Erik Lanting is a cultural anthropologist, specialized in Eskimology. After finishing his studies in Copenhagen, he moved to Greenland twice to study the Inuit. Currently, he lives in the Netherlands, has an independent consulting agency and works for multiple business schools in the Netherlands. For InHealth, he provides courses for managers to implement health management in their organizations.
Considering you started with fieldwork as an anthropologist, researching Inuit, it must be very different to work in a corporate environment nowadays?
“Actually, there are no differences between researching both. The research method cultural anthropologists apply is ‘participative observation’. You observe the factual behavior and ask questions. As a researcher, you need to balance yourself between engaging yourself with your ‘research material’ by being empathic, but at the same time, you also need to exclude yourself and remain distant. By asking (similar) questions to people, you can find patterns within a group. The task of an anthropologist is to map the patterns. When I am teaching managers, I also try to teach them this way of listening to their employees and to create the patterns between their answers. In short, that’s what we call a company culture.
At work, company culture is crucial for the way people behave. Did you also discover how ‘culture’ appears in an organization? Are certain things fundamental for becoming a ‘culture’?
“Culture is not an existing thing, but it is always something that is in between people. I do not have a culture, but I interact with others based on culture. Let’s state ‘culture’ can be described as a collective decision. Famous sociologist, Geert Hofstede, developed a model that shows a scale of cultural differences based on 6 dimensions; The 6-D Model Of National Culture (seediagram).
According to Hofstede, your work culture leads to behavior driven by values and norms (as in collective agreements). The purpose of culture is, therefore, reducing decision making.”
See diagram for the cultural dimensions as defined by Geert Hofstede.
How are cultural differences present within the office? In what way can employers reduce decision making with their workspace interiors?
“Based on the dimensions of Hofstede, differences between cultures can be framed, although it is often not clear why certain entities develop differently on these scales. The frame is made visible in factors like workspace interior. An interior alone can give you a general feeling of how things are done at the company and therefore reduce the decisions you have to make by yourself.”
Over recent years, the world has become increasingly complex due to technological advancements, in what way do you think that influenced the workspace?
“It’s not surprising the ‘New Way of Working’ (Het Nieuwe Werken) has been implemented within many companies. It failed because it has been implemented on old structures: everyone needs one flexible working station. New scenarios haven’t been taken into account. Indeed, flexibility is key. But that doesn’t necessarily mean not having a fixed working station, it means flexibility in working conditions instead.”
Pictured: Prooff SitTable, a thinking hub and a social meeting ground; this unique construction is designed to enable various modes of work.
What are ways in which employers can facilitate those flexible working conditions for employees?
“When you are focusing, you need silence. When you are brainstorming, you need inspiration and serendipity. Instead of thinking in terms of flexible working spaces, interiors should be designed based on the different scenarios and conditions people encounter while being at work. An interior should be multifunctional and adjustable on multiple levels. If the workspace can cater to people’s moods, people will be much more productive. But other factors such as good acoustics and air circulation are important too.”
Last but not least: after improving your company culture, how do you maintain it?
“It is important that the values and norms of individuals are aligned with the way managers and team members interact at a company. If you can’t understand an employee as a manager, you can not act adequately. People should, therefore, do the type of work that matches with their personality and skills. With thoughtful recruitment and exit interviews you can make sure you maintain and foster the people that fit your company culture.”
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