Resistance to workplace change marks the passing of the old order

ChangeWhen Vodafone announced in March that the UK’s businesses could save up to £34 billion with the more widespread application of flexible working models, the research to support the claim had two very familiar components. The first was a crystal clear business case, the second an admission that the message was still not quite getting through to those at the top. In fact, Vodafone claimed, around two-thirds of business leaders continue to insist their business can’t afford to reduce the number of workstations they use despite all evidence to the contrary. A third haven’t even considered the idea of reducing the number of workstations they use as a way of cutting costs.

Executives are also likely to compound their error by underestimating the cost of owning a desk. Business leaders cite an average saving of £441 per desk, under a tenth of the actual annual average cost of £5,746. As well as these underestimations, the usual cultural inertias surfaced in the survey. A fifth of respondents believe employees should have their own desk (although 77 per cent claim they judge them by results, not presence), while nearly a quarter were suspicious that employees would take advantage of flexible working.

These are, in most cases, the last knockings of a world that sees the workplace as a physical space rather than a construct of the office, the people who work from it and the technology they use. The shifting relationship between these three elements of the contemporary workplace is what causes the tremors of change that we experience both as individuals and organisations.

These are perceptible in many ways; in our personal adoption of new ways of working and the ongoing need to create demarcations between our private and working time; the resistance to change from organisations as shown by the backlash against public sector flexible working during the 2012 Olympics and the furore that greeted Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban working from home; and it is evident in Vodafone’s survey and many other like it which shows the missed opportunities and misunderstandings that create inertia.

The challenge for organisations is not only to overcome this and embrace the new world of work but to establish their own way of doing things. This in turn relies on them developing a clear understanding of how their organisation functions and how they can best develop a flexible real estate strategy that allows them to integrate the elements of people, place and technology. What is essential in this regard are an understanding of the nature of the property with which they are working and how it serves the people who work from it. The glue that binds the two together is technology, inevitably, both in terms of connecting people to each other and to the places they come together to work. As the great Peter Drucker put it ‘what gets measured gets managed’ and so it is essential that firms not only understand how many people their buildings serve, but also how they use it.


Martin BrookerMartin Brooker is the Director of Sales for the UK and North America for Condeco.