Q&A with Workplace Innovation Consultant, Kursty Groves

Woodhouse actively encourage workplace experts to share their insights around what constitutes a more effective workplace environment. With this in mind, we spoke to Kursty Groves, an experienced workplace innovation consultant.

Hi Kursty, could you introduce our readers to you and your key career highlights to date?

I guess the best way to describe who I am and what I do is that I help organisations to cultivate the right cultural and physical environments to support innovation. My experience includes designing & running creativity workshops, driving innovation and internal transformation projects and coaching senior executives around innovation culture issues. Following a MEng in Mechanical Engineering and a post-grad MA in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, I’ve been lucky enough to exhibit in the London Design Museum twice and meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace when she invited 500 people to celebrate British Design.

I was appointed in 2013 as adjunct professor at the IE University in Madrid, and ran a Masters in Agile Work Space Design on a joint course between the Architecture & Design and Business Schools for 4 years.

In my first book, I Wish I Worked There! – A Look Inside the Most Creative Spaces in Business, I went behind the scenes of the world’s most innovative companies, uncovering insights that drive their success.  My latest book, Spaces for Innovation: The Design and Science of Inspiring Environments, guides leaders and designers alike through the important elements that make effective environments for exceptional work performance.

What or who originally inspired you to pursue your career as a workplace innovation consultant?

Back in 2007, when I was working with companies to build their internal innovation capability, I had no idea that workplace consulting was a ‘thing’.  I just had an itch that told me there was something missing in the world of work.  We were encouraging people to build innovative products, companies and cultures, but they were being held back by their physical environment.

I wanted to find out why some companies placed an emphasis on space (consciously or not) and how that supported their innovation efforts.  That was the catalyst for my first book.  It was after this was published that I realised that I really wanted to help organisations to build the right working environment that not only supports their processes but places their people’s needs at the heart.

What are your views on the argument that the ageing population is at odds with attracting young people (millennials) into office space?

Sure, there are physiological differences that mean that an ageing workforce needs to be catered for at an ergonomic level, but more significant is an era when we are accommodating five generations in the same space.  Not only that, the speed at which technology has changed the way we do work has highlighted a gap between the preferences and attitudes of those workers who are more comfortable with face-to-face interactions than those ‘digital natives’, who communicate much more through video and text.  These generational differences through technology have thrown up a need for organisations to consider changing the way they support and develop their people.

If you’re talking about attraction, that’s another thing.  There has been a seismic shift in the way that work happens and what it means to people.  The ‘ageing population’ have seen the ‘job for life’ disappear, where the stability of the institution and the certainty of a pension meant that work and office spaces were very functional.  People had to go to a place (the office) to carry out work, which was largely administrative and information handling.  Whereas today, work is more dynamic, it’s about knowledge creation and problem-solving. And the generations who have always known technologies such as the internet and mobile computing – as well as the collapse of the economy – seek work that develops them and in which they can find some sense of purpose.

The impact this has had on office space is three-fold:

Space needs to attract and engage people, space is no longer an assumed desk and chair with filing cabinet, and space is no longer a given (people can work from anywhere).

What are the core challenges for businesses in today’s day and age when tackling an office design and fitout?

I think the most important challenges are those of relevance, engagement and autonomy.

Relevance

All too often I’m called into workplaces that have recently had a fitout with the cry of “We’ve only been here 18 months and we’re running out of space!”  In every case, the dysfunctional nature of the working environment is down to a lack of planning and insight that enables the design and fitout to be relevant for the company’s operational needs, individual and team’s specific activities and the culture.  Taking time to really understand how current space is working (or not), as well as planning for the future helps to define the type of environment(s) that are needed to help the business thrive.

Engagement

Another huge gap in competence I see in many organisations is the lack of engagement before, during and after any transformation.  And even for those companies who give it a good shot, more often than not, they see a space change as a finite event, rather than the opportunity to initiate long-term change and regeneration.

Engagement needs to happen at the leadership level – creating a clear and compelling vision that stakeholders are aligned behind.  Engagement also needs to happen at the ‘grass roots’; the people for whom you’re designing should be at the heart.

Autonomy

We’re living in an increasingly dynamic and complex world.  Businesses need to innovate in order to survive, let alone thrive.  The cultures that businesses need to cultivate are those where trust runs high so that their people can take the initiative to solve problems as they arise. Working environments communicate trust through autonomy – allowing people to choose where, when and how they work best.

The recent discussions about the efficacy of sit/stand desks has opened discussion about how healthy or not the office environment is (sitting all day is as unhealthy as smoking 20 a day?). Other than trying to attract staff, do employers have a moral duty to keep their staff in peak condition?

Without a doubt! There are still businesses out there that will motivate solely through pay schemes and a culture of fear, but by and large, many of the world’s most innovative companies value their people (it’s their biggest asset) and understand that people go above and beyond if they feel good mentally, physically and have a positive feeling towards their employers.

Are there any crucial aspects of workspace design which (in your mind) are often overlooked or not discussed nearly enough nowadays?

Yes, the human element.  I find that many designers, architects and project managers focus on the tangible aspects of design first, rather than designing the experiences, then the physical spaces.

Kursty Groves, explains how your office environment can help your staff be more motivated.

Having had two books published already on the workplace environment, do you have plans to put pen to paper again?

I’m contributing to an innovation blog: The Future Shapers, and hope to write on a more regular basis. The next ‘big’ book is still in an embryonic form right now, but I think it will have something to do with how to activate workspaces and make them come to life for people and organisations.

Where can our readers garner more insights from you…and do you have any workshops planned before the end of the year?

My website is kurstygroves.com.  Follow me on Twitter and Linkedin.

I am hosting a free breakfast session on Friday 3 November in London, where I’ll share some fresh insights. For more information, contact kursty@kurstygroves.com.

Following that, there’s a full-day workshop at the end of November (date and location TBC), which will cover topics such as: creating the workplace vision, making the case to the leadership team, assessing current workspaces, building a design blueprint, engaging people through space, communicating and managing change, amongst other things. I’m keen to build the workshop content with input from the people who will attend, so I’m open to suggestions for further topics to cover.