What Makes Good Workplace Design? Q&A - Keti Malkoski


Left - Schiavello’s Principal – People and Culture, Keti Malkoski, and Environmental Psychologist and author Dr. Jacqueline Visher at their book launch of The Power of Workspace for People and Business.
Keti provided The Urban Developer with the following insights.

What makes a good workplace today?
An effective workspace is one that recognises the human side of work and actively fosters ‘communities’ to promote a united and engaged culture. Such workspaces acknowledge the importance of relationships and foster feelings of belonging: a sense of belonging is the feeling of being included, accepted and connected to a community. By promoting this positive feeling employers can improve effectiveness: employees that feel that they belong are more satisfied and motivated to perform better. Employees that belong to a team have a sense of purpose, are aligned in values and work cohesively towards shared goals.

What are the pros and cons of the modern office? How do we balance contemporary, open plan fit outs with personal privacy and conduct individual work in a collaborative space?

Organisations need to accommodate all the working needs of their people by providing a balanced choice of spaces: interactive spaces that support collaboration with quiet spaces that support focused concentration. Organisations need to support the privacy needs of their employees by creating spaces that are acoustically, visually and psychologically comfortable.
To actively support employee health and wellbeing, employers also need to provide employees with ‘retreat’ spaces to allow them to relax, reflect and rejuvenate from the ‘busyness’ of today’s work.

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How can space be an asset for employers? How can employers drive a return on the investment they put into their physical work environment? (the second biggest cost after human resources)
Workspace becomes a performing asset – a value-adding tool for work - when it effectively supports the people and their work. To understand people’s workspace needs, we need to promote user participation in the change management process. Employees have valuable knowledge about their workspace requirements – extrapolating this information in a structured/manageable approach is beneficial to the relevance and longevity of the workspace change. Importantly, expectations need to be managed when obtaining employee feedback – this is why we promote a ‘user participation plan’ that clearly states what feedback is required and what decisions the feedback will influence. When stakeholders are involved in co-creation, they own the change and it will become relevant to them and their work.

Can you give some examples of where companies have got it right and why? 

Those that understand that workspace change management is on-going: those that continuously invest in their people and culture. User needs are constantly changing and the workspaces, products and technology must also evolve to support these needs.

What prompted you to write the book, “The Power of Workspace for People and Business”?

The success of workspace change is highly dependent on people and culture considerations. Dr Vischer and I have backgrounds in applied psychology and for a long-time we have been collaborating - through Schiavello - on the importance of psychology in workspace strategy and change. It made sense to capture our knowledge and share it with our clients and the industry to stimulate meaningful discussion. Dr Vischer and I understand the way people feel, think and behave at work and this knowledge can be applied to effective workspace strategy and change.

What drives you – has there been someone or something that has inspired your career? 

I am motivated and driven by the client consulting work that I do at Schiavello. I find it very rewarding applying scientific theory to practice to solve client problems and even proactively educate them about potential people and culture challenges related to workspace strategy and change.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

A constant challenge in my work is getting workspace stakeholders to see the potential of their workspace beyond what they know or have experienced in the past. Employees may hesitate to think in new ways about the potential of workspace to perform and may even resist if they feel too much discomfort with the risks and unknowns of a new workspace. The emotional cycle of fear related to workspace change includes shock, retreat, reaction, acceptance, exploration and challenging emotions.

What is the highlight of your job?

Broadly speaking, it’s great to see the importance that the industry is placing on creating value-adding workspaces and promoting human sustainability and wellness. We need to create environments that allow humans to thrive at work. Workspace environments influence how energised employees are to grow and develop: we need to create resources rather than depleting them. Future workplaces need to promote physical and mental comfort.

Who are your three favourite architects or designers?

This is a difficult question! For me it’s working with designers that are willing to invest in understanding the needs of diverse users….the human side of work.

What is the most pressing policy issue facing your industry?

Privacy issues related to sensors and scanners that can be perceived as ‘tracking’ devices by some employees. It’s another example of the importance of trust in workspace change and the need to communicate the benefits of change to stakeholders.

What or whom have you learned the most from?

There are so many people! Obviously Dr Vischer! I would also say my peers at Schiavello – especially the international team - who have been creating workspaces for so long and know their clients so well. It’s motivating to be surrounded by peers that have extensive knowledge to share.

What are you still learning?

As long as I’m working in this industry considering people and cultures in workspace strategy and change, I will never stop learning due to the complexities of human diversity.

What are three books that have either influenced you professionally or personally?

I always end up reading books that are quite academic. I have recently finished a book on neuroscience to better understand cognitive overload in distracting environments.

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