Management, organization in time and space

The very definition of management speaks of the organization of work. However, the combination of developments in working hours and new technologies has brought to light a reality that management still does not take into account. The cardinal concept of workspace, which now includes the workplace.

Work has always been associated with a place. The farmer cultivates his field, the worker goes to the factory and the manager goes to the office. Man associates his work with a place occupied for a period of time (the working day or week) in order to perform tasks there (his work). But everything changed without us realizing it. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the evolution of mentalities. The generalization of telecommuting should open our eyes.

The shift from the workplace (the workplace) to the space we work in (the workplace)

Even before the health crisis, the concept of the workplace had in fact gradually mutated, first under the influence of the development of working time itself.
In the beginning, the only way to be available or reachable was to be assigned a location in the company so that people could meet you or get in touch with you, via mail, fax or via a landline phone. Then, companies’ relentless pursuit of performance made them care little about the time their employees spent working, regardless of the legal framework. It was the results achieved by each individual employee that mattered to the organization. Ultimately, this will lead to presence[i]. According to Statista, 8% of French employees work more than fifty hours a week, compared to 0.4% in the Netherlands.

Then the work was divided considerably[ii]. A working day is now a series of professional micro-sequences. Despite the right to disconnect, the line between personal and professional life has never been more porous due to new technologies. Since work is never interrupted, the workplace has become by default the office and everything that surrounds it (the street, the car, transport, coffee, etc.), even resorts. This is where a really profound change took place. The workplace is no longer just the office.

Businesses bent over their desks

Despite everything, the companies remained focused on the historic workplace, the offices, making adjustments to the workplace, making sure to show an image of modernity, seeking an optimization of the often expensive space. Open spaces have become widespread and a host of experiments have emerged: cubicles, open plans[iii]rotation in the occupation of offices, hot desking or mobile offices, standing desks, treadmill desks[iv]no desks…

Today, companies have no way to prove that open spaces are really a vector of productivity or creativity, as expected. Above all, they continue to reason with classic units of measurement: number of square meters per employee, price per square meter, etc.
Coworking is a first response to these new challenges. A study conducted in 52 countries with 1,500 people has shown that this way of working could be better than office or home work: 75% of respondents felt they had gained productivity.[v]

From the appearance of hybrid work to the emergence of collision hours

But above all, new evidence has emerged. The creation of collisions between collaborators, the chances of meetings and unplanned interactions, inside and outside the company, improves performance. Harvard researchers have succeeded in establishing a correlation between the type of workspace (workplace and no longer workplace i.e. workplace) and sales volume or the number of new products launched[vi].
The late CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, used a new indicator, the colliding hours or the likely number of worker collisions per hour per acres[vii]. A goal was assigned to the company: to reach 100,000 colliding hours per hectare. The novelty is that the calculation no longer includes square meters of offices, but all the space surrounding the Dowtwon project (huge start-up incubation area in Las Vegas, in the middle of which Zappos has its social headquarters).

What are the challenges for management?

The priority for management will be to move from optimizing the workplace (workplace) for a better utilization of workspace (workspace), where more and more employees will develop. This change of perspective can be translated in at least three ways:

  • Consider the workplace and its square meters not only as a depreciable asset, but as a strategic lever for the company. The consulting company Strategy Plus has estimated the occupancy rate in the offices at 42% and no longer recommends a reduction of the total area, but a development with a view to creating more collisions between employees.[viii]
  • Think completely the office, which has changed a little in terms of the tools we use there.
  • Reinventing offices, freeing them from a fixed address, a single function, boundaries that separate them from the rest workspace where people work.Lindsay G., October 2014, “Workspaces that move people.”, Harvard Business Review.

[i] By definition, it opposes absenteeism and characterizes the phenomenon where the employee is present at his position, while his physical or mental condition does not allow him to be productive.
[ii] Gloria Mark from the University of California estimated that, on average, an American employee is interrupted in their work every three minutes. Mark G., 2018, “The Cost of Interrupted Work”.
[iii] Open space that enables the development of temporary private areas
[iv] A treadmill desk is a treadmill desk or treadmill workstation is a computer desk that is adapted so that the user walks on a treadmill while performing office tasks. People who use a treadmill desk are looking to change the condition

Photo credit: Bertrand Jouvenot/Cover image De Boeck 2022

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