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29 October 2021 | by Patrick Ames
Knowledge is what makes the world go round and in a knowledge economy, it is the very essence of business. Finding ways to make workforces skilled, efficient, happy and productive both individually and collectively can be linked directly to profitability. The greater the knowledge – the more agile, flexible and equipped for change we are. Now, as we return to the office , albeit it in a more hybrid way, it’s important for business leaders to ensure that office design actively supports knowledge-sharing and recovers the ground lost due to Covid.
At the start of the pandemic the lack of social interaction and ‘water cooler’ chats were among the first things to be missed. As time passed, we also realised that without face-to-face time with colleagues and line managers (whether formal or informal) – knowledge-sharing and professional learning were also affected.
Although hybrid working is clearly here to stay, there is still tremendous value (and necessity) in bringing transient workforces together, even if it’s just periodically. Knowledge-sharing, personal development and professional training provide powerful reasons to visit the office – particularly if your office interior design supports and enables these activities.
Catering for knowledge
In spatial terms knowledge-sharing can be addressed in two ways – one is by providing an academy, a specific place for more formalised group training which we’ve discussed in this blog (here) – the other is a library – a dedicated place for knowledge acquisition.
A workplace ‘library’ is the knowledge hub of a business and often houses physical files, books, catalogues and other important reference materials. Integral to its purpose is the fact it’s a place for quiet study, concentration and focus. By default it’s well suited to colleagues wanting to solve problems and share wisdom with each other. Although there are some similarities with the academy – the library differs because its focus is more on individual study, small gatherings, self-improvement and research, rather than formalised training.
A purposefully-designed library space also gives a clear signal that knowledge-gathering and sharing are valued and accepted parts of work; they are important to the business as a whole. It also provides more variety and another choice for activity-based workforces.
Look and feel
How the library manifests in physical terms will depend on organisation’s values, brand ethos and chosen office interior design aesthetic. We created a special library space for Shoosmiths in Manchester to boost knowledge-sharing and show off their personality. Although in a hugely modern building, the library evokes a sense of country house nostalgia with its cosy private atmosphere, wood panelled walls, leather wing-backed chairs, desks and green bankers’ desk lamps. This room houses Shoosmiths’ extensive set of law books and has a very serious and commercial purpose – yet it also has a playful touch with gilt-framed portraits of Manchester greats such as Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth and Tony Wilson of Factory Records.
At the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, we used an overhaul of its overflowing dark library as an opportunity to create a more modern, sociable and dynamic take on knowledge-sharing. This library offers easier access to its catalogue of resources but instead of being a dusty and crowded room, it’s open, light and well curated – which attracts more engineers to use its resources and projects a more inspiring view of the profession to the public.
Both of these examples show that libraries aren’t just spaces for books – but places for interactions centred around knowledge acquisition and sharing.
Time for change
Understanding how work is done provides the foundation for all workplace design or office refurbishment projects, particularly after a period of unprecedented change. To create a successful destination office, you must first consider what will make people want or need to visit the office and therefore the spaces, resources and experiences you must offer in return.
The library is one of eight vital components of the destination office (read about the others here) because it celebrates the power of knowledge and creates a genuine and valuable reason to bring people together. If you want skills development and knowledge-sharing to become part of your organisation’s DNA, , perhaps it’s time to invest in a library.
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