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Office space is increasingly adapted to the changing needs of employees. Teams working on specific tasks have more and more to say when it comes to developing the workplace. This is another challenge that companies have to deal with. As Ryan Anderson says: “If you look at the nature of any project, you can see that it is driven not by the organizational structure, but by the roles played by its various members.” Today we are presenting the next installment of the conversation with Ryan Anderson (Vice President of Global Research & Insights at MillerKnoll) and Joseph White (Director of Design Strategy at MillerKnoll).

One of the biggest challenges related to the organization of office space is the increasing flexibility of company structures. How to best approach it?

Joseph White: The first step would be to clearly communicate the company’s strategy and establish certain rules and barriers regarding work. The flexibility of enterprises is necessary today, but it is still critical that they are defined by a specific structure. The question arises: how to implement it? How to make sure that we do not over-impose it? Teams need flexibility to create. The structure therefore emerges at the team level. Managers set the rules and goals of work for the entire organization, but this should be followed by giving individual teams the opportunity to decide what style and strategy of work they want to adopt when working together. Then members of each team discuss with managers what they want to work on, how they want to achieve it or what support they need. This information helps create the right work space and provide the right tools for its implementation. This formula replaces the old planning methodology, which simply informed about the number of people in the team and the need to provide them with the appropriate number of places in the form of a desk and a chair. If the team is focused on – let’s say – precise implementation of clearly defined ideas, then the environment can be a bit more structured and organized. It’s better suited for this kind of thought processes. But if the team is still in the phase of determining the answer, then its environment must be more flexible. For us, a company that creates office equipment, this means the need for in-depth research on teamwork, analyzing how teams are formed and how they work on their tasks. Creativity and cooperation take very different forms.

The next step is to draw conclusions from these studies and use them to provide equipment that is intuitive and easy for employees to reconfigure on their own. The space itself becomes flexible, designed in such a way that teams can simply roll up their sleeves and change the arrangement of equipment as often as they need to.
The most exciting moment comes when the team gets together and decides what to do and how to go about it. Thanks to this, we have a chance to discover all kinds of biases and misconceptions about how the work should be done. The team has a chance to adapt better to their tasks in the space preparation process. Rearranging furniture becomes an activity that strengthens the team – it’s a hidden benefit that we don’t expect.

Ryan Anderson: I believe that the view that teams are at the core of the new office structure is one of the issues that need to be raised more often. This means radical, but extremely beneficial changes. The office cannot be a rigid space where employees must learn how to act in order to be productive. Work and people change. It’s great dynamics. For an employee, the epicenter of the office should be a place where she or he can be together with their team, their closest colleagues. People come to the office primarily for each other.

J.W.: There are some helpful dynamics you can think of in planning your work environment based on what Ryan just said. The office must support interaction at the individual level as well as at the team and community level. Employees want to be sure that their workspace boosts individual focus and individual productivity. But at the same time, it is a place for team interactions. This is the key to understanding how information flows in the organization. This must be reflected in the design of the office, as well as in its equipment.

R.A.: What Joseph describes is based on the way people actually work. They operate in communities and groups. If you look at the nature of any project, you can see that it is not driven by the organizational structure, but by the roles played by its various members.

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