How Culture Shapes the Office- HBR

Organisational Culture differs from country to country, but how does it affect the way that offices are laid out?

Following a 5 year- 11 country study, researchers at Steelcase (office furniture company) have identified 6 dimensions of workplace culture that shape the social dynamics of an office.

Autocratic v. Consultative

A= minimal communication/ collaboration across levels of power,e.g, Russia – departments are highly segregated with distinct spaces. Employees have little access to executives

C= Employees participate in decision making/ take initiative, e.g, UK work spaces are accessible, employees at all levels participate in decision making

Individualist v. Collectivist

I = Self reliance and autonomy are highly valued, e.g., US eliminating the cubicle in favor of flexible work environments

C= Group Cohesion and Co-operation take priority, e.g., In China employees are comfortable with densely arranged workstations

Masculine v. Feminine

M: Achievement, competition, dominate culture, e.g., In Italy most firms have assertive, competitive corporate cultures. Visible symbols of hierarchy such as private offices are important.  

F: Co-operation and harmony are highly valued, e.g., Dutch organisations generally feature more fluid spaces, encourage equality, and reflect a focus on well being

Tolerant of Uncertainty v. Security Orientated

T: Challenges are tackled as they come, e.g., the British are at ease with unstructured, unpredictable situations, and prefer workstations that promote sharing, mobility and creative thinking

S: detailed processes and structure, e.g., in Spain workers tend to be careful about sharing information and make big decisions only after deliberation. The design of spaces reflect this

Short term v. Long term

S: Focus is on fast return, and minimizing investments, e.g., In US being fast, flexible and innovative is important, spaces should allow for quick toggling between individual and group work

L: Emphasis is on investment and company longevity, e.g., In China spaces embody company history, values, adn rituals. Executive offices are important symbols of tradition, order, and long term stability

Low Context v. High Context

L: direct and explicit approach is key to co-operations between individuals, e.g., In Germany communication is expected to be honest and straightforward. How a message is delivered is less important.  Offices should be outfitted with white boards and other information sharing equipment

H: indirect communication, unspoken signals are essential in building understanding. e.g., China, tools such as video conferencing are used, as they allow participants in virtual meetings to see visual cues such as where people are seated and their body  language to build deeper understanding


So…..designing work spaces to suit the local culture fosters trust and productivity – hence building competitive advantage.

28th April – World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2013

The World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an annual international campaign to promote safe, healthy and decent work – the necessity of which  has garnered much media coverage this week  following another disaster in Bangladesh where  200 people have been killed in Dhaka,  following the collapse of a garment building

Every day, 6,300 workers around the world die from the consequences of sub par working conditions like these.  Yet out of this number 5,500 actually  suffer from diseases – in particular, cancers, caused by exposure to chemicals. The ILO estimates, that out of 2.34 million occupational fatalities every year, only 321,000 are due to accidents.

Worldwide, occupational diseases continue to be the leading cause of work-related deaths.  MSDs (Musculoskeletal disorders) affect almost a quarter of workers in Europe. The European Trade Union congress  is also calling for more effective legislation against occupational cancers and drawing attention to the psycho-social risks associated with poor organisation of work.

The inadequate prevention of occupational diseases has profound negative effects not only on workers and their families but also on society at large due to the tremendous costs that it generates; particularly, in terms of loss of productivity and burdening of social security systems.

Prevention is more effective and less costly than treatment and rehabilitation.

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Effectively Influencing Decision Makers

Top tips from Marshall Goldsmith


  • Every decision that affects our lives will be made by the person who has the power to make that decision, not the “right” person or the “smartest” person or the “best” person. Make peace with this fact
  • When presenting ideas to decision-makers, realise that it is your responsibility to sell, not their responsibility to buy
  • Focus on contribution to the larger good—not just the achievement of your objectives.
  • Strive to win the big battles. Don’t waste your energy and psychological capital on trivial point
  • Present a realistic “cost-benefit” analysis of your ideas—don’t just sell benefits. Every organization has limited resources, time, and energy
  • Challenge up on issues involving ethics or integrity—never remain silent on ethics violations.
  • Realise that powerful people are just as human as you are. Don’t say, “I am amazed that someone at this level…It is realistic to expect decision-makers to be competent; it is unrealistic to expect them to be anything other than normal humans.
  • Treat decision-makers with the same courtesy that you would treat customers—don’t be disrespectful. While it is important to avoid kissing up to decision-makers, it is just as important to avoid the opposite reaction
  • Support the final decision of the organization. Don’t tell direct reports, “They made me tell you.” Assuming that the final decision of the organization is not immoral, illegal, or unethical, go out and try to make it work. Managers who consistently say, “They told me to tell you” to co-workers are seen as messengers, not leaders. Even worse, don’t say, “Those fools told me to tell you…” By demonstrating our lack of commitment to the final decision, we may sabotage the chances for effective execution