Create a seamless workspace for greater productivity

Our “workspace” is no longer just the place we sit while working, it’s come to mean the entirety of how we get our work done. Our offices, practices, devices and software. Note that “work” comes first in “workspace.” Tools and specific locations may be required to get the work done, but they are generally secondary to the work. Ideally, once we have designed a solid work practice, we don’t have to spend much time thinking about our tools as we get the work done. Thinking about tools means we aren’t working and being productive. We need a seamless workspace to be able to focus on our work; our tools and practices should allow the work to flow from activity to activity with as little disruption as possible.

Celtic knotThinking about how we do work takes time. It’s time well spent at the beginning of a project or at critical junctures. However, thinking about the work instead of doing it during a project can be disruptive and counter-productive. When we find effective practices and tools, we want them to become so ingrained in our process that we use them without thought.

Creating a seamless workspace

As a user, be thoughtful when you develop your personal workspace. Consider your options in terms of human skills and needs, technology, tools, and organizational practices — but then get to work once you have found an approach that is effective for the given setting.  Create a system for re-evaluating your design choices, but be biased toward stability rather than change. It may make sense to re-evaluate your workspace by the project rather than by the day or week.

If you are a content, tool, or practice supplier, do not create hurdles to seamless working.  Here are some examples of vendors that have inadvertently created hurdles to seamless working:

  • Tool functions that do not match the cycle of the work. In an early use of BlackBerry handsets for law enforcement, (s rimm) the officers found themselves having to re-login in the middle of pursuits.
  • Device blocking. The NY Post recently began blocking iPad users who are browsing via Safari. Users are redirected to a page explaining that they must purchase the NY Post iPad app to see the content. This, and all sites that admonish iPad users to download an app rather than just showing the page, break search flow.

Examples of tools that remove hurdles to seamless work are those with options for distraction-free screens (such as iA Writer for Mac) or the ability to easily control notifications (such as Tweetdeck).

Should application design or our personal work design help us navigate these hurdles? Both.

While choosing the right tools can help, your efforts to design a seamless workspace should not only be limited to the tools you use; you also need to consider your work practice. Think about the online reading you do, for example. There have been calls for placing links at the end of posts rather than in-text. The argument for moving links to the end of posts is that in-text links are a distraction — they entice you to click rather than continue to read. Perhaps clicking is a distraction, but being able to hover my mouse cursor over a link to know the source is of great value to me. I would rather have the link but school myself to hover, understand the source, and then either continue reading, or click through if it’s clear I need to dig deeper for the work I’m doing.

Scheduling work is another area where tools and practice are tightly intertwined.  Dawn has written about a variety of design strategies for reducing distractions and staying focused. For example, she advocates scheduling in chunks with similar activities calendared together.

Whatever the form of your work, as users and workspace designers we have decisions to make. A thoughtfully designed, seamless workspace can help us with workflow, concentration, efficiency and reduced frustration.

What are you doing to help create a seamless work environment? I’d like to hear from users as well as suppliers — we are co-creating our workspaces.