Office Space Planning for Pooled Workflow: Working Alone, Together.

Posted by: Mitchell H. Kirsch 2 comments

The Internet’s growing importance in the office has caused a major rethink of office space planning practices. A “team” has ceased to depend on members working in the same space; today, teammates can be widely distributed across the country, or across the world.

The Internet has given rise to the telecommuter – though nominally part of a team, such workers are separated by time and space from a regular office, often working individually to contribute to the overall group effort.

“In a virtual team, members are dispersed geographically or organizationally. Their primary interaction is through some combination of electronic communication systems,” explains Wayne F. Cascio in his paper Managing a Virtual Workplace. “They may never meet in the traditional sense. Further, team membership is often fluid, evolving according to changing task requirements.”

More on office space planning for pooled workflow after the jump. (Read more)

Dynamics of Pooled Workflow

To use Bell and Kozlowski’s model of task dependencies, telecommuting represents a great example of a pooled workflow: as opposed to other workflow models where work cascades sequentially from one step to another, pooled workflow involves individuals working alone, adding to one overall group effort. In pooled workflow, group interaction can be optional or wholly unnecessary.

Pooled workflow is marked by a number of common characteristics:

Independence of tasks. Workers in a pooled workflow system manage to accomplish tasks independently of other workers, without timing or technical dependencies on other components in the workflow.

This frees up managers to organize teams as they like, focusing purely on the desired outcome, office space planning be damned – “teams can be organized whether or not members are in proximity to one another,” says Cascio, and “firms can use outside consultants without incurring expenses for travel, lodging, and downtime.”

Participants work independently. With largely independent goals, participants in a pooled workflow can be grouped in different combinations for different activities. “Dynamic team membership allows people to move from one project to another,” explains Cascio. “Employees can be assigned to multiple, concurrent teams.”

Centralized authority. Pooled workflow participants are never wholly independent; they generally depend on a central authority that oversees output, making sure problems are dealt with and work proceeds smoothly.

This is where technology steps in, allowing a single manager to oversee a disparate team: “Team communications and work reports are available online to facilitate swift responses to the demands of a global market,” says Cascio.

Pooled Workflow and Office Space Planning

So who works under a pooled workflow model – and what implications does this kind of workflow have for office space planning? Telecommuters aren’t the only workers who use a pooled workflow model; teachers, for instance, also depend on a individual efforts leading towards an overall push.

Both teachers and telecommuters can work isolated from one another – the teacher in his or her classroom, apart from fellow teachers; the telecommuter, at home or on the road, apart from colleagues on the virtual team.

Offices can now afford to create “hoteling” systems in their offices for their teleworkers, even impersonal ones – telecommuters don’t miss having personalized space in their main office, if they already have a space to call their own at home. Any time spent in the office will be focused on the few group tasks needed in pooled workflows, like client visits or group meetings.

In a pooled workflow, the office has become almost superfluous, and the design of the office follows from its changing function.

Is there more to workflow and space planning? You bet there is. Download our white paper, and read more about space planning and workflow in your office interior design – download “Space Planning for Your Office: Designing for Optimum Workflow” (PDF, 75KB).

Sep 11, 2011
9:22 am

With the decline in a need to have team members present in the same “real space”, there’s an increasing need to have everyone together in “real time”. I read the other day that 1 out of 5 large businesses are using Google Apps such as GoogleDocs for real time collaboration in virtual teams. These cloud based apps work well in a “hoteling” system since telecommuters who come into the office still have exactly the same access to all their documents as they would at home.


Trackbacks to this post. Thanks for the linkage.
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