Sometimes I feel like I don't have enough space in order to get my work done. The "space" I need takes on one of several types or attributes:
- physical space - and if you've seen my desk you'd understand
- team space - where do we get together to work as a team, in physical space and virtual space
- thinking space - can I clear enough of my RAM for a period to create something new
- emotional space - especially related to passion for the job
These concepts and the problems we encounter at work in regard to these ideas are some of the reasons I think many people may be more "productive" but less satisfied in their work.
Let's look at the most obvious issue - physical space. We've moved from offices to cubes, and many firms are dispensing with offices and cubes all together. Now, more and more large firms are encouraging people to work from home. This may sound great initially, but it has long term ramifications as people aren't able to separate "home" from "work". People need a physical space of their own in which to work. Only there are they truly effective. Too often firms try to find incremental ways to save costs on their employees work space, which is short sighted. Spending a little more to give people a great space to work in will only increase output and profits.
Next is team space. Since we work in cross-functional teams, we often need to work across functional boundaries and with people from different business functions. While there are "meeting" rooms in most companies, there are rarely spaces set aside for teams to work together, either in a physical sense or in a virtual sense. Much team work is based on shared documents, so a virtual space with enabled workflow and document management is exceptionally helpful. In most cases, rather than provide these spaces we expect teams to generate a working environment based mainly on shared folders and Excel or Word documents. Helping teams become more effective is another way that organizations can improve efficiency and productivity, yet few tools are provided, so teams are never able to become as productive as they should be.
Thinking space is also a conundrum. We don't really expect people to think much any more - in fact in many cases people look askance at co-workers who need "thinking time". We've all been trained that when at work we should be in action - writing a document, meeting with others, etc and no idly thinking. People need time and space to think, and they need to be able to clear their minds to create the mental space necessary to think carefully and clearly. This aspect of space alone is probably the most misunderstood and underappreciated concept in American business today. Our business cultures place a very low level of importance on thinking, so our next best option is to become imitators rather than innovators. We need to encourage and foster more thinking time and thinking space.
The last space I listed, emotional space, has more to do with passion. Most emotional space has been eliminated from many large organizations, as people have had the passion drained out of them by mindless bureaucracy. I read recently that Fortune listed some new rules for firms in an article this summer. One of those was to attract and keep passionate people. While I agree with the sentiment I doubt that many firms assess candidates based on their passion - rather for their competence or experience. In a market that is begining to place a high value on things that are "real", passion is something a firm cannot teach, but can foster and can recruit. But to do so means creating some emotional space in the business.
Then of course there's the space-time continuum, which is constantly being interrupted. As I've demonstrated, we are short changing ourselves on many different types of space, and our time is constantly foreshortened and interrupted by meetings, drop ins and other emergencies. We've created a working approach which states that one should be in meetings or other events at least 60-70% of the day, and facing interruptions, phone calls and other time management issues during the time we aren't in meetings, so most people are trying to get their actual work done in the wee hours before "work" begins or in the late hours after "work" ends. This means those folks are squeezing in their "best" work in the off hours, trying to get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. Where's the time to stop, think and contemplate? Is this really what we want from our best people - to squeeze in the value added work in the off hours?
It's time to rethink how we work and how work gets done at work. If we are knowledge workers, then we need time and space to work more effectively. The model as we've found it does not work well and will burn out people very quickly. What's going to be lost most quickly are the very factors that companies say they want the most - great insight and passion.