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May 12, 2014

Beyond the Workplace – why we need to act now!


Enough is enough I said to myself on 24th October last year coming away from the Workplace Trends conference. We live in a world which is full of change, uncertainty and complexity;  as people involved in workplaces we continue to debate rather than take action. Frank Duffy, one of the founding fathers of this sector and someone whom I regard as a mentor, keeps reminding us of the futility of continuing to talk introspectively, about topics that have been on the table for decades. So tomorrow marks the start of something that aims to build understanding across all the disparate parts of those involved in enabling work.


The world of work is changing rapidly and profoundly in a way that we haven’t seen since the industrial revolution. Yet even as we stand at a momentous, game-changing inflection point, the 21st century workplace strategy sector is still dithering about how it might play a part. To move forward we will have to face up to some challenging questions such as;-

Can we come out of our silos?


For those of us concerned with the physical aspects of the workplace, we exist in a fragmented system comprising many players, all of whom have a part to play.  Unfortunately, we have become locked in orbit around planet property, travelling in splendid isolation.  We need to adjust from a purely building centric focus to a wider one which is focused on people and enables them to work anywhere and anytime.  We need to evolve from the narrow disjointed focus which is based on the three tribes of the asset/transaction management, facility management and design construction management, to a more holistic approach. We need to reinvent ourselves as value deliverers rather than cost controllers. And to do that we need to build bridges with other players before it is too late. Tomorrow sees that start of building a bridge of understanding between people and property.

We need to hammer home the message that it’s time to move beyond cost control and efficiency and nail responsibility for effectiveness. This, for many, may be outside our comfort zone; but as Frank Duffy said: “we live in an increasingly virtual world and we need to justify the role of “place” in the overall jigsaw.” I contend that the virtual world is approaching far faster than most of us realise and the time for debate and introspection is over.

This institutional sluggishness is compounded by the inward looking nature of the industry and legacy mind-set that demonstrates reluctance to change.  Overall, the industry is not really aware of how to create value outside of property value – adding business value is an alien concept when it should be a core element of business thinking.   A workplace should no longer be regarded as a high cost liability but as an asset from which hidden value can be unlocked. It is no longer a cost centre but a profit centre. We could think about how we enable work as part of a system – maybe an Ecosystem of Work???


Today, the game changer is digital technology and unless the workplace strategy sector embraces change the industry will become as dead as a dodo. Workplace strategy needs to become more than just a tool to improve efficiency and thereby reduce property costs. It has to change its mind-set and embrace the notion that they exist not to manage cost centres, but to drive value for the whole business by creating a physical workplace that enables the next generation workforce to work in an agile, productive way.

People and place are a company’s most valuable assets and only by developing them both in tandem can you unlock their true value and discover that the integrated whole is more than the sum of its discrete parts. Or to put it another way, creating communities of common interest will do more to generate value than building show piece warehouses to house departmental silos.   It’s no longer about servicing buildings or people contracts;- it’s about enabling people to deliver greater agility, creativity and innovation. This is an approach that is guaranteed to get the attention of the C suite.


So tomorrow we take a small step but yet a tangible action to move forward. Fancy coming along for the journey?

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