Economist Pankaj Ghemawat stirred up controversy when he wrote “just a fraction of what we consider globalization actually exists… [and] globalization’s future is more fragile than you know.” But how can that be? We live in a wired (and wireless) economy where a designer in Amsterdam collaborates with an engineer in Silicon Valley under the supervision of a Parisian manager, to manufacture goods in Shenzhen for the Brazilian market. Isn’t this world supposed to be “flat,” as Thomas Friedman famously declared?
In reality, much of our work is distributed across distant places, and leading organizations identify globalization as one of their key strategic goals. But the potential power of our globalized economy has yet to be fully realized. “In 2004 less than 1 percent of all U.S. companies had foreign operations, and of these the largest fraction operated in just one foreign country… None of these statistics has changed much in the past 10 years,” states Ghemawat in his book “World 3.0.” The incongruous state of globalization is nowhere as apparent as in the physical workplace. Workers’ behaviors, preferences, expectations and social rituals at work around the world can vary vastly, yet many multinational firms that expand to far-flung corners of the world simply replicate their workplace blueprints from home. Should today’s work environments become globalized into a cohesive form? Or should they remain locally rooted? The global business world has shed a bright light on cultural differences and generated an extensive examination of values and behaviors around the world. Yet despite obvious differences in the design and utilization of work environments, little attention has been given to the implications of culture on space design. As a result, leaders of multinational organizations often don’t realize that, when used as a strategic tool, workplaces that balance local and corporate culture can expedite and facilitate the process of global integration.