January 9, 2019
Neil Usher is an experienced senior property, workplace, facilities and change management leader who is currently an executive consultant for Unispace and workessence. He is also the author of “The Elemental Workplace” in which he describes “the 12 elements for creating a fantastic workplace for everyone”. In this new podcast, I ask Neil about the latest trends in the workplace and finds out his opinions on the open office debate, the impact of technology, and the importance of workplace experience. Neil argues that workplace is now being taken seriously as a contributor to performance and is a significant part of our organization’s culture, so we must establish “laws of workplace” that we can use as a foundation to build on in our practice. We discuss the origins of the punk rock music scene and agree that we must bring “the spirit of punk” to our work by being fearless about trying new things in our roles as workplace leaders.
January 4, 2019
The Christmas and New Year break can prove a burial ground for content. This is a shame because there is as much great stuff around at this time of year as any other. And just as much casual dross. The workplace sector retains its tendency to consume and parrot comfortable, simplistic narratives, in lieu of the challenging and nuanced ideas that tell us far more about who we are and where and how we work. Unsurprisingly Neil Usher was one of the first out of the gates in expressing a wish for something new for the New Year.
December 21, 2018
We can’t help but feel that the world caught up with us a bit during 2018. We’ve been talking about the intersection of people, place and tech since we started up five years ago. Of course, we weren’t even the first to do this. As we’ve always acknowledged, we’re standing on the shoulders of the giants who first recognised what was happening a quarter of a century ago. Many of the ‘trends’ with which we are presented are nothing more than the crystallisation of ideas first expressed by people in the 20th Century. They seldom get their due.
December 21, 2018
A recently published paper describing the results of an academic study by Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban, both of Harvard, has become another unwarranted casualty of the debate within our industry and in the mainstream media on ‘open plan’ offices versus anything else. The researchers conducted two controlled studies in different organisations before and after a workplace refurbishment from dedicated cubicles to dedicated open plan (benching) neighbourhoods, and concluded that face to face interaction reduced significantly, while email and other digital communications increased in the new environment.
December 19, 2018
Whether you’re a morning person or love burning the midnight oil, we’re all controlled by so-called body clocks. These body clocks (which regulate your circadian rhythms) are inside almost every cell in the body and control when we feel awake and tired during a 24-hour period. But as it turns out, our latest study found that our body clocks have a much bigger impact on us than we previously realised. In fact, our body clocks actually effect how well a person performs on both mental and physical tasks.
December 17, 2018
The sign that somebody knows their stuff about a subject is often that whatever they say about it is full of questions, equivocations and caveats. They’ll often start out by saying things are complicated in mitigation of their opinion on a particular topic. They’ll say there are no silver bullets. It’s almost always neophytes, chancers and the conflicted that offer certainty. To prove my point here is David D’Souza of the CIPD making a point about the tendency to look for pat, narrow solutions to complex, broad challenges. Not only does he have something interesting to say, you know that he has the depth and breadth of knowledge to expand on each of the points he makes with yet more sophistication. It’s fractal thinking.
December 12, 2018
At a conference at the WWF’s Living Planet Centre in Woking staged by the office furniture firm Kinnarps, I had an off the cuff chat with James Woudhuysen who had just delivered one of his typically entertaining, erudite and challenging talks on the future of work alongside equally renowned speakers such as Philip Tidd and Namrata Krishna from architecture firm Gensler. James is an academic, writer, commentator and (dread word) futurologist. If there’s one thing you can say about James it is that he is never boring. He never sticks to the staid narratives and so when he is invited to talk about the future of work and especially the potential impact of automation and AI, you can expect to hear something you haven’t heard before or don’t typically hear.
December 11, 2018
Art supposedly holds up a mirror to life. Except when it comes to our working lives, it doesn’t. Or at least it doesn’t always show a true or full reflection, both in terms of the amount of time we dedicate to work and how important it is to us. Most of us spend at least a quarter of our time each week at (or on our way to) work. Many of us struggle to escape it in our own time too. We worry about it when we shouldn’t. It pays our way. It helps to define who we are. It structures our time. It introduces us to friends and partners. Yet in spite of the crucial role it plays in our lives, there are precious few depictions of the workplace in art. more…
December 10, 2018
This week’s beachcomb of the best workplace stories is brought to you in the wake of the first flood of retrospectives and predictions that wash up in the media at this time of year. The first piece of flotsam [sound of a metaphor snapping] is Dezeen’s listing of the world’s best office designs of 2018, which appears to be based on the answers to three questions. Is it a coworking space? Does it look like an office? Is there anybody actually working there? Answer yes, no, no to those three simple questions and you’re in the frame.
December 6, 2018
Office work has existed in some form ever since people started writing on tablets and papyrus. Depictions of clerical staff are common in the Bible and on the walls of pyramids. In the mid 14th Century the Church of San Nicolò, commissioned the artist Tomaso da Modena to create the fresco in the chapter room of the church depicting forty monks of the order hard at it at their desks. The word office itself derives from the famous Uffizi in Florence, created in 1560. Things picked up after the Industrial Revolution, as is evident from the work of Charles Dickens amongst others. The first recognisable swivel chairs were developed by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Stoll and Peter Ten Eyck. These developments have tracked wider social, economic and cultural trends so the history of office furniture design holds a mirror to the world.
December 3, 2018
There is a theory that when companies talk about issues such as corporate social responsibility they are doing so because it helps them to achieve their business goals. This is the coldly rational thing to do according to people like free market guru Milton Friedman who argues that companies should not actively pursue altruistic ends unless that pursuit is ultimately in the interest of their shareholders. As Friedman puts it: ‘Hypocrisy is virtuous when it serves the bottom line. Moral virtue is immoral when it does not’.
November 26, 2018
The meaning of life, the Black Mirror of Beijing, standing desks not a silver bullet and some other stuff
So, what is the meaning of life? According to a study by Pew, the gold standard US based researchers, it’s spending time with family and friends, reading, listening to music and going for a walk in the open air. Work comes somewhere down the list. Just one-third of the survey’s respondents mentioned their career or job as a source of meaning, and only a quarter cite finances or money. This, it turns out, is not too far off Monty Python’s conclusion in their eponymous film: Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. That’s that sorted then.