During my professional career, I have worked in many different rooms. In my early days, as a young employee, I didn't put much thought into it. There were single office rooms, rooms for two, and the large open-plan office – all types you can think of. It wasn't until I started facilitating workshops that I began to pay attention to the impact that the available meeting rooms had on workshop participants and the outcome of the workshop.
One bad experience had a long-lasting effect: a meeting room that was much too small, with a lack of fresh air supply and a lack of ample space, led to downright aggression among the participants in case meetings lasted several hours. The causal connections were obvious – not only for me. After all, everyone knows that you need enough oxygen to think, and there should be enough space so that you can avoid getting bruises when you hang the flipchart.
However, there are more subtle aspects of equal importance which we had ignored for many years – as we relied on the professionalism of all those involved. It has been proven by psychologists in the meantime that people refer to the external world during their thought processes and that thinking is not simply an internal process. I am referring to the Extended Mind Theory, the findings of which Annie Murphy Paul summarized in her 2021 book ‘The Extended Mind - The Power of thinking Outside the Brain.’
On the one hand, this means that we perceive the space around us and that this space supports or impedes our thought process, depending on the nature of our workplace. On the other hand, it means that we perceive the people around us, and thus our thinking is not only influenced by the interaction with these people, but also by the relationship we have with them. In addition, our thought processes are greatly supported by tools such as notes, visualizations, and prototypes. It's not for nothing that Design Thinker refer to prototypes as ‘thinking with your own hands!’
Let’s take this as the basis for specifying the ideal nature of a workshop space where new, useful, and inspiring things are meant to be created:
- Flooded with daylight, ideally with a view to the outside
- Spacious in relation to the room’s size
- Using greenery to simulate nature
- Secure within the meaning of being ‘ring-fenced’ from others who do not participate in the workshop
- Functional equipment, which means that all necessary resources and tools are readily available: stable flip charts, solid metaplan boards, pens that actually write, etc.
- Only include such furniture that is needed and fulfills a meaningful function – yet, they may well be beautiful to look at! In other words: beanbags that are too comfortable are just as unsuitable as uncomfortable wooden benches. Too many tables mostly cause distraction as they generate unwanted distance.
In the most recent years, much has changed, and workspace has been set up that is a source of inspiration and offers security at the same time. However, still all too often, there are unsuitable premises, whether in corporate conference rooms that still primarily rely on distance reflecting a board meeting architecture, or co-working spaces that often do not offer sufficiently secure and secluded office space for individual focused working.
In her article ‘Why we need suitable rooms for thinking’ in the 16th volume of the German magazine Neue Narrative, author Emma Marx recommends establishing a personal workspace that is designed to cater to individual needs. This customized design creates a feeling of being in control which in turn provides us with a feeling of security. And this is the prerequisite for having good focus. This shows that the concept of ‘hot-desking’ (each person choosing a new desk every day) introduced many years ago in a lot of companies was anything but conducive to promote undisturbed thinking.
What is important to me: I would like to raise awareness that after all it does matter where we work. We should make some effort to set up an efficient workplace, whether at home, in the office, or even in the workshop room. The benefit is the outcome (of our thought processes).
A personal note: Starting this year, I will be publishing my newsletter every three weeks instead of every two weeks. In doing so, I can make sure to find enough time to talk about inspiring topics besides my client projects, my family life, and voluntary activities
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here