Design must support knowledge circulation in the next generation workplace

Knowledge circulationBusinesses thrive because of their workforces, and the ideas, work and creations they bring to an organisation. But despite the fact that sharing knowledge and thoughts is vitally important, most designers focus on providing individual space for workers, while little thought is given to creating spaces that support knowledge circulation. Separate offices for one or two people, cubicles and individual desks are just some of the factors included in what is perceived to be an average building, but very often is the reason why there is a lack of knowledge sharing and co-creation. New methodologies are emerging on how to get the most out of employees, by providing an environment that encourages them to work together. These new strategies, such as swarm intelligence, place focus on the entire workforce rather than the individual, encouraging them to work together and share their knowledge and ideas.


Many businesses may scoff at the importance of storytelling in the company – but it’s a risky judgement to make. The human brain is hardwired to learn best through stories. It’s how many of our ancestors survived and flourished when communication tools like email and the internet – even letter writing – were still undiscovered.

Storytelling in turn, not only cultivates knowledge and learning, but builds communities. Organisations are made up of communities and rely on them in order to function successfully. However, these communities are being wrongly managed by many companies. Meeting spaces are being minimised, and there is a growing focus on individuality. This has led to a lack of support for knowledge circulation – hindering the company.

The current situation

Modern buildings have a lack of space designed for brainstorming and presenting information and ideas. Many people have to make do with conference rooms in which to discuss and share ideas. However, these rooms are too traditional and hierarchical, and do not nurture dynamic, creative teamwork.

More thought has to be given to creating spaces that support knowledge circulation, teamwork and sharing. New work environments have the chance to cultivate knowledge and learning for the next generation of workers – with positive consequences for companies who employ this method of thinking.

Identifying space

Different areas should be considered in order to create an office environment that welcomes storytelling and targeting work ethic in such a way.

Gaining knowledge is a spiral: it starts with socialisation, moves onto externalisation, the next sphere is combination, before resulting in internalisation. Knowledge that has been shared in a way that utilises this spiral is more likely to be long-lasting and have an impact on the individual.

Tailoring space to storytelling

Each segment of the knowledge spiral has different spatial requirements. The four modes of knowledge conversion can be found in The SECI model (Nonaka and Takeuchi). New offices should strive to meet these needs, in order to promote knowledge sharing and idea circulation, as well as boosting team work and creativity.

Socialisation: Places that stimulate conversations, open discussions and allow for the exchange of ideas and stories should be a vital aspect of the office design. In the majority of offices, the kitchen or coffee pot does this job – rather than having a specific area for employees to allow this sharing of stories to happen.

Externalisation: Telling stories that have become externalized – like videos or presentations – is a normal occurrence in offices. However, this activity requires its own special space, which is designed around an audience and their needs. Normal meeting or conference rooms do not meet the requirements that will lead to better absorption and understanding. They usually place people at tables, in rooms with unsuitable lighting or viewing points. Similarly, conference calls are just as neglected. They are often held in rooms with poor acoustics, on bad phone lines, or near areas where others may be making noise.

Combination: Most offices have no space dedicated to this section of the knowledge spiral. There are very few rooms targeted at helping employees to share and circulate knowledge and ideas.

Internalisation: The majority of current office design is based on this. It harks back to the days of old factory processes, where the individual is concentrated on, rather than the group.

Examples of storytelling and space

Different ways of transferring knowledge – whether you are speaking to transfer ideas or to entertain – have different spatial needs. Below is a list of the ideal spaces for each type of knowledge transfer.

Storytelling for…

  • Communication, where the story becomes imagined, best happens in relaxed spaces, such as cafes, restaurants, loungers, pubs and corridors
  • Capturing tacit knowledge, where the storyteller wants to transfer complex ideas, best happens in forums, multi-media spaces, lounges or public squares
  • Embodying and transferring knowledge should be done on round tables, where people can see each other and communicate clearly
  • Innovation, should be held in multi-media spaces, cafes, public areas, special nodes or open project areas
  • Building a community, will be most effective in public areas, forums or through video conferencing

Leaving it to chance

Modern office designs leave too much to chance: they do not allow for knowledge to be built upon and people merging their ideas. Instead, they hope that these ideas flourish on their own, or chance conversations occur where an idea may be sparked.

How to improve knowledge circulation

There are many things you can do without having to move offices or have a complete redesign. While incorporating more space for people to get together and combine their ideas is ideal, often it is not practical. However, the following points may help to increase the chance of people meeting and sharing ideas and thoughts.

  • Reducing the number of emails sent, and putting more emphasis on face-to-face conversations
  • Spending less time at the desk
  • Integrate more technology into the environment
  • Increase the chances of people encountering each other and interacting
  • Implement more virtual collaboration spaces and tools
  • Hold a greater number of events that stimulate ideas

Knowledge is a vital factor for any company’s success – so more emphasis needs to be placed on how this is shared and circulated within an organisation, and how this can be improved.


Lee ParsonsLee Parsons is Marketing Manager of interior design and fit-out firm Office