Simone Leenders is a Managing Partner and Workplace Consultant at WorkWire, where she works on workplace strategy, concepting and design. Her background is in interior design and environmental psychology. Simone spoke at our first event in June 2018 on how to stimulate alternative ways of working using workplace nudging.
Tell me about your work: how does behavioural science fit in it?
I am an interior designer and consultant who develops concepts at the “intersection” where organization meets workplace. At the beginning of my career, 15 years ago, these concepts originally focused on what the organization should be able to do and how the employer could facilitate this. This is mainly because the projects are often started by real estate, housing or facility management. And that in turn stems from the fact that these organizational units often have to adapt quickly to external development. You can see this clearly reflected in technological development and the effect this has on being able to work everywhere, which means that a different type of office is needed to support this.
In my 15 years I have experienced many projects that brilliantly facilitated new ways of working but also stopped at this point. So the focus was on facilitating people in their ability to work, not on whether or not they actually wanted to work in that certain way. In practice, I saw that people do not always make optimum use of the facilities offered, which could lead to the project’s objective not being achieved.
This was the point for me to introduce behavioral science into my concepts. I see it as a essential addition to the way I develop concepts. It makes them more holistic because of its about the ability and motivation to work a certain way. I believe you need both of these to achieve good results.
How did you first become interested in behavioural science?
That interest started during my education as an interior designer. I only saw an office design as complete if the people who worked in it were optimally supported and intrinsically motivated to make full use of it. When my former partner Esther and I founded WorkWire in 2014, this was also one of the principles within all our projects. How does the working environment contribute to the strategic organizational objectives? Both through the design, in the facilities and in the behaviour of people working within this environment.
How do you apply behavioural science insights in your personal life?
By knowing where and how our behaviour can be driven, I find it very interesting to have long and profound conversations with family and friends about the choices they make in their lives. Having knowledge in how our brain works and what preferences we have elevates these conversations to a whole new level and inspires me.
What accomplishment are you proudest of, as an applied behavioural scientist?
In the development of workplace nudging, an application of nudging within the physical working environment, my team at WorkWire spent a lot of time making the methodology accessible. How can you ensure that the steps in the method are easy to follow. And are we able to turn a frown into a smile by giving people ownership and ‘positive change’ energy?
I am proud of having succeeded to help multiple customers achieve the desired change in a fun and easy way. And also of inspiring multiple companies in the field of housing and facility management by telling them about Workplace Nudging. A lot of them are applying nudging in their projects now.
What theory/theories have you found to be most useful in practice?
The behavioural model of BJ Fogg.
What advice would you give to people who might be interested in a career in your field?
Being a consultant at a strategic level, often with a great deal of responsibility depending on your advice, means that you have to be able to relate to the client and his interests properly. What drives them? What inspires them? But also what keeps them awake at night? So I would say the ability to put yourself in the position of your client is key for being a successful consultant. In addition, in my years as a consultant I have always chosen to show my personality clearly. I never pretended to be someone else. I believe there are many good consultants who can give the same advice in a certain situation, mostly based on ratio and ‘common consultant knowledge’. The only difference is the personality with which you do that. So being yourself is the only way to stand out from the crowd and truly connect with your clients. And it makes you approachable and relatable.
In what areas do you think behavioural science has had the biggest impact so far?
Marketing and sales! How do large companies and brands connect people to their brand to be so successful? I think by engaging their future clients and clients in their values and believes. And how do most of them reach this engagement? By taking into account how our brain works, how we make choices, what we are sensitive to etc.
And do you see any challenges to the wider adoption of behavioural science in your field?
I rather see behavioural science as an enrichment of the field of workplace consultancy than a challenge. It is up to the people in our industry to make the subject seizable and to show how behavioural science contributes to our work.
How do you think the field/profession will develop in the next 5-10 years?
More hope than an expectation; I hope that behavioural science is increasingly becoming an enrichment for other disciplines. Given the attention for the human dimension seems to be returning more and more, and I think that is a positive development.
You can find out more about Simone and get in touch with her on LinkedIn.