IDR Sustainable Workplace

Psychologically, commercially and environmentally viable organizations

The following article was posted on Linked in:

Rules for an engaging workspace

It was presented as a "great article" by a top quality workplace strategist.  It is certainly well written, undoubtedly argues its case well and adopts a caring and knowledgeable perspective.  For those with access, the whole Linkedin discussion is shown at the foot of this page.

To me,however, the article is far from great.  In my judgement it underlines much of the outmoded infantalizing nature of office design as it often practised.  This not a criticism of the author who deserves respect for a well-written piece that states best industry practice as it understood. My criticism is of the thinking that pervades office management and design which keeps reinventing the same ideas. Most of these practices lie way below the levels of care presented in the piece reviewed.

Sadly Einstein never said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" but that shouldn't lessen that appropriateness of the phrase to the last 100 years of office management.  And I take my share of the blame for that state of affairs. So:

This article makes a number of relevant points. Ray also makes sense with his statement about “treatment and respect”. However too often design is treated as a psychological trick which will make things better but keep workers under management’s control.

To an extent such tricks work. Enriched design has consistently been seen to thoroughly outperform ‘lean’ environments. But chipmunkery and colour are not the best solutions.

Peer reviewed evidence is pretty unequivocal; spaces which realize workers’ identity – rather than those of the most far-sighted designers and managers – work best.  To see yourself reflected in your working surroundings is a function of feeling comfortable in your space. That route is achieved best, yes through respect, but even more through autonomy and trust. 'People like us’, who earn our crusts in Ray’s Work Anywhere Universe, have the best chance of achieving such conditions.

We should remember however that most people do not enjoy this privilege and we do them an enormous disservice when we say that we are working in “increasingly engaging workspaces” We are not. The gap in earnings at age 30 between those who have a degree and those who do not is now at an average of 50%, that is 50%. In 1979 the gap was 30% and that chasm is expanding. Meanwhile the spaces in which the “over monitored, over managed majority” (Paul Morrell) have to work are shrinking and the amount of monitoring to which these people are subjected is growing. When was the last time your phone call at work was presaged with the words “this call may be monitored…” And yet how often do you hear that phrase every day?

So yes, Ray’s 'treatment and respect' are fine in so far as they go and of course they sound terrific. We can after all respect other workers but perhaps not quite as much as those who are qualified like us. And we can also treat lesser paid colleagues well, but maybe not quite as well…

So let us remember that design tricks and fine words actually can butter a few parsnips; especially when the previously prevailing conditions were so barren that plants and corners and interesting breakout zones amount to putting tyres and fresh bananas into the monkey enclosure. But it is high time we stopped giving ourselves credit for this sub-mininal and outdated effort as though it is the latest thing. Designers, managers,all of us are years behind the clock.

Autonomy, decision making and trust are what are required. And these fundamental variables should apply across design, production, across the whole working environment. The more you give the better the return. Up to 38% more according to the science.

So frankly bollocks to the chipmunks analogy of the article. Why should we have to think of our colleagues as small stripey rodents?  We are all people in organizations and should be considered as such; grown up people too, people capable of making our own decisions. It is as simple and as complicated as that.

Linked in discussion: Great article in Harvard Business Review

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