Wednesday, 25 March 2015

#SWDS15 - Workplace Design at Google, Ebay and Airbnb

(the solar eclipse in Amsterdam - apparently)

I’ve already posted on the HR experts panel at Fleming’s Smart Workspaces Summit - now for a review of some of the other sessions and my main learnings.

I see strategic HCM as a very human centric way of doing HR and have been posting recently on human centric approaches to engagement and learning.  So you won’t be surprised to hear that I was particularly drawn towards Nigel Oseland’s inputs on Human Centred Design.

We started this session with Tim Oldman’s findings for the Leesman Index that only 53% of employees say their workplaces help them be more productive.

Dealing with this requires that we design for a human scale - not cramming too many people in on small desks.  And that we design for the issues I discussed in my last post (collaboration and creativity etc), not for cost!  We also need to provide variety and flexibility for all individuals.

But we also need to accomodate individual needs and psychological factors.  We select different personality types and then bung people together in the same workplace.  But people are different.  Extroverts prefer breakouts, bars and huddles.  Neurotics prefer quiet and private meeting rooms.  Open minded prefer 1:1 and huddles.  And both open and extroverts dislike formal meeting rooms.

We design for the 'extrovert ideal' and ignore the introverts, which is particularly stupid as the extroverts are always out of the office.

It's why I thought Jacqui Grey's session on neuroscience was such an excellent start to the conference - although Jacqui felt that fixed / growth mindsets is a bigger issue for workforce transformation than Nigel's introvert / extrovert point.

Frans Van Eersel, Facilities Manager, Benelux and Poland, Google, Netherlands

I don’t know if Nigel was thinking about Google but they certainly have a very stimulating environment, even in the Netherlands.

At Google, workplace design is about providing Googlers with a happy, healthy and high performing environment.  This is largely about providing choice and accessibility but everyone has their own workspace - there's no hoteling.  People (Frans actually called them users) can personalise their workspaces to provide a sense of belonging eg teams put up flags of their home countries.

Google also try to reduce friction, so for example they providing a tech shop in case people have forgotten a charger etc,

And there’s a big focus on health and wellbeing - allowing for rejuvenation and relaxation spaces, encouraging movement and healthy eating, providing ergonomic setup and focusing on indoor environmental quality (IEQ) - air, noise, daylight etc.  For example there’s a healthy materials programme trying to avoid paints full of toxins etc and limiting the sorts of irritations and allergies and don’t really know where they come from.

Healthy food is provided almost 24/7 - not so much to attract talent but because they wanted their engineers to live healthier rather than having pizzas in the basement.  And because good food stimulates creativity and innovation and also when they sit on long tables they will interact with others, perhaps the CEO or other teams.

There are also nap pods for people to take a quick ten minutes after lunch.  Rejuvenation is also supported by an extensive massage programme and fitness centres.

There are different spaces for people to get their heads down or get into huddles.  And other spaces support quiet work.

Of course workplace design shouldn’t be limited to office workers and one of the things I really liked about Google’s presentation was that it showed how their approach is applied to the types of Googlers wearing labcoats too.

Derrick Bock, Head of Workplace Design, eBay, Germany

My favourite session on differentiated spaces was from eBay who talked about their identification of Base, Creativity, Recovery, Focus, Social Networking and Formal Presentation spaces:
  • Base is a place to call home, not necessarily a desk and could be as simple as a locker. 
  • Creativity is where people can contextualize problems and expand their thinking.
  • Recovery requires a quiet, low-light area where people can close their eyes in comfort for 5- 15 minutes without anxiety.
  • Focus ranges from small booths where people can absorb themselves in focused work, to a stimulating space where they can research and learn.
  • Social networking is where people can gather to hold informal meetings and exchange ideas in a relaxed state.
  • And there’s formal presentation which is the familiar space for hosting formally chaired meetings.

People can use the spaces flexible depending upon their needs and to support wellbeing - we have an energy curve that runs throughout the day – different spaces encourage us to maximize our natural energy cycle.

Spaces are also arranged around people into working networks - as a home area, a neighbourhood, and a community:
  • myHome is a personal space, a desk, a seat, ... any place for a person to work anywhere in their department. This working network is on a team scale.
  • myNeighbourhood is a shared space between adjoining departments where resources are pooled. This working network is on an inter-departmental scale. 
  • myCommunity is the shared resources in a building which all departments use. This working network is on a company scale.

Google provide functional spaces arranged into neighbourhoods  with 'magnets' nearby - micro kitchens to stimulate chance conversations.  It also promotes activity by making people walk to recycling stations.

eBay organise their neighbourhoods withn a grid giving everyone a pace of 1600x1700mm for their home spaces.  There are spaces between the neighbourhoods filled by other activities or destinations (like Google’s magnets.)  And they try to create distinct styles within the neighbourhoods so it's like I'm going somewhere when I come to you.

Mark Levy, Global Head of Employee Experience,
Aaron Harvey, Environments Design Lead,
Airbnb, US

Airbnb provided more detail about how they design in these types of spaces without resorting to the now traditional open plan space of cubicles and hoteling which create so much unhappiness around the world, and creating privacy without diminishing visibility:
  • Belong Everywhere .  This is shared space (not anonymous space) and consists of a mixture of individual, team and social space.  The approach emphasises free desking to connect people to a variety of spaces across the office so belonging is not associated with a single desk. 
  • High contrast spaces depending on needs eg on-demand / quick-access quiet spaces and noisier collaboration spaces allowing individuals to choose a location based on their current needs. 
  • Team hubs acting as shared resources for teams and being flanked by communal tables and lounge seating. These spaces are the default area for team leads and others who l to stick close, team leads etc. 
  • Duck-in spaces for one, two or three people providing acoustic privacy. 

Workplace mobility is supported by the digital workflow and storage solutions for tools and personal belongings.  Eg power and data is distributed throughout so a lounge chair is just as much a work space as the communal table.

I particularly liked Airbnb’s landing / standing desks providing a standing workspace plus room to charge a macbook and store coats and shoes / work slippers to get changed into after cycling into work. 

Mark and Aaron talked about research in ergonomics challenging the traditional desk.  Desks and their accompanying file cabinets were a 19th century solution to the sudden influx of paper brought about by the industrial revolution and allowed people to sort, mark and file this paper.  But paper is not less and less relevant to most work and the desk has become an island of personalisation in otherwise immutable office landscape eg a surface for knick knacks.  There must be better days of building identification at work.  However this is a disruptive concept.  People need to feel they’re getting something much better in return for losing a desk whether this is standing or lying down.

We also talked a lot about the benefits and standing vs sitting and hopefully there’ll be more options for attendees to stand vs sit during the conference next year…

(Picture credit Andy Swann)

More later.

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  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com


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