Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Mon Feb 23rd 2009 at 8:29am UTC

The Four Workmodes of the Knowledge Economy

These are the four main aspects of a knowledge worker’s day, according to the workplace design firm, Gensler:

  • Focus
  • Learn
  • Socialize
  • Collaborate
  • To facilitate their practice, Gensler conducts industry-leading research into how people work.

    Their most recent study, released late last year, resulted from interviewing 900 individuals across all variety of companies from banks to telecom to internet to financial services. They also examined the overall workplaces in question as well as corporate performance including profitability as well as measures of innovation and market leadership.

    According to Gensler, leading companies and their employees placed a much higher emphasis on collaborative activities (including socializing) and less on individual focused work.

    We found that employees at top-performing companies not only spend more time collaborating and learning, they consider that time more critical to job success than do their peers at average companies, who remain focus work-centered.

    Leading companies often have spent money in recent years creating custom workplaces to facilitate collaboration, socializing, and learning as well as allow for focused individual work.

    This led Gensler to create a Work Place Index (WPI) based on a range of factors from air and light quality to overall design. They then examined a company’s WPI score against factors such as profitability, and noted a strong positive correlation (and this WPI score can be done before and after a major workplace renovation).

    The results show that as a company’s WPI rises, their scores on multiple business metrics also rise, including profit, market position, innovation capabilities, employee engagement and brand.

    Indeed for some leading companies, workplace change that increased the WPI score corresponded to profits rising 7-14 percent.

    As more research like Gensler’s reaches the knowledge economy and broader corporate world, it is likely to continue the push toward workplace changes – both the physical and psychological. After all, many employees don’t want to be seen as socializing too much for fear of it being considered unproductive; or feel they should be seen diligently working in their office.


    7 Responses to “The Four Workmodes of the Knowledge Economy”

    1. Mike L. Says:

      Quote: “creating custom workplaces to facilitate collaboration, socializing, and learning”
      How can this be implemented in corporations that are moving to telecommuting for core activities and out-sourcing for non-core activities?
      Is loss of creativity the penalty for being “green” and efficient?

    2. Dennis Says:

      It sounds like the idea of efficiency ironically does not promote productivity.

      A humane workspace over a mechanical workspace

    3. Wendy Waters Says:

      Hi Mike,

      Good question.

      As Richard has often written, the world is spiky not flat. Greater prosperity happens in places with lots of people in close proximity because they collaborate in myriad formal and informal ways. A specific workplace isn’t really all that different — if you get people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives brainstorming on the challenges of the day, innovative ideas and solutions often emerge.

      Perhaps you could tell me which companies are outsourcing core functions (as opposed to something more peripheral) and shifting to 100% telecommuting as I’d like to learn more about how they are able to overcome the creativity gap.

      On the Green issue, some companies do allow their workers to decide when they need to collaborate and be at the office, and when they can telecommute or work remotely from elsewhere. Capital One is an example of this approach. Others have “core days” or “core hours” in the formal office — the big accounting-consulting firms would be examples here — while employees can decide to divide their other time between client site and working from home if they so choose.

      One goal of many companies in re-thinking their workspace (making it more “humane” to use Dennis’s words) is getting employees to choose to work at the office. If it’s a fun place to be or where you get the exhilaration of coming up with cool new ideas, many people will choose to work there.

    4. Areeb Masood Says:

      If we look at the last two workmodes: socialize and collaborate, we can see evidence of it even in the manufacturing arena – a place where we would least expect it.

      An example of this is around the “one-piece flow” and “flexible manufacturing cells” at Toyota, where as opposed to each worker working on a single machine and mindlessly churning out parts, machines are organized as a “process” and workers move from one machine to the next in sequence until a whole part is manufactured and then they start all over again.

      The end result of such a system for Toyota has been the reduction of inventory, reduction of over-production, reduction in the amount of space used, improvement in quality (as multiple people look at the same part), etc.

      It is easy to see, how this kind of setup would have promoted socialization (operators can now work with each other and interact with each other as opposed to just sitting alone on a single machine, cutoff from the rest of the team) and this socialization would lead to collaboration.

      In this regard, I would say that socialization and collaboration are closely linked, and that in fact, one leads to the other…

    5. Troy Camplin, Ph.D. Says:

      Humans aren’t machines. We aren’t efficient that way. We are complex and social. We are more likely to collaborate well with people we have been social with. COmpanies need to learn to be smart about such things, creating different kinds of rewards (the best programmer should probably not be given a promotion into management, but rather given a raise and kept programming), recognizing different personality types, different levels of psychological complexity, and how people are social. If you have two people who can’t get along, don’t keep them together, try not to fire one or the other, but perhaps restructure. Also, people need to work both alone and in groups, formally and informally. Some time alone prevents groupthink, while time together allows for workshopping ideas. Taking people who are actually doing the job seriously in their suggestions is also a good idea — and a vital resource too many don’t take advantage of. In fact, companies need to take advantage of the fact that humans are simultaneously social and individualistic. The strengths of both are available for any company who is wise enough to make us of them.

    6. Alan Gilmour Says:

      Great stuff -I have been looking for some research discussions in this area. If anyone has any other surveys about the link between informal collaboration and success, can you post up a link.

      Also, has anyone done research in how this would work in a university/ student situation?


    7. Azahar Says:

      The quote: “creating custom workplaces to facilitate collaboration, socializing, and learning” is so important to today’s learning population. I couldn’t agree more with exciting those learners with their dreams and goals. “Humans aren’t machines. We aren’t efficient that way. We are complex and social. We are more likely to collaborate well with people we have been social…” This video goes along with exactly what we are talking about here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDfew0YcDTo


      Azahar (EducationDynamics)