Without you, I’m nothing

At some point soon, just as we spent a couple of decades facing up the mythical essence of the Paperless Office, we’ll have to admit that the Death of the Office is a complete crock.

While some claim “unprecedented changes” (unprecedented now seems permanently stuck to the word change, there is no longer any other kind) to the office, completed schemes roll into the journals and conference case studies with all the individuality and soul of a pack of Tesco Value sausages. And while co-working is on the one hand declared to be disrupting the institutional stuffed shirt that is the commercial rented sector, the sprouting centres come to increasingly resemble the corporate world at which their earlier incarnations cocked a snook.

What’s happening is odd, but makes sense. Technically, technology frees us from time and distance. It was easy a decade ago to be convinced that we would finally be unshackled from the office, able to work when, where and how we chose. I got excited about it too, albeit without waving my arms around, claiming the “city as our office” before others pinched the phrase. For a very small minority – usually the sort of mensheviki that claim it’s applicable to every working-age mortal because of course everyone is like them – it is. For most, other constraints and pressures apply.

Yet the more technology we deploy and the more reliant upon it and more in its service our careers become, the more we need closer human interaction, and the enablers of this. The more we push the boundaries, the less that work is an individual pursuit.

It is most notable within the environments populated by the people who bring us all the stuff that (usually) makes our lives easier and theoretically liberates us from the space-time continuum. We’re not calling it “agile”, because that’s almost as bad as “smart”.

Two factors are at play.

Firstly, it’s highly interactive. Short periods of the most anti-social head-down intense focussed activity are punctuated by (equally) short bursts of highly social behaviour – demonstrating work, on-the-spot design and planning, updates on stuff relevant to the team. While groups form and re-form, they work at their “own” desk while in a group-  they know who is next to them, and who is opposite them – because they need one another. Whisper it, but it’s about being together, physically, in the same space, at the same time. Everyone needs to know what everyone else is up to. No-one works in the café. Strangely, the café is where you get coffee.

Secondly, for these groups *actually* working together, there is almost a proportional relationship between the complexity of the technology at play, and the amount of “analogue” space required. All the walls we spent the last decade taking down to create open, “collaborative” spaces (which some may argue was just a ploy to perpetuate Taylorist, observational management) are being rebuilt so magnetic whiteboards can be installed. Post its, markers, highlighters, flipcharts, the sort of stuff that makes facilitators uncontrollably foam at the mouth – it’s all back in vogue. Collaboration (really) happens but at the small, highly localised team level, not across Larkin-like officescapes.

People in the same space, being social (sometimes), small teams, analogue space. All very counter-tech-revolution.

Smaller organisations are mimicking this in co-working centres, And other not-so-obviously-tech functions within large corporations are seeing the value of high-intensity, little-and-often, rapid ideas development based on this model.

The most significant change being driven by the blanket ubiquity of technology in our working lives may not be the rise of the robots, but the resurgence of the human. We are, under the radar, finally and fundamentally realising the value of working together.

The evolution will be penduluminated

Hey Dad

Yes son?

At work, do you know everyone?

Crikey no, there are far too many people to know them all. I hardly know everyone in my department.

What’s a department?

It’s a collection of people all looking after the same part of the work. My collection look after all of the money. We are called “Finance”.

So if you don’t know everyone, how does anything happen?

Well, we deal with people we don’t know because we know what they do, and sometimes the way we do things means we all work on the same things without knowing each other but we all do a little bit of it.

Ah. I think I get it. But it doesn’t sound easy to do anything.

It’s not, but because it’s so big, we do try and make it as easy as we can. It doesn’t always work out that way.

Was it always that big?

No, it was tiny once.

And was every other work tiny too?

Well son, once most works were big. They got so big that people thought there must be a better way. Then along came the internet and people started to realise they could do things with much smaller groups, and sometimes even on their own. They realised that if they knew people well, good things would happen.

Wow that sounds better.

It was better. Much. We stopped working in huge tower blocks and started working in cafés.

That sounds funny.

Yes it was funny at first, and noisy too, and you couldn’t go for a wee without taking all your stuff with you. So we started to work in places that looked like a cross between the towers and our lounge. They were smaller and nicer.

Did you know people there?

Yes I knew most people. We called co-working centres, because it was good to have company. All of us people starting a works on our own could meet and talk to people. And we could go for a wee without taking our stuff with us.

But you don’t do that now?

Well, we all started having great ideas that needed other people to help. So we made groups and gave them a name. Just for fun. And because our ideas were occasionally worth a lot of money to pay for nice houses and cars, we had to make some rules for the groups.

That sounds like fun, thinking of a name. Like Peter, or Samantha?

Not really, we called them brands. Like Buzzwiffle and Guze and Stunkgarter.

WOW! They’re amazing names. I’d like to do that.

Yes, it was very funny. People loved them all. We drew little cartoon pictures of animals for them, too. Over time some of the groups joined together, and some of the groups bought other groups so that the people who started them could start other groups that then joined together with other groups. It was all a bit crazy.

So everything got bigger?

Yes. And over a few years we had all gone back to being in big groups again. The small groups didn’t survive. Like the little fish in the sea getting eaten by the sharks.

So where did you work then?

The small spaces for the small groups were too small for the big groups. We all moved back to the towers. We just used the cafés for coffee, if our bosses let us.

Wasn’t that a bit sad?

It was a bit sad, yes. And we paid lots more too, and so some of the groups disappeared because they didn’t have enough money.

So – after a little bit of fun, some cool names and being in small groups and knowing some people, it’s all ended up like it started?

Yes, that’s right.

And you used to know people, and now you don’t know anyone anymore again?


So you cocked it up then, Dad?



Workplace United

As of today a new grouping representing Workplace as a discipline is born: Workplace United.To paraphrase the Clash, it wasn’t born, as much as it fell out.

Its not an organisation, a society, an association, or any other form of traditionally protective, sectional or elitist collective. Its not under threat or siege. Its not after the contents of your wallet. It is based on action, not contemplation.

Ironically I sketched it out on the inside back cover of the BIFM/CIPD Workplace Conversation report, which rendered a use for it that had so far been elusive.

Workplace United

Why? Because –

  • Existing organisations do not represent Workplace, despite unsubstantiated claims to the contrary, and its voguish appeal as a route to credibility
  • We have sufficient knowledge and resources at this point in time that could improve the workplace for millions of people – more would be great, but we don’t need more to be getting on with it
  • Creating a great workplace isn’t difficult, and any concerns that it might be should not be a reason for inactivity
  • In order to improve the workplace for as many people as possible, there is a need to promote Workplace as a discipline – and proudly, a composite discipline
  • We need to clear our thinking – not expand it – as a foundation for action
  • All attempted initiatives in the area to date have been focussed on talking and prevaricating, rather than getting anything useful done – because saying “something needs to be done” its easier than doing anything
  • There is no place for myth in Workplace
  • Creating a great workplace is an emotional thing, so tears are OK

Principles: Workplace United believes in a few things, like –

  • Space matters – to us all
  • Everyone deserves a great workplace
  • What we do is simple, accessible and understandable
  • Action trumps conversation
  • Maximum benefit can be obtained from investment in a number of basic, simple Workplace features and amenities, after which diminishing returns apply – the central idea of the #elementalworkplace
  • A great workplace can help an organisation be positive and productive, but won’t fix a rotten culture (and shouldn’t be expected to)
  • We can’t seriously talk about workplace wellbeing if we don’t get off our arses

Practical: How do we do this? Workplace United:

  • Is an open source group – with no barriers to entry, and no boundaries
  • Has one form of belonging – you’re in (by declaration) – or you’re not
  • Requests a membership donation because we all need to have a stake, but operates at as low a cost as possible – not for profit, ever
  • Spends a minimum amount on funding the organisation and administration
  • Is based on interest and contribution – you’re keen to do something to make a difference
  • Is a direct democracy, whenever it needs to make a key decision – it has no traditional management or committee structure
  • Researches only where it aids clarity, not when it serves itself or seeks intellectual kudos
  • Is without affiliations – as its open to all, it is already affiliated, and promotes dialogue with anyone interested
  • Opens its IP to all because everyone deserves a fantastic workplace
  • Requests (firmly) no selling, product or service placement
  • Has no logo or marketing other than for letting people know what its going to do and what its done (if you want a mug or tee shirt, please feel free to make your own)
  • Will be happy to admit if it gets stuff wrong
  • Has no AGM, no certificates, exams or qualifications
  • Has no conference (or unconference) – social media is our conference, and it’s a gift economy – we help one another because we want to
  • When meeting f2f, it will be for the purpose of planning action (unless its decreed a social – important too)

Some of the above may not be best stated, or correct. However, discussing the finer points for the next two decades (not so far-fetched – some organisations have been discussing them for the last two) wont be a reason not to get started.

I intend to give this my best shot, but if others wish to get involved and do more than me, I’m equally okay with that. Just as long as it happens, and no-one tries to take control. If it takes off, if it works, if it makes a difference, then we really will have changed everything.

Its got to be worth a go.


Echoes in a shallow bay

A couple of weeks ago I was going to write this post. I felt frustrated, a little angry, a shade irritated from trying to pull my wriggly thoughts together: nothing unusual.

I was going to claim that workplace is a shallow bay – that we have enough of the knowledge and resources we need to be able to improve the workplace for millions of people. Right now, here, today. Yet we continually find reason to mistrust ourselves, to consider ourselves unprepared. We’re forever gazing into gadgetised, germ-free adolescent futures, ignoring the challenges of the present.

I thought about claiming that we don’t trust our intuition enough, and that we are scared of simplicity – that we might struggle with things actually being easier than we thought, rather than more difficult or more complex.

I reflected that when I compiled the Elemental Workplace I did so from the perspective of both practitioner and occupant, raiding only common and practical sense. The only search I deployed was for a pen and a pad.  I recalled that I then took my list and automatically set about gathering stats from data and research to support something I intuitively knew to be “right”. There was plenty out there to help, but what was going on? I didn’t seem to trust that it would be credible enough without Doctoral Data behind it even though when tested at events there was similar conclusion from those assembled, none of whom asked for a time-out to phone an academic friend.

I realised that I would be accused of gifting hindsight the keys to the city, but that wasn’t really my point – its that we need greater trust in ourselves and what we instinctively know, because space matters to us all. Like I just know that being interrupted seventeen times a day in an open office is annoying and breaks my concentration. By all means give me the stats, but for heaven’s sake wait till I’ve finished what I’m doing.

I was also going to plead us being spared the silliness that soon descends on workplace research. Like the ridiculous  “sitting is the new smoking” position that undermines well-meaning work that has given some scientific rigour to what we already know to be the benefit of getting off our lardy arses more often.

I was going to conclude that across the shallow bay,  however deep the glare and reflection makes the water appear, the reality is revealed the moment you step in.

And then – prompted by following the Twitter stream from yet another industry event – I was intending to make the observation that the workplace debate is an echo chamber. The industry spends all of its time talking to itself. Saying some great stuff on occasion. Many great people on first name terms, just all happening to be in the same place at the same time. Again.

I wanted to ask what value this brings? So I did, by nudging the question into the backslapping Twitter stream. I was asked what other sectors might be better at widening the debate and was reminded of Conor Moss’ exceptional EQ Summit earlier in the year that drew in folk from the widest variety of sectors I have ever seen at an event. Why not? EQ is an issue for us all. Just as Workplace is. The only debate outside of our own panopticon we’re ever treated to is when bored journalists at the BBC, Fast Company, Forbes, Inc (you name it) claim that the offices of Tartarus gifted us open plan.

I was going to point out that the BIFM/CIPD “Workplace Conversation” (now thankfully at an end) was a similarly closed-loop affair, despite overblown claims to the contrary. Its final report took eighteen pages to say “space matters”. I was also going to remind us that one of the early ideas to spill out of the roundtabled institutional snuffling was research: we always seem to instinctively reach for it because it’s easier than facing the terrifying simplicity of reality, and defers the need to actually do anything.

And so I was going to draw the threads together. The echoes perpetually bounce across the shallow bay. They reassure and soothe us. Each time we hear them, we hear them anew – and are as delighted as when we first heard them.

Yet I was going to offer the scenario to be a remarkable opportunity, if we wish to take it:  the simplicity of Workplace can make a massively positive contribution to the working lives of everyone, if we trust it and carry the message. And the very heart of the message is its simplicity.

But it all seemed like a bit of a faff. Who’s listening anyway, when the echoes are so beautiful?

It was at this point that I decided instead to write the next post, proposing what we might do about it.


It was really nothing

We thought.

But it didn’t really work out, did it?

We thought we needed more data and research in an attempt to reinforce the unsubstantiated statements we oft repeat, to give at least a sliver of solidity to the myths we create or (all too frequently) to reinforce the need for a product or service.

But rather than automatically presupposing  a level of complexity beyond our current understanding. all that is necessary is to open our eyes a little wider. We need to consider a starting proposition that things may actually be as simple as they appear, or simpler.

We thought we needed a new model – a replacement for the buckling columns of hierarchy, unsustainable in a networked, enlightened world of bits, something for the nodes to make sense of. So amid the clamour for more democracy we were gifted ideas like holacracy. As the peasant soldier in Dr Zhivago asks a Bolshevik trooper after the revolution “So will this Lenin be the new Tsar, then?”

But all we want is to be treated like an adult, spoken to in a plain language we understand, reasoned with, and accepting of our human vulnerabilities. The attempt to contain and constrain our behaviours through the imposition of any form of model is the root of the disconnect. What organisational structures ever works the way its drawn?

We thought millennials would change everything because they were different to the rest of us, they involuntarily deploy technology with the unconscious ease of a vital bodily organ, and their warm hearts beat to the pagan rhythm of the planet while ours have been petrified by years of submission to authority and the relentless pursuit of lumpen personal gain. All as if younger generations had never entered the workforce with a challenge to their elders before.

But its only ever been about us. In creating and attempting to rationalise the myth, we feel better about ourselves, grow more confident with one another, explore technology and social media with liberated ease, set the value of time against the accumulation of wealth, and put relationships over results. The story helped us weave a different story. 

We thought there was a war for talent, that organisations were doing everything within their collective humanly power to mirror the brilliance, commitment, creativity and inspiration of their targets to create a proposition impossible to refuse, always looking over their shoulder at their competitors, always looking for the marginal advantage.

But instead there is a war on talent. The mass evictions of the recession led many to declared UDI when the consequence-free pursuit of gain transpired to have consequences after all- and in doing so, accepting all the risk in the relationship as the price of independence. Meanwhile organisations continue to struggle incessantly with engaging and developing their people, mapping career pathways and creating an authentic sense of common purpose. When humans are no longer seen as resources or capital, then we might have a better appreciation of what talent might bring.

We thought the office was dead, that technology had evolved sufficiently to condemn the archaic institution of daily gatherance under a common payslip, that we were a short step away from a holographic mimicry of the metaphor in any chosen corner of the coffee-serving cosmopolis, that we could leave the archaic institution to the fossil-finders of the far future.

But in reality we just want a better office. The chemicals between us just don’t work over digital.  Even for those shunning the corporate cask, the metaphor survives in the shape of co-working centres increasing in design integrity, sophistication and expense. We change a little of the reason, but we’re safe in the motherlode. In whatever form, the common parts of the office reassemble, because it kind of works.

We thought people wanted to work from home (the awful dial-up idea “telework”) all day every day because we could seamlessly connect, set out our own space, get three loads of washing done and a casserole in the slow-cooker and still be more productive than being pestered by annoying colleagues wanting to ask us stuff all day. Surveys piled up (from telco’s) showing what a “win-win” it was. Even though we were often the annoying colleague.

But what we actually want is the other way around – not work from home, but a bit of home at work – warmth, comfort and influence to offset repetitive, soulless, buffed and refrigerated corporate design and its accompanying portcullis of policies and rules governing how we are to behave. That and a little more freedom to manage the demands of domestic life when faced with the prospect of a nine-hour lock-out, and the occasional commute out of rush hour – to be treated like responsible adults, able to make our own decisions.

We thought that we needed to hide work – that we didn’t want anyone seeing the “back of house” – paperwork, the daily deluge of the detritus of administration. So the only vistas on offer were in the direction of where the money was spent, the plush meeting rooms, catered client lounges, the painted staff,  the whole “front of house” illusion. It fooled no-one, for all the years it prevailed.

But just as restaurants opened their kitchens to show diners how it was done and who was doing it, so we realised that work doesn’t need to be hidden, that it is nothing to be ashamed of. Just as “Brand” needs to be transparent, so does what goes into creating and sustaining it. We are all “back of house” now. Which means organisations need to create a workplace that works and can be seen from all angles.

We thought everything was changing so fast that we couldn’t keep up, that the voracious future of our fascination and nightmares might even consume  the present while we were still contemplating it.  A future without organisations, employees or even physical presence, where we are woven into our tech, our cars drive themselves and we argue with our own hologram. It’s all about what lies ahead.

But insight and wisdom has survived thousands of years. It is incredible that ideas borne in ages so different to modernity in every respect are as applicable now as they were in their own time, and in consideration of which relations of production, technology and social norms are but distractions. The past will make sense of our future yet.

We thought. It might be worth us thinking again.


Forbidden colours

I`ll go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything

Like a temple-bodied muesli-gargling flexible workplace vegista I occasionally dream of gorging myself on the cherry-pied custard-fest of a private offfice, in full view of the self-loathing waiting to suffocate me as I surrender.

Because sometimes we suffer the Karamnzovian pangs of imaginary indulgence in the things we have railed against for so long, a shard of doubt piercing our belief. It’s part of reinforcing our conviction. Most of the time we don’t talk about it, even to ourselves.

So I’m going to share it with the group, in a fit of therapy.

A private office the subject of my musing, an imaginary place where…..

….all my stuff is always (in the absolute) exactly where I left it and where I know it’s always going to be, rather than piled on a window ledge because I was dragged through unexpected meetings to a desultory dusk.

….there are no fragments of a baguette foretold in the keyboard, no interpretable clues to a mis-spent snack in the “vacant vee” on the chair, no peruvian marmalade on the mouse.

….I can hang my coat on a hanger on the back of the door and not have to ram it Tokyo-metro-like into the wardrobe next to the damp coat just returned from all-night fishing with its oblivious owner and their wet dog.

….if you are going to interrupt me I can see you coming, and thanks to the air of crisply folded calm I can hear you crunching through the problems you are about to shovel onto my desk before you appear in the doorway, and be ready

….the design of the furniture and finishes are a frozen heartbeat, the outpouring of passion for physical form, rather than a production necessity.

….my computer works when I switch it on, rather than after I have changed desks three times because various essential peripheral limbs have been medievally lopped off the unfortunate docking stations and the monitor has not been mauled by a Bengal tiger

….my circadian rhythms play out to an ambient calm, like listening to Robin Guthrie while the sun sets over Siena, rather than to a 3am drug-fuelled free jazz/Test Department collaboration kerbside at the Target Roundabout.

….the window provides a contemplative vista, a sculpting cushion for the eyes and a reflective pool, rather than a tormenting temptation, a sealed hatch, two whole gesturing fingers.

Here am I, a lifetime away from you.

Now, please: make amazing shared spaces. Make the demons go away.


Smash it up (parts 1 & 2)

Part One

Creation and destruction are drawn from the same breath.

We instinctively yet irrationally see creation (and for that, read creativity) in a positive, beneficial glow and destruction in a negative gloom, until we consider purpose, function and form – and thereafter may take a different view. Many of our creations – the subject of dreams and euphoria for the innovators, motivated by reasons at which most would shudder – bring misery and despair. Creativity per se is not a good thing. Destruction per se is not a bad thing. They must both be held to practical and moral judgement.

Human beings invariably suffer space.

They do so within a natural gap between the point at which space ceases to become useful or beneficial to us, and the moment at which we become conscious of it. The breakdown in purpose is difficult to define, understand or measure, hence the time it takes for consciousness to dawn. With a nod to Durkheim, we might call this the anomic void. It becomes counter-productive, corrosive. It contributes to a deterioration in mental and physical health, and tears at our relations.

Space must therefore evolve, change, grow (and perhaps shrink) with us. We must cease to see space as a product, but consider it a journey. There may be rest, but there is no end.

Part Two

How should we think about this, and what should we do?

I have previously considered viridian design and natural evanescence, the inbuilt obsolescence to ideas. This encapsulates the notion that at the point of origination we also consider demise. I’ve also mused on my own personal experience of creation and destruction.

Nietzsche held that “all great things destroy themselves from an act of self-cancellation” (Zarathustra).  Why not space?

We remain obsessed with creativity, yet afraid of destruction. We need to return to the original breath, and hold them as equally important, indistinguishable. Imagine the suffocating claustrophobia of infinite creation. This thought was ignited by the exhibition of the auto-destructive art of Gustav Metzger in the Tate Britain.

Metzger was the founder of the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS), the gathering of a diverse group of international artists, poets, and scientists in London in 1966 on the theme of destruction in art. Now, that was a gig to have been at.

Metzger also produced several versions of a short manifesto describing the nature and purpose of the movement. He held that ADA “demonstrates man’s power to accelerate disintegrative processes of nature and to order them” [and] “…contains within itself an agent which automatically leads to its destruction within a period of time not to exceed twenty years.”

Yet in relating this to the space we create, the idea of the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely’s 1960 installation fascinates – a self-destructive machine sculpture, Homage à New York, which battered itself to pieces in the Sculpture Garden of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. I couldn’t help but muse on the idea of a workplace that dismantled itself when it no longer usefully served the purpose for which it was created.

We need to be sufficiently aware of our relationship with the space around us that we are readily able to identify the anomic void, and on our journey to be prepared to smash it up and start again. Our present day obsession with creation and creativity is masking how much we have yet to learn about the beneficial contribution of destruction.

And how to do it in style.

What? You expected the Damned? How predictable would that have been….?

Cymbaline, please wake me

The corner office, the largest office, the best view, the supplest leather, the deepest grain, the deepest pile, a personal parking space for the car you’ve never heard of, a personal Parker with a personal parking space, two secretaries, suits by Rumplestiltskin, the de-badged personal identity (the organisation works for you), the personal toilet. Magnitude and exclusivity, unlocked by fifa’s favourite foldies or the potent power of position. Or, most effectively, both.

Status symbols in the workplace have for decades been about noise – the most deafening display possible of the elevated (occasionally apotheosised) position of the holder in relation to others. Status cymbals.

By the 1990’s such brash display was under muffled attack. We carefully removed the defining drywall and patched in the carpet, converted the coveted khasi to a deli bar and packed off Parker’s polyester pinstripe. But it was far from a revolution. Many of the traditional trappings of birthright, a private education, luck and a sharp eye for an opportunity survive on a rich and fatty diet, even amongst the new digerarchies.

But supposing in this bristling new age of enlightenment (which its not, but run with it for the minute), status symbols softened, hushed, their brash reverberation turned inward upon themselves – and became acceptable, aspirational, a badge of humility, dignity and reserve, and most remarkable of all, an intangible estate free of the buttock-clenching guilt most of us would feel from arriving for a meeting via the helipad.

What would these attributes be?

The unplayed hand, a reputation earned and admired for the gift of talent deployed for the benefit of others, no “profile” other than for word of mouth, carried on the breeze rather than optical fibre.

Time – the hardest currency of all – or at least the appearance of it, creating bubbles of it within the Newtonian continuum, gifted as listening.

A phone that isn’t smart, that rings because someone wishes to speak with you, rather than alerts because they never expected you to answer a call.

Warmth – not as complex or academically dramatised for commercial effect as EQ, just simply an ability to understand people, make them feel good about themselves and the centre of your attention, put them at their ease. And an easy laugh, from the core.

An evident inner calm, a contentment with every minute of every day, for its own value even if appearing wasted, never caught in the mistral of needing or wishing to be elsewhere.

The analogue – treasured heirlooms, watches that wind up, pens with ink plungers, folio cases – the security of a life you don’t have to back-up, because those who passed the items to you to care for did so for you.

A life outside of work that celebrates the small things, with the people who matter – not solo bungee jumping off an orbiting satellite, but an ice cream on the pier at Worthing in November, sharing the foolery.

That would be a quiet revolution.


State of the operation: FM in 2015

With ThinkFM – BIFM’s annual soiree – almost upon us, here is a personal reflection upon the state of Facilities Management (FM) in the UK (and quite probably beyond), with a focus on the journey to come. I’ve been in – or associated with – this profession in varying guises since 1992, a year before BIFM was founded. Despite many of the strides it has made in this time, it has also shown itself capable of drift, and frequently displayed a lack of confidence. This post is positively framed, and sewn through it is an affection for a profession that has been extremely good to me. It’s now time to harness the talent within.

FM is still searching beyond its walls for a broader validation. Most recently manifested through a dialogue with the CIPD in a bid to shift the emphasis of the profession from asset to people, it has simultaneously required a claim to ground in the amorphous area of “workplace”. Unfortunately the FM sector believes it has far more to gain in credibility from the conversation than HR, a profession tangled in its own perpetual identity/value crisis and “seat at the table” obsession, and therefore dominated the recent 12-week online “workplace conversation”. FM still has a lot of work to do with HR to convince it of the value of a closer relationship – which is why it has chosen the workplace as the most likely “hook”. The accompanying problem for FM in this regard is that it doesn’t speak for workplace which I have argued is a discipline in its own right. If it wants to claim to do so, which is difficult in itself to fathom, it needs to legitimise the claim through understanding and articulating what it means and why it’s important to FM, and bringing together the right people to develop the proposition. On this basis it also needs to convince those in what one may call “workplace” roles that FM has any relevance – property, design, psychology, project management and communications amongst others. Not just the tired “HR and IT” call.

FM needs to evaluate what it wants from this venture into the world outside itself – the basis on which it holds a dialogue with the CIPD, and the areas it wishes to represent in holding such a dialogue.

FM (done well) brings incredible value to organisations. Perhaps with more self-belief in the contribution at all levels that FM can make, it can be confident enough to propose an external dialogue in which it can generously gift its knowledge and experience, rather than seek validation. This begins with understanding that being operational is not a negative. It doesn’t place FM “below” other professions in importance. Not everyone can be tactical, even fewer can be strategic within large organisations. A seat at the table is not necessary to make a significant contribution. Without effective operational service delivery, flexibility and resilience, organisations cannot function effectively, and some not at all.

FM needs to understand, harness and be visibly proud of the power and value of “operational”.

On this basis, FM is still searching for service excellence, after twenty five years of it being important. Back then we used to talk about the day when hotels and airlines would call practising FM’s or FM providers and ask them how it was done, when FM would be the gold standard. We’re still talking about it. The best hotels and airlines (amongst others) understand that the physical asset is the window on the service experience, the enabler, but not the end in itself. They also see the service experience as a weaving of so many vital threads, rather than a modular construction. FM departments and most of the FM industry remain organised along service lines, rather than on the consumer experience. This is the transition that FM still needs to make.

FM needs to see service excellence as its asset.

This brings us to the commercial reality. While FM may claim to have woken up to the realisation that it’s “all about people”, the commercial model of FM remains all about the asset. In the occupier sector (where we still “occupy” assets), FM still maintains, cleans, secures, landscapes and caters within buildings. While the end product contributes to conditions that enable wellbeing and productivity, services are specified and priced against the asset (with catering being the partial exception). In the institutional sector, it’s entirely and completely about the asset. One only has to look at a typical RFP for services, and the response, for evidence.

FM needs to understand that a people-focussed perspective needs a people-focussed commerciality – and start to think of how it will transform itself accordingly.

Where and how is the cerebral power of those in the industry being deployed to solve the above? It’s unfortunately still the case that FM needs more intellectual rigour. That means more – and more focussed – practical, creative, demystifying thinking, backed with credible data. It needs those interested in pursuing this to be persuaded into a community for the purpose. And it needs to be done for the good of the profession, not personal gain, profile or a consulting appointment – the industry has been at the behest of opportunists in the past, whereas now it’s time for those willing to do so to give something back.

FM needs to gather its thinkers, and appeal to their desire to improve the industry that gave them their careers.

All the while, the attraction of a career in FM is still undersold. While this requires more gusto in itself, the resolution of some of the above would help.  Yet the beauty and wonder of FM is that it is open to all – those with the passion and commitment to make a difference, and common sense to apply themselves to a profession that is always deeply in need of more of it. That means people of all ages, not just those leaving formal education. Invariably those with experience in a different field – usually as a consumer of FM services, and occupant of its assets – make fantastic practitioners, and don’t need to start at the bottom of the (footed) ladder.

FM needs to make a concerted appeal for new talent to people of all ages – which means it needs to understand itself to enable it to do so.

There is much to do – but it’s all within reach.


Vacant possession

You didn’t want to be at the meeting, you weren’t prepared, you didn’t want to be prepared, its beneath you its above you its irrelevent its too long its more of the same its off topic its all testosterone-fuelled posturing and points-scoring its just unequivocally boring. But you’re there, with your nouvelle-dezeen notebook, tablet and phablet. You used to park your ciggies and zippo in front of you like that as an unedrage drinker. You are wearing the same disdained face as then, too. Impress me, do you have anything worthy of my moleskine? If I reach for it, you know you’ve got my attention. Otherwise.

It always happens. You start zoning out. Voices begin to distort, their wavelength ebbs, you catch words lose others string them back together in a diffeernt order and fill the gaps yourself and visibly retreat. You edge your chair away from the table. Your eyes widen, your vision blurs. In the room, only just. Its at this point that you begin to edge back through your mind. You think if only you had time to think but you spend your time thinking about thinking instead of thinking. You crawl on all fours back through a velvet tunnel that swallows the resonance, drawn to the light, hurrying now you need air the soft gloves round your throat tightening.

You break gulping and gasping into the openness leaving a suited husk to appear interested. Unfettered you wander the promenade the high street the lanes the open road the combed hills the opportunities you never pursued the deals you never closed the chances you never took the kiss you avoided the subjects you plitely changed. You change history, you re-write every book you loved with yourself the protagonist the hero the lover the narrator. You untie and re-tie the knots of your life and your imagined life and satisfied you decide to return.

Lungfilled you brush the soft tunnel walls, content. As you skate the final curves you halt abruptly you rattle at the final doors you rattle again you tear at the handles the hinges but they are firm. Residing in the body you left is another. They are in control, speaking with authority gesturing with confidence making notes on the crisp pages of acceptance smiling with ease and for the ease of others. But its not you. Through the portholes in the door you can see your rivals raised eyebrows tilted heads impercetibly slow nods of graceful submission. Whoever is you, is winning. You gouge at the doors once more but to no avail. Whoever is in there isn’t coming out. They draw a curtain across the portholes, and you are in darkness.

You scramble back through the tunnel to the air where you were confident in control of your stories but the colours are washed, drained, and the heroes have changed places. You try to knit them together in familiar ways but the endings have changed, you no longer recognise yourself, the way you look the way you sound the assurance in the things you say. You grasp at what is certain but it slithers through your fingers like silk. You are alone aloof detached.

These are not your stories anymore.