What do we need offices for anyway? The Greeks had a word for it

offices - what is going onThe 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. And it’s a useful idea when it comes to framing the current conversation we are having about offices and work more generally.

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 new wave of forecasters of office trends who have sprung up over the last four years. I wish I could lead them to the realisation that 2020 couldn’t have been the year people discovered that offices are underutilised much of the time, because we’ve known that for decades. The same goes for agile working, the nonterritorial office, the rise of contingent workforces and coworking. Or that wellbeing and purpose have been with us at least since the time of Aristotle. This is no new normal. It’s the way things should be.

Workplace Insight was created in 2012 to act as a platform for those conversations to take place and IN Magazine was launched to offer another way of talking about them. The truth is that such ideas were far from new in 2012, never mind now. We can date many of them to the late 20th Century and some of them to a time before that. So we should take care to acknowledge the great thinkers who saw this coming and created the language of ideas we use to talk about it.


What the hell is going on?

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Many of the ideas that are continually presented as new or – worst of all – ‘trends’ have been with us for a long time[/perfectpullquote]

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. 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. And maybe what happens next for offices is seen in the context of a much wider and more informed conversation about the nature of work and its role in people’s lives.