Finding Your Best Work In The Best Work Space

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Where do you do your best work?

Before you answer that question, think about this: do you really know the best environment for you to pull out your best work? It seems easy to define. For most, it’s either work (the office), home (home office) or a public space (cafe, library, whatever). What if that were not true? What if there were so many possibilities and opportunities that you actually don’t know the real answer to that question, because you haven’t tried them all. It’s staggering to think about that, but it’s true. For the longest time, work was done in offices. We left work and we slid down the dinosaur into our cars to head home at the end of the day (and not think about it again until the next morning). If the phone rang at home during non-office hours, there was some kind massive emergency, and those moments are few and far between. As we became more connected, the lines blurred. We started having people telecommuting (working from home) and responding to non-urgent business inquiries via mobile devices, email and more. What was once considered taboo (let’s not talk about work unless we’re at work) has now morphed into a world where the expectation is that we will respond to any random form of communication on a moment’s notice. For some, this is perfectly wonderful, for others this is creating an entirely new generation of anxiety disorder-prone individuals.

It created more than new levels of stress.

With this connectivity also came a new form of worker bee and a new type of entrepreneur. Because we’re all connected and can work from anywhere at anytime (this blog post is being written from seat 2D on a late night flight about 35,000 feet above your head), some people are constructing their own businesses and work schedule based around the lifestyle they would like. This isn’t about being a part of the nocturnal workforce, it’s much more profound.

Case in point.

A close friend (and, it’s someone you probably know) is a very well-respected business book author, they are a prolific speaker and built their platform only a few short years ago, primarily through Twitter, doesn’t work in the summer. At all. Nothing. Instead, they decided to leverage the power of technology to build a career that would enable them to take off for over two full months in the summer. Most of their professional focus is spent on ensuring that the summer is free. Their sanctuary. Granted, this may sound sexy to many of us, but it isn’t always viable. Most of us still have teams to work with and management to report into. Yes, flex hours and flex schedules are becoming more pervasive as companies try to figure out ways to cut expenses, but we’re still able to work in new and different ways.

The end of Dilbert?

In CTRL ALT Delete (my second business book that was released at the end of 2013), I talk about how challenging it is for most individuals to understand the new physical environments we work in (and what the work space of tomorrow will be like). There are two forces at play here:

  1. The physical structures. This is how we have evolved the office from offices and secretaries to cubicles to something new. A lot of the latest developments in physical office spaces is happening because the ability to produce spaces in new and unique shapes is relatively nascent. We built offices to look and act like factory floors (machines were lined up, so desks were lined up) to more organic spaces now (have you ever noticed how much more rounded spaces have become – nooks and corners – and how interior and exterior experiences flow together a lot more naturally?). This is pervasive because manufacturers can now create these different shapes and sizes with a lot more ease and with a similar costing structure to the previous formats.
  2. The layout. We live in a world of collaboration, where work spaces are open, desks are connected and lounging/creative areas are dispersed between desks where people share things like telephones and can be a part of each other’s work in a much more multi-disciplinary fashion. Many see this as core to how nimble and real-time the business winners of today act.

Well, is it true? Are the businesses spaces making us work better?  

I’m a lucky individual. I get to spend a lot of my time sharing the stage with smart business people, authors, thinkers and leaders. Over the years, many of these people have become close friends. I count Susan Cain as one of them. Most know Susan because of the 8 million+ views she racks up on her TED talks and millions of others know her because of her bestselling book, Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (and, if you haven’t read this fantastic book, you really should). Susan is in the midst of launching what she calls, the Quiet Revolution. Products, services and education for people who are introverted. With that, she has recently been getting a lot of attention because of a partnership with Steelcase (the office furniture manufacturer). The collection is called, Susan Cain Quiet Spaces. The idea is to bring attention to a new reality: these open concept, "everybody work in public" may not be the best scenario for everyone, and it may not be the ideal way to cultivate the best ideas. As much as we need to be around others, many of us need some quiet time along to work through some challenges/work/relationships on our own. But, it’s deeper than that. In the Fast Company article, Steelcase And Susan Cain Design Offices For Introverts, Cain explains the evolving landscape of how we work: "People are afraid to talk about intimacy in the workplace because of the implications. But we need to make space for it. One of the problems with open-plan offices is that people are less likely to make friends because they feel like they will be overheard, but friendship requires the exchange of confidences… The more employee well-being is nurtured, the better their work."

Where we work is changing as rapidly as what we’re working on.

With all of this office evolution, you may be thinking that life might be marginally better if we all just worked from home. Less commuting. Less stress. We can dress in our underwear… whatever. It turns out that this ideology is false as well. In the Wall Street Journal article, Work Creates Less Stress Than Home, Penn State Researchers Find, we’re learning a whole bunch of new stuff (that seems counterintuitive): "In a new study, published online last month in Social Science & Medicine, researchers at Penn State University found significantly and consistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, in a majority of subjects when they were at work compared with when they were at home. This was true for both men and women, and parents and people without children." While the article doesn’t discuss those that work from home as well, you can well imagine what the results might be when those two world’s collide? So, we thought we would be less stressed when we’re home. Nope.

Work. It evolves… and it continues to amaze me.