June 01, 2007

Reboot9: Your Ideal Working Environment: How to keep free thinkers happy


"Office workers with tidy desks take twice as many sick days as those who personalise their work space" (Exeter University research).

This session is a presentation-conversation about working environments and how they affect the creativity, happiness and productivity of the knowledge worker. Robert Slagter (listen to Nicole's podcast with him) reckons the knowledge worker is surrounded by three elements:

  1. The physical work setting - I'd love Al Gore's office.
  2. The technology
  3. The organisation setting (rules, timetables...)

Organisations need to keep their free thinkers happy:

  • Provide freedom
  • Activities that match your passions
  • Being able to choose your own activities
  • Being able to work when, where and how you see fit
  • A healthy mix of freedom, trust, responsibility and social cohersion
  • Recognition of added value

All this requires that your passions are shared by other people in the organisation. And while social software is a key means for free thinkers to stay connected, to share their passion and to stay organised, I'm left wondering if you need to have your colleagues (including the non free thinkers) also tuned into the same knowledge traces. Also, if you are given freedom to work, even with all this social software, sometimes you need to work with others. This means you have to have adequate meeting space as and when you want it, not space you have to book out weeks in advance to stand a chance of having a place to collaborate.

Discussion snippets: "My favourite working environment"
These are not my views but the interjections of the crowd here:
When I was a teenager I had a closed room, a closet with a lockable door and no natural light which means that I wasn't distracted. I got lots of things done (high productivity, but what about creativity..?)
With no rules there is no control.
In the US Submarine workplace anyone on the crew can vote off anyone else, including the first officer. Where one man can kill everyone else this decision and the question of trust is paramount.
Every office should have walls made from whiteboards.


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Ok, so next time I have a very messy desk I will call it "personalising my work space" and remind my principal that I may have less sick days!!!!! I LOVE IT :)

Rachel, NZ

How many desks does this man have?

I seem to have a number of 'personalised workspaces - not only at home but in school as well - I hope this means I have double protection from any form of illness my kids bring in for me!!!!

Thanks for covering my talk! I loved the stories people told about their ideal working environment and the fact that this seems to be not only very personal, but also depends on what type of activity you are engaged in (creative or having to finish a paper). Also very interesting to hear what some people considered ideal social software: software that understands when it is okay to disturb you with awareness information and when not...

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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