There are good concepts developing about how to structure knowledge work, but they are completely unaligned with how we measure and plan for work and workplaces.
Knowledge work seems to benefit from a mix of focused effort and creative breaks. Ideally this means quiet spaces and large blocks of time for focus, with breaks taken in physical spaces that relax and provide opportunities for serendipity (the city outside the workplace, or an excellent cafeteria that draws employees). It also means minimizing interruptions during the focus period, which means minimizing online intrusions like email, as well as offline distractions like meetings and office "quick question" drop-bys.
Instead what we provide are cubicles, which are a kind of pseudo-private space that provide neither enclosed focus nor outreaching serendipity, Outlook-driven schedules of endless emails and meetings, and false-savings-driven workplace design that locates employees in isolated suburban campuses, with continuous-distraction "collaboration" environments where they have a table and a computer out in an open space, regardless of the work style or work type.
What the evidence supports:
- Renewal: Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day.
- Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor
People need to be able to move in and out of their focused work on their schedule, and in and out of their formal workspace on their schedule (this includes being able to leave their workplace and go outside).
We're trying to drive productivity with "time in chair", and to drive collaboration by taking away all walls. What we need to do is structure work around human physiology and psychology.
A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
Much of the above from two articles by Tony Schwartz:
- Relax! You’ll Be More Productive - New York Times - February 9, 2013
- Renewal + Value + Focus + Purpose = better work environment - New York Times - May 30, 2014
Mr. Schwartz is also promoting his business, which consults in the area of work productivity, but I think his points are still valid.
UPDATE 2014-06-09: More from Mr. Schwartz in a follow-up article in the NYT
1. Respect and hold the value of every person who works for you, because nothing matters more.
2. Start measuring people by the value they create, not by the number of hours they work.
3. Support, encourage and reward people for not responding constantly to email, and even for turning it off entirely at selected times, to get their most challenging and important work accomplished.
4. Help people build more renewal into their lives, on and off the job. ... As just one example, encourage people to take a midafternoon walk or run outside, or a 15- to 25-minute nap wherever that’s possible
5. Actively focus on making people’s jobs matter more.
6. The way you behave every day makes a far stronger statement than anything you can ever say.
On the issue of suburban vs. urban, the list of articles is long:
- Forget Big Suburban Campuses, Innovative Corporations are Moving Downtown - Brookings Institution - Greg Clark and Bruce Katz - May 27, 2014
- Amazon’s Bezos: Suburban HQ ‘would have been the wrong decision’ - GeekWire - Todd Bishop - May 21, 2014
- Big Idea 2014: Goodbye Silicon Valley, Hello Silicon Cities - LinkedIn - Bruce Katz - December 10, 2013
- Companies Say Goodbye to the 'Burbs - Wall Street Journal - Lauren Weber - December 4, 2013
- Why Apple’s Suburban Spaceship Could Lose the War for Tech Talent - Wired Business - Marcus Wohlsen - December 20, 2013
- Today's corporations want city connections and amenities, not suburban sprawl - NRDC Switchboard - Kaid Benfield - December 13, 2013
See many more along these lines at https://pinboard.in/u:scilib/t:cpsr/
There's a good video that covers some of these issues - RSA Animate - Re-Imagining Work with Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft