#wpspotlight: The Modern Workplace: Never Mind the Solace

Posted: July 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

*A transcript of my speech to the Leesman Index Event 9 July 2015*

If we looked at the workplaces of now as a place of comfort, a place of safety at times of distress, as a place that consoled us during our chaotic lives (that isn’t work), I’m not sure it would rate highly on any review websites.

It’s lacking. 

Soul, imagination, humanity.

OK not everywhere but we’ve designed (largely) efficiency-creating zones of mechanised hedonism.  Where our every blink has been time and motioned into the lean book of “sick sigma”.

Toxic environments where grey, beige and frosted glass give us nothing but shivers of incarcerated damnation for 8 hours a day.  Be they factory, hospital, office, garage or espresso hut.

OK maybe I’ve over dramatised a little and it’s not all that bad but why oh why do we celebrate foosball tables, slides, faux atriums and fountains in receptions?

It’s because we rarely seem to take into account that work environments shouldn’t be engineered places of subtle domination.  It should be a celebration of human endeavour, creativity and joy.  It should provide comfort, solace and protection from the bad world of everyday toughness. It’s hard out there.  But instead of creating a warm nest of support to enable the best of our people, we’ve created near-tortuous slabs of concrete encrusted sarcophaguses.

It’s time for planned explosions and demolitions of those outrageously dated living museums.

Why?  Because we’re social.  We’re socially wired.  And we’re better socially enabled.  No one was made to spot weld or fuse a circuit board for 8 hours a day in a blue smock and a mask on a line where dignity is left at the door whilst you become a semi-permanent fitting amongst the permanent fixtures.

And social means a new construct to the ebb and flow of a working environment as well as the designed features of architectural and space planned standards.

I’ll not just talk offices but that’s where I’ve spent most if not all of my working life up to being a freelancer.  We need human proximity.  Spiritual connectivity.  Fluidity of base.

Ok the efficiencies of production may dictate something needs to be done in a certain way, certain area and with certain equipment.  I get that.  We all do.

But think about the organic, carbon based, soulful entity inside the blue overalls.  What about their social space when they’re NOT on the production line?  What about their place to recharge?  What about their place to share ideas for improving their production line?  A place to be comfortably trained on their tasks?  A place where they can laugh and form a kinship of support and trust with their fellow people?

Even if only for short bursts.

But evidence is showing us a lot is wrong with work which includes the concrete encrusted sarcophagi of my earlier rant. 

Somewhere they feel (even for 10 minutes every 3 hours) at home. In space that gives solace.

As Neil Usher (@workessence) so elegantly drafted recently “not about working from home but where work has a homely feel to it”.

I think we need a humanity check on all workplaces and instead of just jumping on the usual lick of paint, beanbags and stuff to please “the millennials” we need to do much more of (IMHO) BYOD – bring your own design.  I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll keep mentioning it until I’m proven a charlatan know-nothing.

When we have a say in what we do and how we do it, we do it with pride, energy, belief and power.  So why we have absolutely no say in the design and look and feel of the place we work is a little bit beyond me.  It may not have to be ALL aspects of workplace but I suspect the silence and lack of contributions to workplace design are because “we accept what we’re given and are grateful for it”.  Like some Victorian hovel we called a room.  Just marginally better than a sty.

For years I toiled away in places I thought were just what normal places to work were, except we now know better.  How much more efficient would have I been in a better designed place I’ll never know.

Most workplaces when I started (in the later 1980s) were – on reflection – a little more social than those I worked in during the 90s. and 00s.  They became quieter through use of email and not phones or conversations; where people left desks and huddled over more and more meetings in rooms on other floors especially built for such important interventions. 

I don’t know whether habits created the spaces or the spaces created the habits.

All I know is, instead of it getting better by the time I left corporate, it got worse.  Much worse.

Is it getting better?  Not quickly enough but there’s more research, evidence and generally people are now saying “how come this place looks like it did in the 1990s?”

What habits and technology is now doing is reinstalling our social software from years of solo programming.

And this is causing some agitation that the rediscovery of social as a good way to work, productive way to energise and generally in tune with the human psyche, is now at odds with our sterile, bland and functional workplaces.

As Bertrand Russell says…

The only thing that will redeem mankind is collaboration”

Think about space to do all range of social activities INCLUDING somewhere to escape social briefly or to be social in other ways like over video chat channels. 

Skype booths may look like a sarcophagus but actually can be a great little hideaway just for a 10 minute chat.

Think about spaces where ideas can fly.

Spaces that can be adapted.

Spaces that can be customised.What’re my answers then?

Think about social connections. 

Spaces that promotes the conversation.  The exchange.  The human proximity.

Spaces that inspire.

Space that creates solace. 
Never mind the current bollocks.


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