Leaders of today are facing very different problems than that of their predecessors. Infobesity, rapid context shifting and the need to protect brand and influence mean the way we do business has changed drastically. Compounded by today’s complex and unpredictable economic environment and the constantly shifting business landscape, modern leaders can no longer afford to be estranged from what’s really happening in their organization. They need a finger on the pulse and an ear to the ground at all times.
Because of this, progressive leaders are embracing the chaos by reshaping their organizations to operate as complex adaptive systems. They are fundamentally dismantling the orderly processes and protocols of the past to create more inclusive and connected organizations. They are building organizations that are better able to attain the big-picture intelligence and purposeful engagement that are so necessary for successful adaption to the disruptive realities of today.
Employees play a fundamental role in this evolution. They must act as resilient, agile “agents”: interacting, learning, adapting and responding to change. The physical workplace is an important agent that can enable openness, transparency and flexibility, helping leaders create the conditions for an engaged workforce that can enable this change. But as organizations adopt new ways of working, many executives quickly discover that their offices feel out-of-date and constricting.
In the past, executive offices were seen as a reward for high achievement and played a significant role in representing status and hierarchy. But for leaders who can’t afford to be isolated, the corner office is losing purpose. The iconic executive office can reinforce hierarchy and a top-down power structure. For today’s highly mobile, highly stressed CEO, managing a fragmented schedule and only moments to regroup between meetings and locations, the isolated private office is of little help. Now and in the future, it’s clear that physical space must work harder to support leaders’ work practices, and help them achieve their peak performance.
To understand the challenges leaders encounter, and how they need to work differently, a team of Steelcase researchers and designers conducted a two-year study of executives’ behaviors. Discovering new insights and distilling innovative concepts for a leadership space that empowers executives to lead in fundamentally better ways, they were able to identify three key principles for designing leadership spaces that can better support leaders in their new roles and reinforce new ways of leading.
1. Nurture the individual There is a link between physical health, mental health and cognitive performance. Executives need to manage significant stress from the performance pressures they face. Environments that help executives manage stress and promote their wellbeing can enhance their cognitive processes.
2. Space as synapse Executives face even greater challenges in maintaining relationships and informational connections, especially in globally integrated organizations. Leadership spaces can be designed to help facilitate better connections between people and information, while providing remote executives with a virtual presence more similar to the experience of leaders who are physically present in the space.
3. Enable transitions Executives are challenged with the need to constantly switch informational contexts throughout the day. Time is also a critical resource. Physical spaces can help accelerate contextual immersion and support leaders getting into flow faster.
As businesses are getting more global and less hierarchical, people need to see their leaders more as equals, but with the understanding that their jobs are still measurably harder, and their schedules more demanding. Because of this, the once coveted corner office is fast becoming impractical for today’s leaders. Instead, an ecosystem of spaces which accommodate the need for collaborative and private work modes, and which promote the free-flowing exchange of ideas are becoming far more valuable.