About Simon Heath

https://workmusing.wordpress.com.

Simon is a freelance consultant, illustrator and commentator on workplace and facilities management issues and was formerly Head of Operations, Global Workplace Strategies at CBRE.

Posts by Simon Heath:

Facilities managers: you never noticed us because we did such a great job

Facilities managers: you never noticed us because we did such a great job

Getting all hot under the collar about brushed chrome door furniture is an understandable but classic displacement activity when much of your work is messy, unglamorous and even occasionally dangerous. You work alongside designers and architects and look longingly at their apparent casual trendiness and clean lines, marvelling at the quality of the beech from sustainably managed European forestries (kiln dried to 10-12 per cent moisture content) with which they have specified the side tables in reception. Achingly cool and effortless in a way you feel you’ll never be.

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Yes, facilities management press, your bum does look big in that

Yes, facilities management press, your bum does look big in that 0

I suspect we’ve all got one of those friends. Needy. Constantly seeking validation. Of a new partner. Of a new outfit. Of their choices for all aspects of their life. If the industry media and chatterati are to be believed, facilities management is becoming just such a friend. Handwringing articles asking how FM can best demonstrate the value it brings. In actual fact, the sector seems to be in robust good health. It benefits whatever way the market moves. New buildings means new work. Fewer new buildings means more attention required on ageing stock. Fadism and bandwagon jumping mean there’s constant changes to be made. All grist to the mill of the hardworking facilities management professional at the coalface.

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A report into facilities management that is hard to swallow

A report into facilities management that is hard to swallow 0

facilities management bltI’ve wanted to write this piece for a while. I suspect it’ll piss a few people off. But I need to get it off my chest. I’ve held off writing it because I have been worried that it will be seen as disrespectful to the memory of a well-liked and respected member of the facilities management community, Chris Stoddart. I never knew Chris. But from what I’ve heard from those who did, his reputation is well deserved. I hope that Chris’ friends, colleagues and family will understand what I have to say and why I’m saying it. I was at last year’s Think FM event where the BIFM launched The Stoddart Review in Chris’ memory. The aim was to explore the link between workplace design and management and productivity.

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Facilities management is about great service, not trying to do everything

Facilities management is about great service, not trying to do everything

Heath RobinsonAn article in The Guardian newspaper once sought to lift the veil on the extent to which Serco is entangled in the running of infrastructure in the UK and overseas. One of the questions posed was: Is there any limit to the fields they work in? Serco’s response was: “We operate in a range of markets and geographies, which means we are well placed to bring a wide range of experiences and knowledge to help customers with the challenges that they face.” Now, that’s the sort of phrase that will be familiar to anyone who has visited the website of a service provider or has written a bid in response to a tender for a contract. It is the way that providers wish to sell themselves. We can do more. We can do everything. We can do it anywhere. And if we can’t, we’ll get someone else to do it in one of our uniforms in the hope you won’t notice. We’ll save money. We’ll do it for less. We’ll do it with fewer people.

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A cynic’s field guide to workplace terminology, part three

A cynic’s field guide to workplace terminology, part three 0

consultA New Year and a new chance for some people to heap more fresh corporate bullshit onto the already steaming pile. No matter how often writers like the ever excellent Lucy Kellaway mock and deride the propensity of people in organisations to apply cliches and nonsense in lieu of thought and imagination, we have to face an annual fresh tide of drivel and lazy thinking. So predictable is this yearly onslaught, that it appears to now be a subject for trendspotters, as a recent feature in The Telegraph highlighted. Of course, this is just general corporate speak and does not even begin to scratch the surface of what we have to endure in the more parochial world of workplace design and management. Which is why I have produced the latest update to my continually expanding lexicon of regrettable workplace terminology.  You can read parts one and two here and here.

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Do we really think the future of work involves our replacement by robots?

future of workA report published recently by my former colleagues at CBRE called “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace” claims that by 2025 so many people will be more interested in being happy and having creative roles that up to 50 percent of current occupations will be defunct. 35 years elapsed between the release of Orwell’s 1984 and the eponymous year and very little of Orwell’s dystopian vision came to pass. 2030 is a scant 16 years away so, even if one takes the exponential pace of change into account, it’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to think robots will have taken their seat at the table in quite the way we appear to think they will. Also unchanged one assumes are the attitudes of those who have a vested interest in the status quo or in dictating where the benefits of change will fall.

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Design Museum Awards: the buildings may be accessible, but the language isn’t

UC Innovation CentreOne of the fundamental challenges when asked to offer a critique of something is that you may find that you actually like a great deal of what you are presented with. And this is precisely the challenge offered up by the shortlist for The Designs of the Year awards, organised annually by London’s Design Museum to honour work “that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year”. It would be churlish indeed to take issue with projects that seek to address the provision of education in deprived areas; remove pollutants from the air and from the oceans; advance technological solutions to help people with impaired sight or mobility and improve sanitation to eliminate the diarrhoea which kills approximately 1.8 million people annually, primarily children under the age of 5.

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Virtually Uninspiring, Cautiously Aspirational – award winning offices for the VUCA world.

award winning officesWorld-of-work watchers will be more than aware that we are increasingly being informed that we are living in the VUCA age, which under normal circumstances is an acronym for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous but in the context of these RIBA Award Winners for 2014 might be taken in a number of other ways. Commentators and self-styled thought leaders are warning businesses to prepare for seismic changes to the way work gets done, where, how and by whom (or by what, if proponents of automation and robotics have anything to do with it). How lovely then, that RIBA have made awards to seven offices that hark back to more comforting, more halcyon, times. The text of the accompanying feature in Architects Journal is at pains to point out that offices are hard to design and that RIBA awards are hard won. I wouldn’t disagree on the former point but, from the evidence on show, it’s a bit more of a challenge to agree with the later. So I won’t.

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Design of the Year shortlist contrasts what is practical with what is possible

MAKOKO FLOATING SCHOOL, NIGERIA crop

A great many of us pay architecture and design very little attention until it’s too late and we’re confronted with the workings of a mind that doesn’t consider whether just because we could really means we should. The kind of mind that designs a building that melts cars on the street or one with wind turbines that are so noisy they can’t be turned on. And so this week sees the announcement of nominees for the Design Museum Designs of The Year awards. It’s a studiedly eclectic list. In amongst the Lego calendars and texting fire alarms we also find a mobile gaming app designed to be used over many centuries (it is impossible to finish it in your lifetime, natch) that, it says here, “questions the inevitability of death, the meaning of legacy and the nature of progress”. I’ve searched for signs that this might be satire without success. However, we’ll focus our consideration on the nominations for designs for the built environment. More →

The workplace should be designed for (and by) people, not robots

Omnicorp logoFrom existential and dystopian fears expressed through books and films, we have long had an uneasy relationship with the idea of automatons and artificial intelligence. The UKCES saw robotics and automation as significant enough to include in it’s recent report on the future of work and the risks to jobs are very real based even on the more widespread adoption of the technologies already available to us. The possibility that many people may cease to have any economic value is a challenge we seem ill-equipped to meet. As ever, the web giants are leading the charge with Amazon prototyping delivery of packages by the kind of drones more commonly used over the tribal badlands of Afghanistan, as well as Google’s recent purchase of Boston Dynamics, makers of military-spec robots. The people behind the algorithms that gave us the unintentional hilarity of Google Suggest are now branching to create the sort of killer robots produced by OmniCorp in the Robocop movies.

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A field guide to workplace terminology (part 2)

devils-dictionaryA year ago we published the first part of Simon Heath’s acid lexicon of the terms people use to obscure the reality of what it is they actually mean. Part One can still be read here. While much has changed over the past year, we are fortunate that Simon’s corrosive, witty and informed take on corporate bullshit, and especially that applied to the parochial field of workplace design and management remains constant. He’s part of a long tradition of those who apply satire to skewer logorrhea, doublethink and obfuscation, the best example of which remains Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary which is quite remarkably caustic and spares no one. First published in 1881 it maintains much of it power and topicality, for example in its definition of Conservative as:  “a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

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2020 vision is a useless metaphor for far-sightedness in a number of ways

Looking in telescope wrong wayThe year 2020 is a mere seven years away. Yet the designers of the future workplace and those who invite them to talk about it are still referring to it as if it marks the next frontier of human endeavour and as if we weren’t already up to our collective armpits in the 21st century. The idea of 20/20 vision is considered, in ophthalmological circles at least, to represent “normal” visual acuity and is dependent on the sharpness of the retinal focus within the eye and the sensitivity of the interpretative faculty of the brain. In practical terms, this means it’s about seeing and interpreting what is directly in front of us at a distance of around 6 metres. So as a metaphor for farsightedness regarding the future of work or workplaces it’s always been a poor one. And as we get closer to the eponymous year, it becomes worse day by day.

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