The Workbook: Redesigning Nine to Five

By Pekka Pohjakallio and Saku Tuominen

A Book Review

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (now the World Design Organization) awarded Helsinki with the World Design Capital for 2012. This designation understands design in how it impacts environmental development, economies and citizens of the world’s cities. The Design Capital team wanted to explore how design thinking could have the greatest influence on people’s everyday lives. Since we spend so much of our time at work, “how we are doing at work is of utmost importance.” Since work is so central to our lives the authors, Pekka Pohjakallio and Saku Tuominen, were inspired to create Project 925, a year long close study of 9 Finnish workplaces.

In addition to reviewing dozens of studies and speaking to many experts on the subject of work life, the 925 team interviewed over a thousand Finnish office workers. They “met with us face to face… we observed them, spied on them, examined and analyzed them. We sat in on discussions, listened to presentations, and reviewed weekly meetings. We took part in the unofficial parts of the workday, too, such as coffee and cigarette breaks.” Their goal was to be part of the daily life of the office and hear, firsthand, the real conversations, the things a face to face interview or questionnaire cannot tell you.

Pohjakallio and Tuominen focused their study on office work. Although the work life within these offices varied greatly, the common thread was that the people they studied were primarily involved in thinking work, also understood as information work, or intellectual work. After hundreds of conversations with many different types of employees, Pohjakallio and Tuominen identified what seemed to be the central problems that persisted in all the work places they observed. From their studies, they developed models to guide people on how to improve their work week and the culture of their workplace.

Throughout the project, Pohjakallio and Tuominen strived to gain a better understanding of the problems of present-day work life. Along the way, they came up with hundreds of ideas to improve office work and tested their ideas with the work communities. They discovered which ideas resonated with the workers and would, therefore, more likely result in lasting changes in the workplace.

Many of these successful ideas are presented in the book. They are organized as a practical guide: presenting the problem, the idea to help solve the problem, comments from the authors, and quotes from participant workers. Here are just a few of their ideas for changing workplace habits:

  • Designate a temporary workspace for specific projects. This prevents having to move project supplies each time there is a meeting, making it easier to start the next meeting from where the prior one left off. There is also a certain energy that develops when a project has its own special workspace.
  • Organize a work habit check. Team members can explain to each other their preferred ways of working. This gives individuals perspective on their own work habits and how they can improve them. Gaining a better understanding of how others work also improves the way the team works together.
  • Create mentoring pairs. More experienced workers can help those that are less experienced, and vice versa. Partnerships afford a great way to learn, find support and develop relationships.
  • Allow employees one personal hour a week. They can use this hour at work, to make appointments, pay bills, or research a trip. This will keep their personal list of things to do from cluttering their mind, so they can focus better on their work.

The ideas you implement should feel authentic to who you are. As Pohjakallio and Tuominen stress, they should fit “your own values, office culture, style, taste, and life situation.”

A Virtual Assistant can help with integrating new ideas into your organization. Interested in learning more? Get in touch with us today–we can’t wait to tell you about it!!