As I reported a few weeks ago, I have begun a personal experiment with a work style that may someday be the global norm. My Free Address approach is not particularly radical compared to the changing standards of the world at large, but for a chicken guy, this is out there.

In case you missed my earlier post, Free Address is an approach to work in which a person does not have a designated, permanent workstation or office. The core logic behind this idea is simple: most knowledge workers contribute at a higher level if they have a variety of posture, place and presence at their disposal over the course of a day; to stay in one location (fixed address) actually compromises performance.

This week, I accompanied a team to visit Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Michigan to continue my education regarding how a Free Address system might work on a larger scale. Here are a few observations and affirmations from the trip.

One size does not fit all. Free Address is not for everyone. Depending on the work being done, some of the people we met were in a “Resident” mode. These men and women did have an assigned place to work each day. This accounted for about 40% of the Steelcase team.

Walls kill collaboration. Collaboration finds its energy from several sources but walls are its primary nemesis. Therefore, they should be used strategically and sparingly. During our visit we saw ample walls, but I had the distinct impression each had been evaluated and placed with tremendous intentionality.

Space needs often change over the course of a day. This is the magic behind the Free Address strategy. In the Steelcase Work Café we saw at least a dozen different work settings: individual spaces, one-on-one spaces, small group spaces of varying sizes and configurations, multiple forms of technology and conference rooms of various sizes. People selected the space they needed to serve their needs at that specific point in time.

Adults are capable of high levels of self-management. When goals and outcomes are clear and appropriate boundaries are in place, almost everyone can figure out the best way to get their work done. Rather than create a lengthy policy manual for how people should work in a Free Address system, Steelcase created eight “Protocols” to enable people to leverage the benefits and avoid the pitfalls of the new environment.

You can teach old organizations new tricks. As part of a long-established corporate culture, it was encouraging for me to see an organization like Steelcase successfully navigating large scale change. They began this current version of a Free Address strategy about four years ago. Because they were founded over 100 years ago, this was not their first, nor will it be their last, organizational change effort.

Everything really does rise and fall on leadership. We met several members of Steelcase’s leadership team. They were an impressive group. They understand that progress is always preceded by change – and meaningful change is rarely easy. They were also willing to lead by example. We met their chief legal council – she gave up her private office years ago and her entire team followed.

Free Address is not for everyone, but it appears as though in most situations, the benefits dwarf the inconvenience of change. Maybe you should start your own experiment with the future.

More to come…[GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.