Designing Culture? Corporate Coworking, Part II

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Within the past week we have begun sharing our vision for how we want to extend the coworking experience ‘beyond coworking.’  What we are calling corporate coworking is elsewhere referred to as Activity Based Work (ABW), but it is really more than that.  At the heart of this is culture.  Our growing passion is to transform, and evolve, the cultures of as many organizations as we possibly can.  How do we propose to do this?

Transcending the Standard Corporate Culture Model

There is no shortage of consultancies out there that claim to understand and measure corporate culture.  Several of them, such as Denison Consulting, Chandler Macleod, Human Synergistics, and Walking the Talk, have developed highly “scientific” formulas for measuring a company’s culture.  The results of their surveys inform companies that their culture is ‘people oriented,’ or ‘customer focused,’ or ‘aggressive,’ or some other combination of words used to describe what is going on in that company.  Visually, the results of these surveys are most often color-coded, so that a company is more or less red, blue, or possibly even green.

denison Designing Culture? Corporate Coworking, Part II

But what really, at the end of the day, do these sorts of assessments tell us, or more importantly, what do they actually do for an organization?  After the results of a survey are presented, the client company is then faced with the challenge of changing values, behaviors, and a whole host of other rather personal things.  Implicit in this approach is an accusatory tone that says to many people within the firm that they have the wrong values and beliefs, and that in order for the organization to change in a desired way those people need to change (who they are).

This is rubbish.  What starts out as a bunch of words ends up with just a bunch of other words.  All firms aspire to be innovative, fair, customer oriented, grounded in integrity, focused on all stakeholders, etc.  What company doesn’t want these things?  What is presented by the A-List culture consultancies is merely candy floss masquerading as science.  Managers know that they need to attend to culture, yet they are so wedded to and blinded by the magic of science that they lie down and eat the candy floss.

Coworking as Change-Management Methodology

As the various experiments in ABW are showing, a company doesn’t need words about values, beliefs, and feelings in order to embark on meaningful cultural change.  Rather, what is needed are commitments.  The physical design, and the socio-physical-psychological interaction of people in well-designed spaces, creates patterns of community interaction on its own.  Of course it’s not all in the space alone.  It also includes giving employees choice, flexibility, and autonomy in how they do their work.  Companies can say that they aspire to be all sorts of things, but what high-performing knowledge workers really want is not that mysterious.  They want:

1. Trustworthy leaders

2. A business strategy that has a purpose beyond $

3. Involvement in meaningful work

4. Colleagues that don’t suck

5.  Maximum flexibility in how they organize their lives

6. The opportunity to innovate and grow professionally and personally

These things only become accessible and real to a group of employees if a company commits to them.  This entails designing spaces and policies that flow in accordance to the organic flows of human nature.

A culture change process that starts with the materiality of design has the potential to actually build culture, through design, without using an excess of words and colors.  The challenge, it seems, lies, first, in building the spaces and policies that align with human nature, then second, just getting out of the way.

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