Focus Space – It’s What You Need

Sometimes the inspiration of what to write comes from unexpected places. Recently, the phrase “Beg, Steal or Borrow” somehow got lodged in my brain and wouldn’t get out unless I started writing. But, where do start? I know – Wikipedia, of course! This proved to be a dead-end as I only found a reference to an obscure corporate pop band who made it big over 40 years ago tweaking a popular coke jingle, “I’d Like to Give / Teach the World a Coke / Song”

In my attempt to connect “Beg, Steal or Borrow” with Facilities Management and the Workplace, my editors convinced me to try again after writing comments like: “lonely paragraph”, “not on topic” and “unnecessary data” on early drafts. Wow, time to regroup.

Focus Space – part of a good, Balanced Workplace

Somewhere along the way, I ran across a new workplace study from Gensler[1], the global design and architecture firm. The study found that collaboration is not the key to office productivity that we have been led to believe and concludes that we need to achieve something called a “Balanced Workplace”. A “Balanced Workplace” is one where employees have a choice of work options, including collaboration space, but more importantly, “Focus Space.” According to their findings, “focus and the ability to collaborate is an essential framework on which employee engagement and business success can be built. Focus and collaboration are not in conflict, they complement. Ensuring the ability to focus is the critical first-step[2]” to providing an effective workplace.

According to Gensler, their “study confirms that employees who can effectively focus are 57% more able to collaborate, 88% more able to learn, and 42% more able to socialize in their workplace than their peers who are unable to focus. They are more satisfied with their jobs, more satisfied with their workplaces, and see themselves as higher performing. Get focus right, and you’re already well on your way to creating an environment in which your employees can thrive.”

Now this is indeed interesting and on-topic (finally).

More Focus Needed

The bad news is that some offices are going too far with the open concept and it is hurting productivity, with only one in four knowledge workers in the United States working in an optimal environment or Balanced Workplace. Many of today’s office designs aren’t putting enough emphasis on Focus Spaces because the thinking has been to get employees to collaborate via more open office designs. According to the 2013 study, “The trend towards open workplace environments has been emerging since the 1970s, driven by the need for more collaboration and communication. In some cases, the pendulum may have swung too far, with too much emphasis on open communication and not enough on focus. The workplace environments, when not designed effectively, can have unintended consequences—the result is that many U.S. knowledge workers are less able to focus than in 2008, the date of our last survey.”

These findings are not surprising to anyone who has followed recent office design trends towards more open, “collaborative” spaces. Having worked in Silicon Valley for the past 20 years, I have seen and experienced work environments where management admires and rewards rugged individualism not teamwork, just like the ole “wild west”. Culturally, we are trained to work individually in this country and are rewarded individually, exemplified by the extreme bonus and stock option offerings from Silicon Valley companies that make it big. Similarly, when someone at work comes up with a great new idea (a new product, feature or way to deal with the workplace, for example), we usually recognize the individual, not the team. Often times I have seen that it is not the individual that came up with the idea that is rewarded , but the “Champion” who borrows the idea. The borrower knows from experience that most employees are “Sheeple” (non-assertive people who prefer to follow and not initiate change) so the Champion gets the credit and is rewarded handsomely.

Thus, the Gensler study makes perfect sense: we have been trying to create too much “collaborative space” and not enough “Focus Space” for the American individualistic worker. Think about your workplace and the work that you do and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have adequate “Focus Space”?
  • Do the employees, contractors and other workers that you design, build and support workspace have enough “Focus Space”?
  • Have you even asked them whether they have enough “Focus Space”?

Yes, teamwork and collaboration are important but I believe that the Gensler study points to a real problem with the latest office space trends. When you factor in Mobility (which is not a fad and will only increase), with a Balanced Workplace, then you will likely find yourself with a workplace that is not hurting productivity but may actually be enhancing it.


[2] My italics

Sidebar – What is Focus Space?

Interestingly, the Gensler study failed to define what Focus Space looks like, so I thought I would provide my definition.

Focus Space:

  • Designed for the individual, rather than for team work – think private office
  • It is quiet (or filled with music of the individual worker’s choice), free from all that noise from co-workers
  • It offers visual privacy – no need to be distracted by those co-workers walking and moving about
  • It is comfortable and flexible, with ergonomic furniture
  • Filled with all the technology tools that a good individualist capitalist worker needs because there is no one else around to help
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One thought on “Focus Space – It’s What You Need

  1. Pingback: The Metrics of Distributed Work | ednovak99

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