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Office Space and Communication Tips and Tricks From a Workplace Anthropologist

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As intriguing as it is to watch Don Draper roam the hallways of his beautifully appointed 1960's advertising agency in Mad Men, we'd probably agree that we're glad the modern workspace has evolved into something that better fits our humanity both in and out of the office.

But this kind of workspace evolution is only helpful when it's informed by research and not enacted on a whim.

I call myself "Chief Brand Anthropologist" of Turnstone, because I'm fascinated by the connections that can be made when taking the time to observe how people interact, their postures during tasks, the tone and volume of someone's voice when they enter a space and the level of mobility various teams require to be the most productive.

Though my training lies beyond anthropology, the science of humanity remains the basis for how we run our business.  Since I frequently get asked about the "how" and "why" of office anthropology, the following are some thoughts to help you frame your own conversations. Pull up your favorite chair and listen in.

Your work environment needs a little bit of everything.

The best type of work environment for you should support both your needs and lend itself to enhanced productivity and creativity. Considering this, independent and collaborative settings are important.

Related: How to Amp Up Your Office Style on a Startup Budget

Knowledge work has four basic modes: focus, collaboration, learning and socializing. Each of these is best supported by a different environment, like a quiet place to get work done, a co-working area for discussion, a conference room for presentations and a cafeteria to chat. These "palette of places," provide a variety of setting for certain work needs.

Work in a position that benefits your health.

The choice to sit, stand or lounge depends on each person. We should diligently seek ergonomic positions for health and well-being. Perhaps more important than the question of whether you should sit or stand is allowing movment when necessary rather than insisting that team members remain static. Small movements throughout the day can have a bigger impact than rigorous exercise.

There is no one-way to align your team.

The work of aligning teams is another instance of blending several components together. I align teams based on personality, work and anthropology by considering the individuals involved, as well as their tasks and ask questions like:

  • What kind of work will they be doing?
  • What type of tasks will fall under their umbrella?
  • What level of interaction will they need?
  • What variety of settings do they need?

Related: Bursting at the Seams? Tips for Expanding Your Startup's Office Space

Then I model the behavior.  For instance, if we determine that a team will need space to work collaboratively, such as on a set of sofas, then leadership needs to model that it's all right to sit down with a pillow.

Hospitality is a necessity for work culture.

Hospitality is important to humans because it's the right thing to do, and it also sets the tone for higher performance. Creativity and innovation require people to take risks. People are more likely to do that when they feel happy, secure and trust the people they are interacting with at work.

Extending hospitality can be as simple as offering hot coffee or snacks, but it can also be in the form of sending a card when your graphic designer has a baby or planning a potluck lunch. Provide necessities like office supplies and make sure your everything works. Markers need to write and technology will eventually need a plug-in.

Hospitality reminds us that we matter, that we're not overlooked, that someone sees and someone cares about us and that our comfort is not a nuisance. But it's more than that. It's the ingredient that will make a good office culture great.

What tips do you have for being the most productive at work? Let us know in your comments below.

Kevin Kuske

Written By

Kevin Kuske is the chief brand advocate for Turnstone, a business focused on fostering the creation of other small businesses through design and furniture.