Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
In the twenty-first century economy, intellectual capital has become an indispensable asset of organisations (Stewart, 1997). Many organisations now recognise the importance of human, social and cultural factors to future business success and wealth creation (Putman, 2000; Schuller, 2001; Bourdieu, 1986). Leading organisations also understand that knowledge resources are built through supporting the networking of people compromising different “communities of practice” (Wenger, 1998). There is increasing interest in the processes by which these organisations create value for customers from their knowledge resources.
Organisations that focus on the development of communities of practice seek to facilitate the development of people and knowledge networks by encouraging the flow and interaction between them. They aim to encourage greater movement and flow of people within the workplace and to enhance people to people communication, both face-to-face and through computer-mediated channels. They recognise the important role of such interactions in tacit knowledge management, and promote a better understanding of how ICT can facilitate tacit knowledge sharing through the nurturing of communities of practice (O’Hara and Brown, 2001).
Interest in these issues from a facilities management perspective addresses the complex interactions amongst people, work processes and settings and services, in the context of organisations, through time. To make a contribution to effectiveness in knowledge based, knowledge intensive and knowledge producing organisations and networks, facilities managers need to develop a better understanding of the relationships between “organising, organisation development, and new ways of working, and modern information and communication technologies and architecture, new office solutions, and physical infrastructure”.
Issues, such as corporate culture and motivational factors, have been shown to have a predominant effect on organisational performance. For example, Price (2002) has suggested that the link to organisational culture, widely made in the knowledge management arena, is beginning to be appreciated in the workplace design arena. He believes that the business value of workplace initiatives is best considered as part of the wider question of managing and measuring knowledge work. Changes in workplace may enable changes of culture but only, perhaps, if they are accompanied by changes in managerial thinking and belief systems.
The creation and management of “knowledge workplaces” requires a much better understanding of how knowledge work actually happens in knowledge-intensive organisations. Work is underway to assess the extent to which design for new ways of working are based on knowledge and understanding of how knowledge intensive organisations really work and how this work can be best supported (Gjersvik and Blakstadt, 2002).
EuroFM research: the knowledge workplace
The knowledge workplace has been a prominent theme at the past three annual EuroFM symposia, held at Salford (2002), Rotterdam (2003) and Copenhagen (2004) respectively. Researchers have addressed the issues and have responded to questions of “how to create good workplaces for knowledge work taking into account organisational issues and relations, information and communication technology and the physical layout/design?”. They have explored a common interest in the creation of settings that enable interaction, promote creativity and improve human effectiveness.
Initial contributions, made at Salford by Gjersvik and Blakstadt (2002), Haron (2002), and Fenker (2002), sought to understand the changing, collaborative nature of work in knowledge-based organisations and to identify types of knowledge work. They envisage a process of matching workplaces to knowledge work, through space design and management.
Research issues raised in Salford were then taken up at an EuroFM Seminar in Trondheim (Jenso, 2002). Case studies from a Norwegian study on new office solutions and new ways of working in knowledge intensive organisations – The Knowledge Workplace (Gjersvik and Blakstadt, 2002) – provided a vehicle for discussion in workshops. Other contributions to the workshop came from a business perspective, and were primarily concerned with developing better workplaces from a human resources perspective.
Presentations at the Rotterdam conference, which comprise this special edition, are drawn from a group of papers that contributed to a conference theme of adding value in FM. A series of six papers addressed related issues concerned with the impact of quality workplace on business success, with a focus on the organisation of space.
At the most recent conference in Copenhagen, Nenonen et al. (2004) reviewed earlier discussions about the concept of knowledge workplaces amongst European researchers to reflect on different perspectives and highlight the difficulties associated with definition and description. The authors argued that, as learning always takes place, for the workplace be considered as transformational space, which embeds both action and place. They offered a matrix of terms and concepts for knowledge workplaces and set an agenda for future work.
Design and management processes
Managers and designers must take full account of organisational issues and relations, individual expectations and preferences, information and communication technology (ICT), the physical design and layout and the business services that support effectiveness. Facilities and the environment must be in keeping with the corporate culture and not directly disrupt motivational factors (e.g. reward, responsibility, job security).
However, much existing work in the field of workplace planning and architecture, particularly Duffy and Becker, addresses concepts of “alternative workplaces” from a “built environment” perspective. Research centres in the field focus on other aspects such as change processes (Cornell), workplace making and design processes (Chalmers) and on improving workplace concepts (Delft). UK universities such as Reading and UC London (Bartlett), focus on real estate and architectural/spatial implications. They approach innovative workplace concepts from a built environment, supply-led perspective.
In contrast, the papers in this issue take a demand-led perspective with a key interest, not only in the attributes of buildings (Kaya) and capabilities of space (Steen), but more importantly in usability, intangible elements of the environment and in the user experience (Nenonen).
Processes for creating and managing knowledge workplaces must be founded on a deeper understanding of the key tenets, concepts and processes of knowledge – e.g. new literacy, ambient readability and resonance – and the role of the workplace in knowledge management. Strid focuses on the role of place in the entrepreneurial process of transforming technological concepts into successful business ventures.
Van der Voordt describes the development of concepts and solutions for the creation of non-territorial workspace – to differentiate activity settings and the introduction of wireless technology – to liberate technology from a particular space and encourage mobility. He argues for recognition of the importance of the interaction between space and technology and for tools like the balanced scorecard for assessing the business value of solutions.
Lindahl calls for an integrated model, within which to develop design and management processes appropriate to evolving forms of knowledge organisation and alternative, flexible working environments. For example, new planning techniques, like community-based planning, are needed to support collaborative working, to promote a greater involvement of end users and to encourage more participative decision-making.
The papers call for a better understanding of the management implications of these emerging design solutions for the digital office. They also argue that more effective and sensitive processes for the management of change are needed both for development and implementation of workplace solutions and for the use of these solutions in value creating work.
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Gjersvik, R. and Blakstad, S. (2002), “Towards a typology of knowledge work and workplaces”, EuroFM International Research Symposium in Facilities Management, Salford, 9/10 April
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