Human Behaviour and Physical Space – November 29, 2004

The Connection between human behaviour and physical space

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 5 –  November 29, 2004


There are global forces of change that are requiring us to re-think our accommodation solutions. Technology, globalisation and the disappearance of borders means that the customer has more power than ever before when it comes to choosing the range, quality and speed of products and services. This means that as the world begins to resemble one large shopping mall the key to competitive positioning is differentiation or demonstrating ‘value add’. This has given birth to the knowledge economy as we know it and attracting and retaining those ‘gold collar’ workers is the critical to a company’s long-term sustainability. This is especially important in today’s tight labour market.


These knowledge workers have certain expectations and needs if they are to deliver the innovative and creative solutions so necessary for survival today.


They seek a well-branded office as image is important. They look for an environment that provides life balance, technological sophistication and inspirational spaces.


The accommodation solutions of the future should provide design that not only enhances productivity and efficiency but also supports the sharing of knowledge, enable cross-functional relationships, promote brand, and reflect social responsibility and ESD. As product life cycles become shorter and shorter, flexibility is the key to long-term returns on investment although it must be said that it is virtually impossible to have a ‘future-proof’ environment.


The workplace must become a magnet for talent and structured around excellence in service delivery.


The key challenge in all of this, of course, is how we take people on the journey with us.

How do we ensure that we take the human factor into account when we require an organizations people to adapt to new behaviours and build new relationships? This requires a structured process for change that takes into account the difficult subject of human emotion and human needs for understanding, respect, empowerment and involvement. When an accommodation solution is aimed at supporting the business plan, then people need to understand and get excited about the future and their new physical environment.


There are three key cultural indicators and our physical environment is one. Our physical environment is a daily living reminder of who we are and the messages in the design can be symbolic as well as clearly articulated in the form of inspirational statements about desired behaviours and culture. (Clemenger Harvey is an exciting example of this where their corridors are lined with quotes from people like Einstein and Aristotle) The other two key cultural indicators are leadership and the reward system (both implicit and explicit) and it must be said that the greatest space design in the world will not compensate for dysfunctional leadership.


The link between these three factors is an understanding of the relationship between human motivation behaviour and physical space. People respond positively when they are understand the context (the purpose, picture, plan and part they are expected to play in their new environment*) Clarity leads to a reduction in anxiety that we have all experienced with any situation of uncertainty. Managers experience the ‘marathon effect’ when they race to the finish line on a project and look back to see no-one behind them because of the lack of communication efforts to buy-in ownership and accountability in the process. Other reasons why people stand at the starting line tapping their foot and refusing to budge are often related to parochial self-interest and individual differences. These can be generational differences, varying levels of tolerance to change and different assessments of the situation that have not been explored.


The retail environment very overtly uses psychological influences such as eye level product positioning and small items at the check-out that tap into spontaneous buying habits. Even the music you hear at a supermarket is similar to that played to battery hens to stimulate egg production. The casinos are outstanding in their use of psychology when it comes to draining purses. If the seduction of a retail environment can be used to effectively to influence behaviour then why wouldn’t we use this principle to stimulate alternative behaviours in a corporate environment?


Projects often fail because people have not been given the ‘user manual’. This would be in the form of training from anything to creative thinking, technology or change management itself for a company’s leaders.


We must be able to integrate design solutions that inspire and enable creativity and innovation in the workplace and be prepared to integrate a structured Change Management process as a critical part of the project plan so that people are engaged and committed to adapting to their new space as quickly as possible. There are many examples of where this approach was undertaken that led to significant productivity improvements. In these cases the transition and ending of the old space that was the key focus because this is where the productivity losses occur and the impediments to the ‘soft landing’ happen. There has been some valuable research done in Europe and the U.S. that demonstrates the links to productivity when Facilities Management adopts these strategies. In Australia the evidence is still anecdotal but the anecdotes are powerful enough to continue to inspire the blue chip companies to invest millions in Change Management and strategic briefing as it relates to design.


Facility managers can help decision makers make these connections by:


  • Engaging a wider range of people in the organisation, such as marketing, human resources, IT, facilities, finance etc. in their project teams so as to arrive at a more holistic solution
  • Exercise some degree of ‘push-back’ and insist on principles and guidelines from the executive about corporate goals as they relate to the physical environment so that they have a compelling vision for the new environment and adhering to these even when funds are looking low.
  • Identify and determine opportunities for all parts of the business to contribute towards the business goals with a targeted approach
  • Define an effective Change Management strategy that takes into account identifying success factors through stakeholder analysis, communication and engagement of end users and ongoing measurement of success.





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