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Non-Efficient Structures Hamper Effective Production

Apr 9, 2008
Homes and offices that are built without regard to productivity hardly ever work effectively. Productivity, and with it human effectiveness and relationships, are influenced by the environment within the four walls.

Research has shown that people who live or work in a space not designed for human productivity generally do not collaborate as well in it. Not surprisingly, small changes in working or living environments do have a big impact on productivity, both economic and social.

According to Austrian researchers, architects and engineers who specialize in living and working environment dynamics, a workplace and a home or office place can be designed and arranged in a way so it supports the collaboration verbally and visually. (A. Fuchs, and H. Hinneberg, 2007) Among their findings is one that may seem counter-intuitive in today's hyper-connected email office environment.

Intra-office cross-desk electronic correspondence systems (in other words, email, Blackberry, instant messaging) have proven ineffective when collaboration is required. Coworkers sit next to each other in their cubicles, separated physically by a flimsy wall partition. They are separated on the human level as well, as they email notes to each other instead of speaking. Can that approach really be expected to increase collaborative effectiveness?

We have always found in observational research projects that bad decisions, conflicts and mistakes happen. It's a fact of life, both at work and at home. When the relationships between the people affected by these issues are strong, the mistakes and errors are easier forgiven than when the relationship is already conflict-prong.

In this electronic age, emails do not easily improve relationship; rather they actually tend to derail them when the human context is removed. The confusion that comes with missing tone of voice, facial gestures or body language has a huge impact. How many times have you misinterpreted an email or instant message, and been offended or otherwise upset by a sarcastic or joking comment?

Studies have shown that employees who sit in large rooms without any barriers tend to improve their productivity and the quality of their collaboration. Sitting next to each other, in an open environment that supports and promotes visual and acoustic interaction, humans bring back the human element to their relationships. This can only help to improve their results.

While studies support these improvements in productivity and collaboration at work, the home living space can also be designed to foster better relationship. A well- laid home will tend to bring the family members together. On the other hand, poorly designed living spaces tend to separate family members into culture-class differentiations of "parent" and "child."

For example, an open living area that includes an area of homework, meal preparation and leisure activities brings a more egalitarian structure to the family relationship. Everyone is an equal and on the same floor level instead of parents upstairs and the children a mile away in their basement family room, or sequestered in their rooms.

Based on their research, the Austrian scientists propose to custom design the home or office structure to bring out the best in a collaborative setting. This helps to address all cultural and social aspects that are important to improved collaboration. Among their considerations are energy sources, rest, relaxation areas and creative spaces. It's also critical to allow for areas in which productivity and collaboration are the goal, as well as areas where privacy must prevail and be respected.

When human needs are met to their fullest satisfaction, there you'll find the best foundation for a happy and balanced live at home and at the workplace.
About the Author
T. Fox researches collaboration and workplace productivity within the environment in which people live and work. In this article he discusses architectural planning including considering all ambient and surrounding environmental aspects that influence people-collaboration when designing homes and offices.
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