The importance of knowledge architecture in constructing a workplace for the future of work

Graham Lauren
Jun 15, 2017 · 5 min read

Whether articulated as such or not, when they move to new premises and new ways of working, leaders often create workplaces in the hope of stimulating that collaboration and the creation of new knowledge flows. The preoccupation of knowledge architecture is therefore to construct workplaces optimised to accelerate the learning and knowledge-creating potential of their occupants.

Cited in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990), former Shell Oil planning director Arie De Geus is attributed as saying, “The rate at which organisations learn may become [their] only sustainable source of competitive advantage.”

For those engaged in battle against emerging digital competitors, this has perhaps never been more true.

Faster organisational learning is an imperative not even a minority of organisations can afford to overlook.

The preoccupation of knowledge architecture is therefore to construct workplaces optimised to accelerate the learning and knowledge-creating potential of their occupants.

Fluid collaboration is the goal of every company in the digitised knowledge age.

Whether articulated as such or not, when they move to new premises and new ways of working, leaders often create workplaces in the hope of stimulating that collaboration and the creation of new knowledge flows.

We think the stimulation of those knowledge flows deserves consideration long before any company begins to think about specifying, relocating or refitting its workspace.

If you know what you are looking for, in any business, knowledge has a shape, a form that can be moulded.

In the design of effective knowledge factories, the goal is to design for, monitor and minimise the potential blockages and resistance to its transmission.

Making best use of a company’s knowledge architecture is central to the success of any workplace strategy focused on making an organisation smarter.

Accelerating digitisation sees the workplace evolving, and through its new tools, the ways in which work is performed and how it must be accommodated.

If any organisation is to remain relevant and competitive, this changes the ways in which its workplace design must be conceived, specified and briefed.

Companies born digital clearly have an advantage in their native adoption of new technologies and habitual rapid-fire knowledge exchange.

They are born naturally as flat, as networks, not as hierarchies, and therefore, whatever their other shortcomings may be, information should flow more quickly through them.

Knowledge architecture draws the map of how a company will deploy its current know-how to grow the new intelligence it will need to compete in the future.

Knowledge architecture begins, possibly, with answering the biggest business question of all.

It is, how can we become the company that would put us out of business?

Aligned with it is, what is and isn’t going to work if our business is to accomplish its mission?

What are the changes to which we must be most sensitive in our environment?

How must we design our work to address this change?

How can our workplace strategy address our biggest challenges?

Asking important questions opens people to new ideas and possibilities.

Any business’s big challenge is that against immersive change, the answer to such questions is unlikely to be found in a single mind, or even, perhaps, in those with the limited perspective of the group at the top of the organisation.

If an organisation is not to fire blind, one key focus of knowledge architecture is about growing the number, diversity and richness of perspectives engaged in identifying and understanding how to deal with change.

Consideration of knowledge architecture is therefore fundamental to thinking about what is to be done, how and by whom.

It is the starting point for all future work, organisational configuration, work and workplace design.

It is central to considering the ways in which change is to be addressed, and to answering how that need is to be accommodated through its workplace.

If workplace strategy will define how organisations come together to continue to deliver value to their shareholders, knowledge architecture is its cornerstone.

While “KA” may not yet be well known or widely recognised as a discipline, the concept of knowledge architecture may only be in its infancy, but it is not going away.

In a digitising age, a differentiating factor between successful talent engagement and retention is found in workplace culture and its capacity for creating places in which people want to work.

This means knowledge architecture must embrace both the organised pursuit of workplace learning and growth, and the development of an engaging workplace that can realise it.

It does not begin with design, but by making sense of the shared knowledge and insights of the minds the workplace must accommodate.

It is the beginning of a long journey.

How a business conceives of and articulates what it is going to become is key to the thinking of a knowledge age.

Yet, while most people still prefer to come together to work with others, the idea of workplace necessarily being a fixed entity is beginning to disappear.

No sensible discussion of the nature of the workplace or its optimal deployment can be undertaken without thinking about the growth of organisational knowledge finding its way into decisions of workplace design briefing or strategy.

Current structures for agile or activity based working may be a start in the right direction, but are still only a manifestation of present-day managerial workplace fashion.

But beyond the status quo, consideration of knowledge architecture will become central to giving any organisation the capacity to become smarter and more adaptable to the accelerating future challenges it faces.

Our proprietary workplace briefing method’s starting point is that every business contains more knowledge than it ever puts to use, and that every company can learn by thinking of its workplace as an opportunity to get smarter.

Recognition of the importance of knowledge architecture marks a significant step forward in thinking about workplace strategy because it fits the client’s knowledge-age business premises more effectively to the knowledge-creating potential it contains.

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern technology and new ways of working come together to deliver the future of work. Shiro Architects’ research focuses on understanding how to create a better workplace-design briefing for the future occupants of commercial space.

Graham Lauren

Written by

Shiro Architects director and business writer, writing, reading and researching workplace strategy, learning organisations and knowledge architecture.

Workplace strategy

Workplace strategy is where building design, modern technology and new ways of working come together to deliver the future of work. Shiro Architects’ research focuses on understanding how to create a better workplace-design briefing for the future occupants of commercial space.