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Think Space

Author Hannah Beveridge

Tags Insight

Thinking about Think Space

Are you feeling like you have so much to do there’s no time to get your job done? Or, maybe you feel like there are so many thoughts going round your head yet you rarely think clearly or focus on developing ideas. These feelings are commonplace, and most of us have experienced these feelings at some point in our working lives; if not on a regular basis.

At HLW we have been thinking a lot about Think Space. As part of the event we recently held for our clients we asked attendees and our own London team, where and when they did their best thinking or were most creative. The responses fell into a few typical buckets; in nature or while exercising, when in transit on a plane or train, or at home in a favoured and familiar location. The office was rarely identified, and if it was, it was rarely at a typical open plan desk. For those without the privilege and ability to work in a mobile environment they require other support and tactics to create their ideal Think Space. And often the solution is not about creating a physical space, but about time, prioritisation and reducing distractions.

There is a biological basis to why we struggle with splitting our attention between multiple tasks, and why our brains are easily distracted and get tired from performing particular tasks involving a lot of concentration and processing; Steelcase’s research Think Better explains.

The benefits to businesses of creating Think Space for employees can be many, but basically sit in two categories. On the one hand you could enhance employee wellbeing, engagement and improve organisational culture, ultimately benefiting your attraction and retention of staff, and on the other hand have a positive impact on a business’s profit, productivity and ability to innovate. So how do you create the conditions to reap these benefits?

We’ve pulled together some tips for creating Think Space below. Which will you try?


Space & Workplace Design

At HLW we work a lot with clients reviewing the design of the physical work environment. We have written elsewhere about the need to support an organisations culture through design, creating freedom within the workplace and mobility in the workplace. One of the key elements for creating Think Space is to provide Movement & Variety within the work environment.

Variety and Movement – Providing a variety of worksettings from which to work allows employees to control their own working conditions. Let them work in a quiet area when they need to concentrate, let them make noise and mess with colleagues in a shared area when they need to collaborate. Agile working and mobility are a trend which is here to stay, and for good reason.

Dedicated rest and nap spaces – Nap pods were all the rage 10 years ago, but many companies continue to provide pods or quiet spaces for employees to get time out from their work. The thought here is that if you allow people to rest, they will be more productive and have greater cognitive power than if they are tired or stressed.

Tech free environments – Whether permanent or temporary, scheduling and allocating space and times where technology is discouraged or forbidden can increase focus on activities and conversations at hand, lead to greater interpersonal connection and improve efficiency of meetings. Walking meetings are also popular. Our human relationship to nature and the benefits of increased oxygen to the brain we receive through exercise, can mean that walking meetings allow us to be tech free and in a high functioning mental state to converse with colleagues.

Leadership & Culture

Work from home and mobility policies – consider implementing flexible working policies at your organisation to allow people to work from sites other than the office. For leaders, eliminate a culture of presenteeism and increase trust that your employees are working even when you can’t see them.

Volunteer schemes – allowing employees time each year to spend on volunteer and community focussed activities.

Self-directed employee learning budgets – allocating employees a certain number of days and a monetary allowance for them to allocate to training and conferences.

Wellbeing programmes – implementing firm wide wellbeing programmes to focus on holistic health. Attendees at our recent think space event, heard from Samantha Reis about the link between meditation and developing mindfulness and emotional intelligence.


Mindset & Attitude

Empower staff – Lead by example and empower your teams to make the time to work on ideas outside their day to day tasks. Give staff control over how they spend their time and how they prioritise tasks. Inject humour and personality into your culture to give people time and cause to pause.  

Dedicate time for side projects – 3M, Google and Virgin amongst others have allocated time to their staff to work on side projects. The outcomes in all instances have included new product and services ideas which the companies have ultimately released to market. Google have recently abandoned their 20% rule in favour of a more structure approach to innovation. It will be interesting to see how this impacts both their business model, output and their staff attraction.

Secondments – Allowing staff to experience different environments and workstyles and learn by doing, eventually bringing their experiences and knowledge back to your own organisation.

Behaviours & Processes

The aim of incorporating certain processes and behaviours into our daily work lives is to give us more time to allocate to the tasks which are important, and spend less time on things of little value. These tips and tricks aim to work by allowing us to put more cognitive energy and focus towards the work we do, thereby improving productivity, or by simply creating more time in our schedules to enable us to have time for other activities which currently seem impossible to fit in.

Behavioural norms – Encourage group activities; eg. Lunch hour for all, tea breaks and knowledge sharing sessions. Also consider accepted queues that people are or aren’t open to interruption eg. desk flags, availability status on apps and intranet sites, and if you are working in a smart building try tech free zones where locations can’t be tracked.

Restrict communication – Restricting both length of emails and the frequency we read and send them can help with creating focus on other tasks.

Batching and Prioritising – Batching tasks or block booking time to work on certain types of activities can help with concentration and focus. Eg. Try allocating time in the morning for reading and responding to emails, allocating half a day in the week for financial reporting, or a Friday afternoon for reading blogs.

Time in & Time out – Similarly, scheduling time in the office for face to face time with colleagues, and time out for social interaction can also strengthen team cohesion and effectiveness. Schedule time for not doing certain activities can also help. Eg. Enforce a no meeting Friday rule so everyone is together and available so you can all connect.

Ultimately to create Think Space for all, with maximum benefit for your organisation, you need to balance both the organisational factors with the technology and behavioural norms to create habitual daily processes. With a little bit more thought, maybe we can all think again.