Environment as a Behavior Shaping Tool

May 26

Our office is moving this summer. We’re not moving far, just a few floors away in our current building. But we are moving big, in that we are transitioning to an “open” floor plan – no offices, no partitions between workstations and (gasp) precious little filing space. My thoughts on the matter fluctuate from excited to terrified within every hour of every day.

To be sure, this change will require me to work very differently from the way I have grown accustomed to working. And, it has gotten me thinking a lot about the influence that our physical environment has on our behaviors.

Admittedly, this is not a new concept. Studies have shown that placing healthy food choices in more prominent, easier-to-access locations increases the consumption of those foods over less healthy alternatives. We have also seen that the explosion of bike shares and protected bike lanes in major cities has motivated more people to use their own power to get around (Washington, DC and New York have doubled biking rates in 4 years).

But, in these examples, personal choice is still there. If I really want a brownie instead of fresh fruit, I can get one with a little extra effort (and guilt). If I don’t want to ride my bike through the city streets, I can walk or take the Metro, or a taxi, or a bus, or my car.

In the case of our office move, however, I don’t have many choices. I can’t choose to keep an office when no offices exist. I can’t choose to keep my hard copy files when no storage space exists. I can’t chose to host meetings or conference calls at my table for convenience because it will disturb those around me. I can choose, however, to embrace this change as a fresh start, a new way to work, an exciting new adventure, and an opportunity to get to know my colleagues even better.

So, with limited choices, it seems that attitudes become even more important. As I consider how I will need to behave differently in our new office environment, my attitudes towards those new behaviors will likely influence them as much as our office set-up will. And, my attitudes will be influenced by social norms, outcome expectations and a whole host of other behavior-shaping influences.

For me, this reinforces the importance of taking a holistic look at every behavior change challenge – and the utility of considering how multiple influences play a role. Yes, our new office environment will cause me to behave differently. But for me to truly embrace those new behaviors and maintain them over time, I’ve also got to believe that those actions will have a tangible benefit (e.g., more collaboration, less paper clutter), that my colleagues will support me, and that I actually can work differently after all these years. Messages, communications initiatives and training workshops related to our move should take these factors into consideration, and, fortunately, most have done so thus far.

Somewhat ironically, planning ahead to working in a “one size desk fits all” office environment has renewed my belief that there is never a “one size fits all” approach to motivating behavior change.

Words of encouragement and open space work tips are most welcome!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 at 2:12 pm and is filed under Behavior Change, Behavioral Economics, Environment, Ogilvy Washington, Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Environment as a Behavior Shaping Tool”

  1. Anna Zawislanski says:

    Jennifer, I’m putting together a presentation for the Sr. Management meeting on Monday about tips and best practices for working in an open work space. Hope you will be there.