right away).

For this reason a lot of companies have embraced ‘new way of working’ programs. With regard to these developments there are some hotbeds being the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Australia where a lot of large organisations, both government and commercial have altered their traditional workplaces to new forms and shapes (both physical and work-processes). Of course there are a lot of other organisations around the globe that have used work(place) strategy as a driver to retain talent, stand out image wise, work smarter, etc. The obvious newcomers here are Google, Facebook, Apple (ergo Silicon Valley type organisations). They are examples where extraordinaire is the new normal.

Now we have come to a moment in time where the mainstream starts to move too. A lot of more down to earth organisations with smaller budgets or goals start to at least think about how they have worked still fits how they want to work in the coming 10 years. Even fairly traditional organisations like municipalities, associations/institutes and research centers have become clients in the last years. We have helped many of them put a mirror up and ask themselves ‘why we do it the way we do’ and how to do it smarter.

But there is a worrisome development going on. The nature of people is that we compare ourselves to others. That has created competition and competition is everywhere. With competition comes the need for measures. Some of these measures we call benchmarks. Processors get benchmarked as they do one thing: processing speed while consuming electricity. But we also have come to like benchmarking as a marketing tool. ‘The greatest place to work’. ‘The best performing workplace’, etc. This is a dangerous thing as we get blinded by it. E.g. when we bring benchmarking to a single digit. You are a 7 out of 10 but your neighbour is a 7.5. Now your boss asks you; ‘Why are we not an 8?’. This generation of data and comparing ourselves to it starts to look more like ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ than actually trying to find a better way of doing things. Innovation and top results come from thinking and doing differently. Not by looking at a benchmark and trying to tweak something as extremely complex as organisations to fit or overdo that benchmark. But companies love to do that anyway. Let me shine a different light on using metrics to make organisations better.

Instead of benchmarking, it would be great if data derived from organisations could be used to discover models, behaviours or design choices that have a certain quality in it. My background is in user experience design. In this area there are some great minds like Alan Cooper, Bill Moggridge (+2012). They and many others have worked so hard to help interaction design further by sharing knowledge on their findings. Their research but also trial and error have created pieces of knowledge on how to better design certain interactions as a cookbook. Not the so called gurubooks on how to implement ‘new ways of working’ but more like an overview of instruments and methodologies that tend to work very well. Preferably on a very detailed level. Because it avoids general remarks of clients that hire us and start with ‘We want ‘the new way of working’ but not with the teleworking component’.. It is not! like that. What they need to think about is specific problems like “We are a global company with a lot of multilingual video conferences in a certain timeslot due to global interactions. We struggle with making these spaces work better audibly, better occupied outside these timeslots and easier to use by all employees.” There must be a great study or piece of knowledge on how to create these kind of spaces, it would be at least very helpful for most of our clients.

So what I vouch for is having less books, blogs and whitepapers on the importance of innovation of work, less on how good company A is and their profit increased (as that can have 10.000 origins) but more open sourced knowledge on work(place) innovations that without marketing crap can truly be seen as a trial an error way of doing things. For e.g. a few examples that make Work(place) innovation interesting:

  • Company A has ordered desks with privacy screens to increase the level of acoustic comfort. What happened was that due to the high screens colleagues did not see each other anymore and started talking louder on the phone and to peers at the desk. By taking away the screens the area and awareness about sound became better.
  • When using acoustic paneling on a desk they have no real use when they do not block the eye to mouth line when sitting opposite to each other. So you need high screens. This contradicts with the first bullet.

This and many many other solutions have been designed, used, tried, etc. And it would be nice to see if enough cases with certain conditions can reveal a design pattern that can truly help organisations. Why? How great is it when there are set of hundreds of design patterns that you can apply and help you generate the work(place) concept that helps YOUR organisation become the excellent team delivering your desired results. Not a copy of an other ‘successful’ organisation that your boss asked you to copy.

Alan Cooper wrote a book About Face, which had hundreds of design tips for user interface design and applications. It would be good to have a About work 3.0 and we are happy to contribute to it as WPA. Who picks up the glove?