How to Design a Workspace for Sharing

Q: How can I give my employees greater choice at work regarding the overall workspace environment?

A: Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Menlo Innovations applies "High-Tech Anthropology" to help its clients fully understand and solve their business problems and opportunities by developing software or training its clients to develop the software themselves.

In the Menlo Software Factory, each team member is paired with another team member while they do their work. This means one computer for every two people, working on the same task at exactly the same time. The pairs change each week to ensure transparency.

Thus no individual on the team is a singular "tower of knowledge" who can hold a project hostage. This work style requires that people learn to think out loud, become comfortable offering critical feedback to other team members, and it builds high levels of trust.

This fluidity extends to the way the workspace is organized.

At Menlo, the 13 team members are encouraged to reconfigure the workspace to suit their needs of the moment.

This is facilitated by an open and collaborative workspace that has no cubes or offices, but rather lightweight tables and electrical/network drops from the ceiling that provide for infinite flexibility in layout.

The team takes advantage of this freedom of choice by rearranging the workspace as needed to fit the needs of the project on which they are working. In fact, their CEO, Rich Sheridan recently told me often he comes to work after being away on a business trip only to find that even his desk has been moved!

The right to choose and reconfigure the workplace environment to meet their needs results in team members who are happier, more productive and more communicative – while also feeling more in control of their environment.

"We have found that democracy in the workplace creates the most authentic expression of employee empowerment," says Sheridan. "This then creates an environment that is joyful, creative, and fun not only for employees but for management as well."  

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