Humanizing the Workplace: Using Design Principles to Inspire Workplace Thinking

By: Melinda Gorgenyi
Mar 30, 2016 3:10 PM ET
Melinda Gorgenyi, Vice President, Integrated Facilities Management, Sodexo North America

Humanizing the Workplace: Using Design Principles to Inspire Workplace Thinking

This is the sixth in a continuing blog series based on insights and findings from the Sodexo 2016 Workplace Trends Report. The Reportexamines nine key trends affecting business outcomes and the quality of life of employees and consumers. To learn more, access the full article: Humanizing the Workplace: Using Design Principles to Inspire Workplace Thinking

In this conceptual age, business and our work must be increasingly right-brained—that is, based on our ability to empathize, recognize patterns, discern new meaning, create narratives, work together and play.  But the left-brain attributes of body strength, attention to detail and a reliance on knowledge will always be needed. Ultimately, whole brain thinking will drive innovation, creating growth and sustaining the success sought by companies.

So, how do companies create an environment that maximizes productivity in today’s right-brained workplace? Workspace design is increasingly important, relying on principles that provide a roadmap to inspire new thinking and guide decision-making processes. Ideally, design principles that drive workplace thinking emerge from the higher purpose and “why” of a company’s brand.

There are areas common to all companies that may help guide workplace initiatives both large and small. The following set of design principles represents perspectives and viewpoints that guide or at least influence managers and leaders who are charged with humanizing the workplace for today’s employees.

Get Serious About Play:  It’s not about foosball tables. Play in the workplace fosters collaboration, promotes teamwork and establishes an environment where failure is an option. Especially in group play experiences, we learn about the learning, communication and personality styles of our fellow workers, and that understanding not only humanizes the workplace, it nurtures imagination, improves productivity and a feeling of fulfillment. Employees who have taken part in a fun activity within the last six months say they are motivated to work harder, feel more productive, creative, valued, trusted, i.e., everything that nurtures employee engagement.

Mind the New Mindfulness:  The trend for less private space in the workplace drives the need for quiet time and privacy. It’s not just the open space workplace that distracts us, interfering with our ability to concentrate. Our complicated lives and endless inner dialogue divert our attention. Practicing mindfulness—even very short periods of inner quiet—can improve our judgment and our ability to focus, and enable us to communicate more clearly.

Lose Your Balance:  the myth of work/life balance dominates the media and our attitudes, creating additional stress. Our pursuit of balance is based on zero-sum game thinking where there has to be a loser and a winner. However, better results are achieved when the objective is balancing personal and professional needs and responsibilities so that neither is neglected, decreasing stress, often facilitated by flexible schedules.

Rethink Knowing:  Companies rely more than ever on big data, but in the new conceptual age, the growing gap between knowing and understanding, more than any other change in business, will challenge why, how, when and where we work. Workplaces must inspire optimism, curiosity, empathy and storytelling, supporting the ability to imagine entirely new possibilities.

Recognize Recognition: Endless studies demonstrate that employees almost always value personal recognition more highly than financial gain. People need to be recognized for taking risks and failing as much as they are for more conventional achievement. When people are afraid to stretch and dare, they play it safe, undermining creativity, productivity and growth.

Blur the Organization:  If a business’ goals are innovation, growth and sustainable success, the traditional siloed, hierarchical, command-and-control model is the antithesis of what’s required to succeed. Blurring organizational lines and enabling people to “cross-pollinate” is a tremendous advantage when developing a “what’s next” goal. The right work environments eliminate the departmental silos so traditional to command-and-control thinking.

Create Place, Not Space:  The most productive workplace cultures evolve, taking shape on their own, and it’s up to leadership to set the vision and direction. Places, not spaces, can promote or deter collaboration and encourage or deter achievement of a company’s goals and ambitions.

The bottom line is that humanized spaces are good investments, facilitating more productive, competitive and profitable companies.

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Melinda Gorgenyi is Vice President of Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) for Sodexo North America.  Ms. Gorgenyi leads the IFM team to enhance and implement Sodexo’s global strategies in hard and soft FM, real estate services and public-private partnerships.