Wellbeing, agile work and coworking? The Greeks had a word for it

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The Greek word anagnorisis describes the sense of having just caught up with a truth that was always waiting for you. It’s a common literary and artistic device found in the plots of everything from Oedipus Rex to Macbeth, Star Wars and Fight Club, but it’s also a word that conveys a useful, complex idea that does not have an adequate English version. The mot juste, if you like.

What is interesting about this device is that it is also apparent when we look back after the moment of realisation. It rewards us to review Macbeth and see the way that the king’s death is presaged when he meets the witches in Act One, or rewatch Fight Club to see all of the clues we missed about Tyler’s identity on first viewing.

It’s also describes the feeling I wish I could give to the wave of forecasters of office trends that have mercifully now gone into hibernation for another few months. I wish I could lead them to the realisation that 2020 can’t be the year that people discover agile working because we’ve known about it for decades, as we have the nonterritorial office, the rise of contingent workforces and coworking. Or that their sudden discovery of wellbeing and purpose has been with us at least since the time of Aristotle.

 

What the hell is going on?

Many of the ideas that are continually presented as new or – worst of all – ‘trends’ have been with us for a long time

This is a criticism, but it’s also one I can level at myself. I am just as prone as anybody to find that something I’ve just discovered has always been there, right in front of my eyes.

I was recently back in touch with my boss at the last proper job I ever had back in 1996. He had uncovered some prints of illustrations we had used in a snarky little booklet I had written about office trends called Everything You Wanted To Know About The Office But Were Afraid To Ask.

The illustrations by Gray Jolliffe date it somewhat and so too does some of the content. Even so, it’s apparent that my combination of passion and jaded scepticism about the workplace has always been there. But what is most striking is that many of the ideas that are continually presented as new or – worst of all – ‘trends’, have been with us for a long time. It’s also interesting to see how the discussions that frame these ideas are also current to a greater or lesser extent.

The introduction of the booklet is titled Offices- what the hell is going on? It’s a question we’re still asking, but we should begin with an awareness that what seems like a revelation may have been staring us in the face all along.