Integrating Workspace Design, Web-Based Tools and Organizational Behavior

Article excerpt

This group experiment created a collaborative work culture with attendant organizational knowledge, and increased business value for Xerox.

OVERVIEW: Industrial research organizations are constantly concerned with maximizing their business value by developing optimum organizational structures and work processes. A current preoccupation is how to capture the benefits of the burgeoning availability of networked electronic tools and the local and global connectivity they enable. An experiment designed to answer these issues was conducted at the Xerox Wilson Center for Research & Technology. Involving real R&D people in an existing organization, the experiment introduced several change agents, including workspace design, and web-based digital tools, together with organizational structures and behaviors. Unexpectedly, the outcome was an emergent "innovation" involving a fusion of these change agents. Positive impacts on organizational behavior and work processes, and factors that proved critical to these outcomes were also identified.

Researchers and their managements are increasingly challenged to articulate and demonstrate the business added-value derived from R&D investment dollars (1,2). This state of affairs has, in turn, focused attention on identifying ways to measure and increase such R&D value. The improvements sought can be in the number of technology options produced by an R&D organization, their quality (as measured by perceived business value) and the speed or efficiency with which they are generated.

To answer these complex questions, much literature has been generated by both academic communities and research organizations. But these tend to be concerned with either micro-issues, such as specific studies of research and technology as endogenous factors in innovation and economic growth, or, at a macro-level, with generic studies of ways to achieve better coupling of R&D to business and market needs through attendant organizational form and behavior (3,4). Not unnaturally, the emphasis for industrial research organizations has centered on the search for optimum organizational structures, values and modes of behavior and inquiry, a.k.a., work processes (5). More recently, these major areas of scrutiny have been expanded to encompass consideration of the possible impact of the burgeoning availability of networked electronic tools and the local and global connectivity they enable (6).

This article reports on an experimental pilot of the Laboratory for Remote Collaboration (LARC) project (7). This project was developed at the Design Research Institute (DRI) at Cornell University and established jointly by Xerox and Cornell. The original project goal was to explore means of improving collaborations between organizations separated by a road or a continent. The pilot described here had the less ambitious objective of studying the impact and value of various change agents, including workspace and electronic tools, in facilitating intra-organizational knowledge generation and sharing within one laboratory.

Pursued within the LX Competency Laboratory of the Xerox Corporation's Wilson Center for Research & Technology (WCR&T), the pilot involved an in vivo experiment involving real people, in a real organization, working on real technology problems. This article provides an account of the practical steps taken and some assessment of the progress made toward identifying new work and organizational practices that can provide tangible and measurable improvements in the internal business added-value of R&D.

The approach is to view the pilot as an experiment-the LX Experiment. The conceptual construct this analogy provides has proved useful in identifying and codifying a complex set of factors into definitions of experimental objectives, techniques, critical parameters, and metrics with which to analyze and interpret the results.

The LX Experiment

The LX laboratory, newly constituted in July 1994, had a coherent technical mission: the establishment of a competence in liquid ink-based marking technologies. …