Yesterday I visited our new Dachis Group headquarters in Austin. Part of the day was spent arranging desks to form workspaces while giving thought to fostering conversations, where foot traffic might flow, and planning for today vs. tomorrow.
If you’re in a corporate office, look around you. Do managers and higher ranking executives occupy offices along the walls? Do junior staff sit in cubicles in-between? Where do you position your computer, your chair, your personal effects – where others can readily see them or where you’ve got an extra second for a quick alt-tab?
As we finished setting up furniture and took up our new positions, I realized we had more or less replicated the panopticon. Here’s some more history in a post I wrote last year called “Panopticons and social behavior“:
In the 18th century, English architect Jeremy Bentham designed the panopticon, a prison structure that allowed guards to watch prisoners without knowing when they were being observed – so that prisoners felt that they might be under watch at all times. Two centuries later, French philosopher Foucault applied the idea to discipline in the organization, particularly in the industrial age. Managers and foreman stood in offices high above the shop floor to observe activity below. In modern offices, the panopticon persists in today’s cube farms – where open work spaces may foster collaboration, but also facilitate observation by managers and peers.
As we think about how social business becomes reality, thought leaders advise that we focus on people and culture, beyond the technologies. If we stop there, we have still only addressed the technology issue, i.e. application and user.
Social business requires a focus on physical reality. “Real life” as some would say. And for corporations, that means rethinking the office space. Yesterday I heard it called “the forgotten factor.” Indeed. Some spaces I’ve seen have a fairly open arrangement, like the Humana Innovation Center. But most follow a traditional hierarchically-based system of awarding senior people with prime observation positions.
Take a look around. Is your space ready for social business?