Social Office Design

Social Office Design is a PhD project on the social role of materiality, objects and places in organizations performed by CIRCD PhD fellow Thomas L.W. Toft.

Focus and aim
The Phd project focuses on the dynamic relationship between interactional activities - e.g. meetings, knowledge sharing, teamwork, co-creation of culture, and the socialization of new employees - and the physical everyday environment in organizations. By environment, we mean materials, objects and places such as sofas, coffee machines, fruit baskets, meeting rooms etc.

 The aims of the project are:

  • to uncover how the physical everyday environment acts as both a context for and an active partner in interactional activities.
  • to research the processes in which the meaning, function and role of the physical environment is negotiated, created, maintained and changed by the employees and other stakeholders.
  • to formulate this new knowledge in a way that makes it possible to implement the insights in design processes of modern property development companies.

The project’s focus on the environment as both a context for and an active partner in activities, is both new and unique within the present academic research of offices in Denmark. Earlier research has primarily focused on offices as mainly physical contexts or arenas for activities carried out by the employees.

Research methodology and scientific fundament
This research project is inspired by Glaser and Strauss’ (1967) concept Grounded Theory. As a method Grounded Theory implies discovering, developing and verifying a theory about a certain phenomena based on a collection of empirical data. This makes the method inductive, as it is through a qualitative analysis of data that one seeks to conclude something general about a given phenomena – and then develop theory.

The aim is to develop new theory about the social role of materiality, objects and places based on different types of data, which have been systematically collected through fieldwork in a series of case organizations.

The scientific fundament of the project is Social Constructivism and its basic view of our reality, e.g. the way we use our built environment as a social construction and not a natural phenomena. The project therefore views behavior in office buildings as a socially constructed tradition for working in office environments as well as a socio-material process, where the physical surroundings play a central role as both context for and an active partner in interactions.

Data collection
In order to fully research and understand the dynamic relation between materiality, objects, places and interactional activities in organizations, this project will make use of both qualitative and quantitative empirical data. The combination of different complementing methods makes it possible to gradually dig deeper into the findings, that are considered to be most relevant, and also to test the final results in a larger context in order to validate the new theory.

Case organizations
Empirical data will be collected through fieldwork in a primary case organization and in 10 secondary case organizations where findings from the primary case-organization will be tested. New findings from the secondary case-organizations will subsequently be tested in primary case-organization.

Project period, participants and financing
The PhD project period is three years with start date February 1st 2017 and end date December 12th 2019. The project is a collaboration between NCC Property Development  and Copenhagen University[Office2] .

The project is co-funded by NCC Property Development and the Innovation Fund Denmark. The project is accomplished by PhD student Thomas L.W. Toft with guidance from PhD supervisor Professor Mie Femø Nielsen (Copenhagen University), Associate Professor Peter Holdt Christensen (Copenhagen Business School), Senior Sales Executive Nicolai V. Nielsen (NCC Property Development) and Senior Rental Executive Allan Schouv Jakobsen (NCC Property Development).

Thomas will blog about the research project on his blog about The Future Office on his blog.