This case revolves around the issue of how an organization’s workplace both shapes and is shaped by the information technology choices that the organization makes. The complexity of new office designs and its implications for technology is discussed. The paper evaluates the role which technology plays in the development of new workplace designs. Recommendations for improving the use of technologies and their implications for organizational choices are provided.
That technologies affect the choices organizations make is a well-known fact. There is an emerging consensus that technologies predetermine the quality and efficiency of various workplace designs. Office designs are a product of technological evolution in the workplace.
Unfortunately, not all office designs are successful. Office designs cannot be relevant or efficient, unless companies’ present and future business models are taken into consideration. Managers and employees must be able to think and work differently in different workplace environments.
Also, technologies should not promote inertia in the workplace. The process of creating new office designs is extremely challenging and complex. Office designs can be effective, only if users are involved in the process of designing and implementing computer-based workplace systems.
The past years were marked with the rapid changes in office designs. New technologies impose new requirements on businesses, and only those who can catch up with the technological progress conquer new markets and win new market opportunities.
It goes without saying that the “process of designing new modern workplaces is more challenging than ever” (Johansson et al, 2002, p.162). Technologies cause huge revolutions in office designs, but office design cannot be effective, unless designers and architects take companies’ business decisions, models, and frameworks into consideration.
Technologies and companies create a complex reciprocal link, in which technologies shape and change business models and business models affect the ways, in which technologies and workplace are designed (Wallace, 2000). In this complex network of influences, corporate philosophies and models play an extremely important role and predetermine the quality, scope, and relevance of various technological systems.
Unfortunately, not all office designs and technological systems are successful. In most cases, failure to adopt an effective office design is the result of managers’ failure to change and adjust their roles to new technological requirements. In his article about telecommunications and their effects on work in nonprofit organizations, Griscom (2009) writes that managers must be able to work differently in different work environments.
In case of open work environments, employees and managers must adopt democratic workplace values, pursue transparency and dialogue in communication, promote dignity and fairness in relations with employees, and strive to achieve collective goals (Griscom, 2009). Managers and employees should not use technologies and new office designs as the sources of inertia and inactivity. The use of tested success formulas is not always the best way to sustained competitiveness in business (Lagace, 2003).
However, it is through shakes and failures that companies open their eyes and realize the value of change. It is through catastrophes (unfortunately!) and natural disasters that companies realize the need to introduce new, relevant technologies. Inertia is a reliable predictor of the future business failures. The question is what factors and aspects must be taken into consideration by companies, which seek to adopt a new, effective and successful office design.
As previously mentioned, knowledge of business models and frameworks must create a foundation for developing effective workplace designs (Wallace, 2000). Offices and technologies must be designed in ways that reflect the needs of employees and work, in general (Wallace, 2000). The features and characteristics of office designs must fit in the features and characteristics of organizational hierarchies (Wallace, 2000).
For example, organizations with flattened structures must design their offices in ways that give employees greater autonomy and equality, to let them achieve the desired collective performance results (Wallace, 2000). Modern workplace designs are not merely a matter of spatial considerations and architecture but a product of complex interactions between spatial arrangements and technologies (Johansson et al, 2002). The choice and use of technologies must be tied to the specific demands and features of companies’ business models.
Even the best technologies cannot produce successful office designs, unless these designs are participatory. Participatory design is one of the most popular topics in the current technology research. Participatory design is “an evolving practice among design professionals which explores conditions for user participation in the design and introduction of computer-based systems at work” (Kensing & Blomberg, 1998, p.167).
Participatory design means that users are actively involved in the process of developing and implementing new office designs. Participatory design also means that users have a voice in technological decisions in the workplace.
The politics of participatory design is about redistributing workplace power and reconceptualizing workplace relations from the viewpoint of collaboration, participation, and equality (Kensing & Blomberg, 1998). Employees fear that new technologies will favor and reinforce the existing distributions of power; such technologies can hardly meet employee interests and needs in the workplace (Kensing & Blomberg, 1998).
Participatory design is a good way to guarantee that all aspects of organizational performance are taken into account. It is an excellent way to ensure that technologies serve a relevant extension of individual abilities and skills in the workplace, fit in the circumstances and conditions of workplace performance, and improve performance and productivity in the workplace.
Organizations affect the choices organizations make. In the meantime, organizational philosophies and corporate policies affect the choice of technologies within organizations. Technologies produce huge revolutions in office designs, and organizations strive to develop office designs that meet complex corporate needs.
Unfortunately, not all designs are equally effective. Designers and architects must take into consideration companies’ present and future business models. Only participatory designs, which involve employees in the process of creating and implementing computer-based workplace systems, can guarantee that office designs fit in the conditions and circumstances of workplace performance and help to improve employee productivity in the workplace.
Griscom, J. (2009). How telecommunications is changing work for nonprofits. TechSoup. Retrieved from http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/networks/page12202.cfm.
Johansson, M., Frost, P., Brandt, E., Binder, T. & Messeter, J. (2002). Partner engaged design: new challenges for workplace design. PDC 02, Proceedings of the Participatory Design Conference, 23-25 June, 162-172.
Kensing, F. & Blomberg, J. (1998). Participatory design: Issues and concerns. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 7, 167-185.
Lagace, M. (2003). Stuck in gear: Why managers don’t act. Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/3501.html.
Wallace, M.C. (2000). Complexity of new office designs: Thinking through your future workplace. Searcher, 8(10). Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/nov00/wallace.htm.