Influential Books on Designing Work

When Daniel H. Pink authored the ground-breaking book about the death of the Company Man, Free Agent Nation, people in the workplace arena took notice. Some years later, when Pink published the knowledge-worker manifesto, A Whole New Mind, many in the design field started to take note of how his insightful views would change the modern workplace.

After all, our industry has been changing for many years thanks to everything from advances in technology to policies like telecommuting. And Pink’s books seemed to delve into the forces behind those – namely, a company’s desire to elicit more productivity from workers and the workers’ desire to achieve work-life balance.

So in 2009, while under the weight of the global financial crisis and recession, many of us voraciously read Pink’s new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In it, Pink suggests that companies needed to understand and embrace new methods of getting the most out of their workers.

Yeah, right. Many employers felt — not without reason — that a job with a paycheck was the best motivation. Especially as many corporations were cutting jobs and looking for ways to stay viable.

But when the economy finally showed new signs of life, employees began deciding they’d suffered enough in restrictive environments with too much stress and too little fulfillment. Smart companies responded by implementing work-life strategies aimed at keeping their best employees happy, engaged, and productive.

One of those companies is Best Buy, whose innovative programs are discussed in Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson.

While working at Best Buy headquarters, the duo developed what’s called a “Results-Only Work Environment.” They sought to change the current work paradigm from trading time for money to trading results for money, instead — much the way independent contractors or consultants do, but within a corporate structure.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, identifies what she believes is the key to unlocking employees’ passion and creativity: supporting their progress in their work.

In my view, if you look at what these (and many other) writers are saying, it all boils down to pretty much the same thing: happy employees are productive employees, and the old “carrot and stick” management methods are not only outdated, but damaging.

So, what does this all mean for the future of workplace design?

We’re already seeing it, in how workplaces are now being designed around the health and well-being of the employee. Since technology is allowing more workers to choose when and where they work, it is incumbent on workplace strategists, architects, and interior designers to create spaces that people want to be in.

The office is no longer a place you have to go every day – it’s becoming one of several choices of venue to get work done, and the work that gets done inside the office is much more likely to be collaborative and customer-facing. Workplaces must reflect these changes in the fundamental nature of how we work today, and support the ways in which work continues to evolve.

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