As technology allows more employees to have a “mobile” workplace, what happens to effective business communication overall? Should more businesses adopt an open-concept floor-plan to foster better collaboration?
Author Deborah Andrews of the University of Delaware addresses the emerging millennial habits of group collaboration and workplace design in her recently published article in the International Journal of Business Communication entitled “A Space for Place in Business Communication Research.” From Andrews:
I’m inspired a lot by things, by objects and spaces and what they can make happen. For years, too, I have focused my research and teaching on business communication. So when my university started talking about the new “integrated science and engineering” laboratory it was building to fosterinnovation and creativity through collaboration, I wondered: can a building do this? Curious, I looked at some other campuses and, sure enough, many such buildings were being constructed and promoted with similar rhetoric. Because it’s essentially a matter of communication, I was particularly interested in the many occurrences of collaboration in these statements about how the building would deliver on its promise. I saw that term invoked as well in real estate columns, the marketing reports of design consultancies, and popular business articles about new offices being created, for example, by Google, Facebook, and Amazon. I knew then that I had an enticing research project: matching the rhetoric of these new laboratories and offices to results on the ground.
It’s becoming a commonplace of material culture studies that objects create subjects, the things we live with make us the people we are, maybe even more than the other way around. But I’ve been surprised about the extent to which academic administrators, corporate CEOs, and entrepreneurs believe that the right arrangement of plan and furnishings in an office can foster the achievement of organizational goals.
Examining that fit between the rhetoric of the office or lab as a transformative space and results on the ground is an inviting area for communications research. As one anthropologist notes, we often overlook the things in our environment because they are “blindingly obvious.” We take them for granted. My International Journal of Business Communication article aims to encourage researchers to take another look at the physical environment of a 21st Century workplace as it relates to the communication needed to get work done there. We know that the environment shapes us. But can it shape us in desired ways? And how can we tell?