High wire act: balancing attitudes and expectations in the workplace

This week, with some fanfare and a modest splash on social media, CBRE, the Global real estate services provider launched The Workshop Idea. One of its stated aims is the revitalisation of our high streets and, with the introduction of local venues in a number of differing guises, an increase in the degree of choice and flexibility of places in which to work when not travelling into the office. A whitepaper is due out shortly and we will cover this specific initiative once that has been given the proper consideration and thoughtful analysis it deserves. However, it raises some initial thoughts on expectations, attitudes and behaviours that need to be overcome in the way we view our high streets and places of work and the degree to which those who provide services respond.

The high street near where I live and work is possibly a typical example. For instance, a number of independent local shops carry signs in their windows that read “Support Local Business: Shop Here Or We Will Be Forced To Close!” True perhaps, but a couple of the businesses that display the signs also open at hours that are unhelpful at best and at worst at times that seem deliberately designed to infuriate potential customers. One has such erratic opening hours that it is almost impossible to determine when, if ever, it will be open. A new café opened, to the delight of many local residents, but they too have a decidedly laissez faire attitude to attracting custom and don’t even open at times which would guarantee impulse trade.

With depressing inevitability, the local travel agent regularly has a handwritten note on it’s door saying “Back In 30 mins” without indicating at what time that half hour started. How is one supposed to know when to come back? Across the street is a small branch of Tesco that is open pretty much all the time, offering all the choice one would expect. And yet, the supermarket chains are painted as villainous grabbers of custom. Some shops don’t even take credit cards. In the second decade of the 21st century! As we’ve seen with the likes of HMV, a failure to keep up with the changing mores of shoppers and with technology can mean the eventual failure of the business.

Similarly, in the workplace the expectations of the workforce have changed exponentially. As trends in working practices, sustainability, ergonomics, technology and social responsibility have entered the mainstream consciousness, so the expectations of employees of the baseline for what their employers should provide has risen. The attraction and retention of talent is often cited as one reason for the adoption of contemporary workplace programmes. But a baseline it remains. It is yet to be seen if businesses will fail should they prove unable or unwilling to adapt to the hardening attitudes and expectations of the people they employ.

Will savvy workers drift away to other, more enlightened firms? This an especially moot point at a time of such economic uncertainty, when people are often grateful to simply remain in work. If or when the economy returns to health will people really vote with their feet or will attitudinal inertia keep them where they are? Providers of Workplace Services employ behavioural psychologists for a reason. Understanding what drives and motivates a workforce and what fears and challenges need to be overcome as transformation takes place is undoubtedly an important element to managing successful change. The business, however, needs to be truly changing in a way that people can buy in to.

A fancy new chair and a visiting masseuse will only carry people so far if a firm remains ethically or procedurally at odds with the people working there and it remains to be seen how the general working populace would react to further incursions by work into the fabric of daily home life. After all, most individuals prefer not to be “Open All Hours”.

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Simon HeathSimon Heath is a freelance illustrator and commentator on workplace and facilities management issues and was formerly Head of Operations, Global Workplace Strategies at CBRE. For more of Simon’s worldly, wise and witty writing on all things work and workplace, visit his blog https://workmusing.wordpress.com.

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