Encouraging people to create their own space helps productivity

I’m a big fan of economist and writer Tim Harford’s work.  Tim has a column every week in the cleardeskFinancial Times as the ‘undercover economist’ and has written several excellent books about how economics applies in the real world. 

His recent piece on ‘Why every office should scrap its clean desk policy’ for TED caught my eye.  Most of us have experienced a clean desk policy at some point – where the company insists that everything is removed from desks at the end of the day and personal effects like photos are limited or even banned. Harford reports on experiments at the University of Exeter in the UK which study the connection between productivity and workspace. 

It turns out that people who are allowed to decorate and personalise their workspaces can be some 30% more productive than those where a clean desk policy is enforced.  That’s a HUGE figure – like an extra day-and-a-half a week!  Harford writes about the difference between ‘hard’ spaces where clean standards are rigorously enforced and ‘soft’ spaces where personalisation is permitted encouraged. 

This connects with the Host Leadership concept of the Space Creator role.  One of the key elements of leading as a host is to take care in creating spaces which support the kind of interactions you wish to encourage between people.  The work reported by Tim Harford shows not only how environment and space really makes a difference in how people work, but that an giving them a role in creating it, decorating it and maintaining it can add to its effectiveness.  

The importance of space and creating an effective space is hardly ever discussed in most leadership work – but from the Host Leader perspective, it’s clearly vital and a key element for the leader to consider.  Now – read Tim Harford’s piece and even get hold of his book ‘Messy: The power of disorder to transform our lives’ from which this work is taken.   


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