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Lorissa MacAllister

Friction Points: Dr. Lorissa MacAllister on Optimizing the Flow of Working Environments

Published on July 04, 2024

Be it a workplace, home or any other space, friction points can drain the energy of those that encounter them. When left unchecked, these can hurt employee productivity, detract from customer experience, and lead to burnout of all involved.  Dr. Lorissa MacAllister, president of strategic consulting firm Enviah and leading expert in design and data analytics, has worked for over a decade to identify and mitigate these friction points. Her patented InFORMED Approach™ analyzes floor plans, operational workflows, staff members and even mundane organizational documents to suss out these problem areas.

Understanding Friction Points

Friction points are specific areas within an environment where issues commonly arise and disrupt an organization’s overall workflow. These can be physical, such as poorly designed workspaces, or behavioral, such as inefficient processes or cultural norms that impede productivity. According to Dr. MacAllister, “Friction points are like sandpaper; they start as minor annoyances but can eventually lead to significant disruptions if left unaddressed.”

For years, researchers have agreed on one encompassing truth; the environment in which one works can have a significant effect on performance and stress levels. A well-designed working space, for example, can improve personal outlook, drive business profits and contribute to greater productivity.

Of course, what makes an environment supportive will depend on the specific context in which it is used. MacAllister, consulting through her firm Enviah, explains, “You have to make the space work for you, just as much as the people within it. Think of the environment like a dynamic, living creature. Everything should be streamlined in order to keep it healthy.”

Dr. Lorissa MacAllister’s InFORMED Approach™

Dr. MacAllister’s InFORMED Approach™ is a comprehensive strategy that integrates architectural concepts, social science, and data analytics to create environments meant to  facilitate daily activities and reduce burnout. “Our goal is to create spaces that support, rather than hinder, the activities of their occupants,” explains Dr. MacAllister.

The InFORMED Approach™ starts with a comprehensive analysis of the existing environment, pinpointing both physical and behavioral friction points. Dr. MacAllister and her team at Enviah meticulously review all relevant documents and data, clarifying complex details to cut through the clutter. This analysis leads to the development of customized solutions tailored to address the identified issues. These solutions may include redesigning workspaces, modifying facilities, relocating employee stations, and streamlining processes.

“We use data to pinpoint the root causes of friction and develop evidence-based solutions that align people, processes, place, and profit,” says Dr. MacAllister.

Dr. MacAllister’s Advice for Streamlining a Workspace

Friction points can have a significant impact on both employees and the organization as a whole. For employees, these points of resistance can lead to frustration, decreased job satisfaction, and burnout. A study by the International Research Journal of Modernization in Engineering, Technology, and Science found that a good work environment is essential for guaranteeing employee performance and avoiding excessive stress.

From a top-down perspective, unchecked friction points can result in inefficiencies, increased costs and even reduced profitability, in certain cases. Cumbersome processes, inefficient space utilization and outdated facilities can slow whole operations and hinder growth. “Leadership can often tell something is wrong in their business, but rarely what the issue actually is. More than providing comprehensive plans to work off of, I also help these leaders understand what they need, and how it can be fixed,” MacAllister explains.

As a generalized form of catch-all advice, Dr. MacAllister also offers small bits of insight for prospective business leaders looking to improve their spaces. “Check that your workspace is conducive to the right energy. Use adequate lighting, avoid unsupportive furniture and see whether noise levels are interfering with your employees.”

Dr. MacAllister also recommends keeping a close eye on business metrics, especially performance indicators that could be signs of a deeper issue. “I like to call it a ‘friction audit’ – take a look at your stats over the course of a certain period. Often, you’ll be able to see a hint of where your friction points are. It could be time wastage, or high costs due to a design or operation oversight. Sometimes, it could even be low employee engagement because of a sub-optimal placement.”

Finally, Dr. MacAllister also offers the very heart of her work; “I’ve seen business owners try to pinpoint an origin source from a problem. That’s working backwards. Analyze your business, operations and staff first. The friction points will reveal themselves from there. Starting at the issue itself will only confuse you.”

The Modern Way of Rethinking Spaces

Correcting friction issues are only half the battle, when seeking to optimize a working environment. Business owners must seek to create spaces where all inside feel rejuvenated – supported, inspired, rather than drained of energy. Whether this is through integrating normalized process theory, refurbished floor plans, or pivoting to a staff focus is ultimately up to the business itself.

Speaking on the many issues plaguing modern workspaces, Dr. Lorissa MacAllister drives home one final point. “The space itself is both your problem and your solution. Think of that coffee table you keep bumping into. That overly-narrow hallway that always ends up causing congestion. The drab, poorly lit entrance of that restaurant that closed down recently. Designing the right environment can change the direction of entire businesses.”

Newsdesk Editor