This post is about the Campus Workplace – or the Learning Workplace, whichever you prefer. I’ve been collaborating with Dr Marie Puybaraud, Director of Workplace Innovation at Johnson Controls since 2006, exploring global workplace trends and their impact on the physical workplace.
Businesses are social entities that have organisational, spatial and technological dimensions. I thought for a long time that Marie and I were on parallel paths, she interested in the built environment and me in the hidden organisational structures that create performance climates and cultures where people can give of their best.
It wasn’t until I read a Judith Heerwagen article on distributed cognition that I got it. Of course! The workplace is a system of interacting systems. I should have known that – my PhD was about adopting a systems approach to enabling empowered work practices. We can so easily not see the obvious.
This is what Heerwagen says:
“We can think of ourselves, our tools, our colleagues, our toys, our stories, our post-it notes, and our piles of files as a distributed cognitive system that helps us remember and organize our thoughts.”
Her insight suggests that the physical workplace has a core role in enabling and visualising collective cognition and in providing congenial social spaces for tacit knowledge to be revealed, co-created and shared.
The eminent architect Frank Duffy, in a talk on the theme of Workplace To Zero? to the Johnson Controls Global Innovation Network proposed that opportunities now exist for new relationships between space, society and ideas to emerge.
He explained buildings as “theatres of decision‐making” designed in replaceable, interdependent layers of longevity, which enable them to evolve and change over time. The layers encompass site, structure, services, scenery, sets and stuff (desks, chairs, filing cabinets etc).
People plant meaning into buildings and transform them into social constructions through three interacting design systems that influence how information is passed around:
- data and information flows
- user involvement.
Effective spatial design choreographs social interactions and information flows, creating opportunity for networking and for probabilistic chance meetings.
Duffy warns about adopting too narrow an interpretation of a singular workplace. Saying that cities are “layers of leaky networks” and “brilliant inventions of interactivity”, he notes that Samuel Pepys diaries record him as a peripatetic worker and that the scientists and men of learning who frequented the coffee shops and clubs of London in the 17thand 18th centuries regarded the whole of the city as their workplace (Duffy 2008).*
Knowledge is socially constructed
Knowledge creating processes are dynamic and emerge from interactions among people, or between people and their environments. Nonaka et al. (2000)** propose that tacit knowledge is deeply rooted in action, procedures, routines, commitments, ideals, values and emotions, which is consistent with Weick’s linking of knowledge creation and ‘chaotic action’.
GSK as an example
In a BBC podcast, the broadcaster Peter Day told the story of how the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline set about dismantling their large, siloed and ineffective “temple to R&D”. This is a good example of how physical and organisational structures have to be co-designed to enable human-scale collaboration.
The podcast explores the complexity of discovery, and co-locating experts for knowledge creation and real-time problem solving. It also talks about the symbolism of the CEO moving his office to ground level and in among the action, breaking down silos, inter-disciplinary conversation, shared learning and serendipity.
The point was made very clearly that drug development happens at scale and drug delivery happens at the level of the individual. Drug discovery is highly human and inter-personal. Serendipity and chance occurrences play a significant role in discovery.
The Campus Workplace
The concept of the campus workplace was brought home recently to me when visiting the premises of an international architect practice in London. The person showing a group of us around the premises said that the average age was just over thirty and there were around forty nationalities represented in the building, which he described as feeling like a university campus.
In their Campus of the Future report, Arup’s Foresight group, in partnership with universities, explored a number of scenarios of how the future campus might look. The scenarios include a blend of physical and digital attributes, with a focus on immersive and experiential learning.
The scenario in which the campus is envisaged as learning hubs distributed throughout cities implies workplaces as part of these distributed learning hubs. The sense remains though of campus and work being separate. What I am proposing is that with work-based learning – learning at and through work – the workplace becomes a campus, where play, learning and work are inseparable.
*Frank Duffy 2008. Lumbering to extinction in the digital age: the Taylorist office building. Harvard Design Magazine, Issue 29.
**Nonaka, I., Toyama, R. And Konno, N. 2000. SECI, Ba and leadership: a unified model of dynamic knowledge creation. Long Range Planning, 33, 5 – 34.