The Business of splendid isolation

Jan 15 2006 by John Blackwell Print This Article

While changes in the nature of work present a great opportunity for enhancing business performance, disconnections and gaps in the goals and visions for workplace components often allow opportunities to slip away.

With the start of the New Year, has your organisation also ushered in a heightened raft of corporate activity in the search of business growth and profit enhancement? Is this being sought through the usual Holy Grail digest of mergers and acquisition activity, corporate restructuring, or widespread business transformation?

As we know, we now live in an age when the very nature of work itself has changed more radically than the commercial world that surrounds us. Modern workplaces are formed of inherently complex interdependent relationships of people, space and technology, and these relationships pose substantial risk and uncertainty for those of you with responsibility for organisational performance.

But the improvements in productivity once sought by the isolated application of automation, technology, and developments in management techniques are now bringing diminishing returns. Moving forward, the people who possess and effectively deploy information are of far greater importance than the technology they use. Yes, I know this is stating the obvious but it's so easy for organisations to overlook this most basic of points!

Business growth can no longer be derived from simply putting more people to work - as in the past - or from driving greater consumer demand. Growth needs to come from a continuing increase in the resource that developing countries still hold as a competitive advantage — the effectiveness of your knowledge workers.

However, this increasing value of knowledge workers lies at the heart of a paradox. In the past, employers owned the means of production. Today's knowledge workers own the means of production – the knowledge in their heads. As a result, they have become both assets and costs – and expensive ones to boot.

People are the single most expensive asset for any organisation – accounting for 70 per cent or greater of organisational costs – and this expensive and increasingly capricious knowledge worker asset sits at the hub of complex interaction between people, space, and technology.

Let's expand on this.

Business space should exist primarily to provide a great place for our knowledge workers to convene
Business space should exist primarily to provide a great place for our knowledge workers to convene. In a commercial world full of environmental and cost pressures, it is not enough to continue with poor space utilisation, inappropriate or poor locations, ineffective provision of meeting and collaboration facilities, and territorial space stemming from dated management practices.

These expensive knowledge workers should not be trekking to the office merely because of habit or outmoded business conventions. With increasing work-related stress and the demands for a diverse workforce, the provision of the most effective collaboration tools is not just a nicety but an essential priority for competitive survival.

What's more, real talent is increasing rare, with companies having to get their knowledge workers where they can. Nowadays, people who 'can do the job' are choosing to live where the lifestyle is better, congestion is less, there is a magnificent view, or they can better balance their family commitments.

Your conundrum is which comes first? The place we work, the people we work with, or the tools needed to collaborate and share?

The answer is they are all equally critical – tinker with one pillar and you will see this delicate house of cards tumble.

The good news is that informed organisations are turning these interdependencies into substantial financial gain and performance enhancement. They are banishing the old isolated projects of space design, HR and IT that consistently failed to deliver their potential.

Our contention – substantiated by four years of research, proven methods, and considerable client success – is, to manage and reduce workplace costs on a sustainable basis whilst increasing the availability of knowledge workers, organisations need to adopt a rounded holistic approach to transforming business performance.

Any approach to enhancing performance must:

  • Minimise the amount of change in each area,
  • Be supported by hard, tangible metrics that answer the "what's in it for me" across the entire organisation – individual and executive alike.
  • Solicit the personal business commitments of all key stakeholders behind a unified set of goals and vision.

Only then will we see organisations competing effectively, with the right focus on providing people with the right tools in the right environments at the right time. In an economy with tight budgets, it is beholden on executives to craft the most effective workplaces for maximum share-holder return and knowledge worker delight.

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About The Author

John Blackwell
John Blackwell

John Blackwell is a sought after global thought-leader on effective business operation. His is author of over 30 management books and a visiting fellow at three leading universities.