Making Sense of the Noise
Making sense of all the noise out there about the future of the office and work gives me a headache and I don’t think I’m the only one with a sore head! Participating in a recent Workplace Evolutionaries webinar with the very ‘rock n roll’ label of Mosh Pit provided me with fresh hope that we can focus on what could be the new reality of office work, the workforce and the workplace. To contribute to what I hope will be regarded as a trigger for fresh thinking and initiatives, I drafted a few thoughts by way of reflection on a very stimulating and thought-provoking way of spending a Friday afternoon. Also, I couldn’t help thinking how Zoom has helped shrink the world bringing together participants and perspectives not only from the Bay Area in San Francisco, to Singapore to Europe and to many other parts of the USA.
ARE WE ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS?
Trying to make sense of things today reminds me of a classic piece of literature the opening lines of Dicken’s ‘Tale of Two Cities’:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These memorable Dickensian lines ring constantly in my head. As I see the current discourse around the death of the office, work from home, hybrid, remote work and all the other permutations discussed – there is just so much noise out there! Yet I wonder if are we asking the right questions?
One Size fits all?
Are we promoting a ‘one-size fits all’ solution to a set of challenges we never thought we would have to face? For many, especially those concerned with empty office buildings or the future of city centres; it certainly seems to be a case of it the “worst of times”.
However, this is only part of the picture. Call me an optimist but whilst we face all these ‘Gordian knot’ type problems at the moment, the years ahead could be filled with opportunity. But only if we accept we have to use 21st-century thinking rather than persist with forcing the ‘genie back into the bottle’ of 20th-century Industrial Age mindsets and practices.
For the WE Mosh Pit audience I posited three questions:
- What sort of legacy are we leaving our children?
- When do we stop the disgraceful waste associated with office fit-outs and re-modelling?
- Why can’t we build, own and operate commercial buildings in a smarter and more sustainable way?
Given this group’s aim is to discuss today’s reality; I hope that they will take up the challenge of addressing these pressing issues.
Breathing a sigh of reflection
In reality, I was a bit apprehensive when first invited to discuss my book ‘Where is My Office?’ at this event. I had long forgotten my youthful experiences of rock concerts and mosh pits. What was great for me was the mash up of a very wide spectrum of participants with a diverse range of viewpoints. It was great to seeHR and workplace folk along with a sprinkling of psychiatrists, with all these varied professional and perspectives provoking some useful conversations,
The range of questions about my book intrigued me. There were so many that we significantly overran the allotted time and that in itself is telling. Our world is so interconnected – especially when you think about where a significant proportion of the workforce spends its time and the places where this activity occurs. . Bringing back memories of the epic decentralising scheme that was the BBC’s move to Manchester. The creation of MediaCityUK in Salford was especially compelling and apt for me. Particularly since the Corporation has just announced further moves out of London. Which is the final bit of the BBC jigsaw. I wonder how many other corporations will be thinking along similar lines? As they try to cope with the biggest challenge in today’s workplace environment?
Primarily because for the first time ever office workers realise that they can exercise choice. They are making decisions about where, when, how and with whom they work; according to their hearts, minds and not necessarily only their wallets. This is unprecedented change that the pandemic lockdowns has accelerated.
Our discussion had much ‘food for thought’ for me. Overall the key takeaway was the presence of both HR and workplace professionals in this debate. This is a great foundation for a meaningful and purposeful dialogue to figure out how to navigate the huge uncertainty we face collectively.
Shifting the dial
The possibility of transformation is the message of The Tale of Two Cities with all the contradictions and paradoxes we face in the post-Covid era. For many of us participating in the Mosh Pit we have been banging on about the need to focus on people first and place second. Not place first and people second – as has been done in the past. The challenges we face at the beginning of 2021 provides a touchstone for making a real difference. “The future is not inevitable”, as Charles Handy said, “we can influence it, if we know what we want it to be.”
The time for talking and introspection is over – we need to take steps now!
We are merely custodians of the built environment. One which pumps out 40% of the world’s greenhouse gases every year. We are also involved in providing ‘office work’, which is a significant part of the economy. Yet We are discovering more and more how many millions of people aren’t happy with what we provide. Witness all the Gallup polls in recent years which demonstrate US worker disengagement with their workplaces. So, let’s do something about fixing this by making better working environments and a better world for us all.
The clock is ticking in terms of climate change. Just talking about strategies that will deliver in 2040/2050 are simply not good enough. I believe we are in the last chance saloon. We need to focus now on giving our children, as it might be too late for our grandchildren, a fighting chance for some sort of decent healthy, balanced lifestyle. In parallel we also need to figure out how to alleviate the current problems we are facing- the drudgery of the long commute, horrible office working environments, dictatorial working conditions and a lack of opportunity for all.
We as leaders have a responsibility to come up with fresh perspectives collectively, to meet the challenges of today, for us all to have a better tomorrow.