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March 26, 2006

Impacting Employee Spaces

This line of thought is triggered by this excellent post on Connectivism Blog.

While the post may be central to learning ecologies – the author makes a point that may well be a universal truth for organizations – “Learners want control of their space. They want to create the ecology in which they function and learn.”

A lot of our interventions in HR essentially impinge on “employee spaces” – be they temporal, physical, social, or cerebral. The key thing here is – do we allow them to “access / manage” this space or “control” it?

Take work-life balance for example, which is about physical & temporal spaces. Helping employees “manage” this space, would mean on-site gyms, concierge services, onsite day care centers for working mothers, etc., basically anything to help them manage their time more effectively. But giving employees “control” over this space mean taking a bigger leap- telecommuting, sabbaticals, flexi time opportunities, etc.

Ditto for retention, which is largely about temporal spaces. If we shifted the focus from manage to control, we would be asking, as Bruce Tulgan says

“How do I maintain good working relationships with the best people throughout their working lives”
and not “How do I retain employees as long term, exclusive, full time, onsite employees with uninterrupted service”

Location, length / duration of service, type of employment – the all standard parameters for measuring retention would not count. What would matter, as the article says, is your ability to “access talent when you need it.” It’s no longer about ensuring that the employee remains employed with you on a full time basis – instead its about keeping the relationship with the employee alive through altermate channels. Continuity of employment gets replaced by flexibility of employment. The employee has greater control over his space.

Then there are interventions for cerebral spaces. Increase in job size, increase in span of control, profit center responsibility, autonomy of functioning, involvement in goal setting, participatory decision making – all give the employee varying degrees of control over his cerebral space. Some allow him to manage within set boundaries, some allow to create his own boundaries.

So, is greater control over space necessarily a better thing?

I think that’s a wrong question. What would instead help is an understanding of how our interventions interact in each of these spaces and produce consequences that may be desirable or undesirable. Profit center responsibility or increase in job size, may give greater control over cerebral space, but may impinge about the employee’s physical or temporal space. Similarly, telecommuting may give the employee control over his physical and temporal spaces, but what about his social space? Sharing of ideas, working with people, leading a team? And continuing this line of thought – not all employees want control over all these spaces at all points of time. Well, obviously not – you would say. So then – what spaces do our employees want to control at what points of time in their careers? And how we provide for that? These are the questions that we need to answer.


  • Great post. As you move from an economy of scarcity to one of choice, employees have options. There seems to be a shift in peoples aspirations and desires, and they want more than just material success.

    This is when employers have to tailor make the employment opportunity so as to suit each employee. Telecommuting for one, flexi-time for another, the third is interested in a high pressure career that promises her a shot at being a CEO while the fourth is only interested in short term projects while he focuses on writing the next big novel.
    Welcome to the world of Generation-X'ers

    By Blogger Sudhanshu Pant, at Monday, 27 March, 2006  

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