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.


A conversation with Thomas De Quincey about the end of social

There was ritual in my morning cafe visit, in which the need for coffee was rarely tested. Equally ritualistic was checking my phone while waiting, frivolous and oblivious.

While the randomly-gathered levered manhole covers to a deeper world, gazing into the light, flicking through a catalogue of expressions – surprise, concern, disarmed adoration, desire, mostly bemused indifference – the buttoned-down, intense figure at the corner table quietly nursed a china cup, turning it gently in determined hands. Lost with only himself in a distance beyond my suffocated imagination, he didn’t notice me take the seat opposite. I was sure it was him.

“Thomas de Quincey?” He affirmed with a deliberate close of his eyes, and continued on his kaleidoscopic journey. “Is that tea?” I asked, slightly unnerved by his reputation, not quite expecting what answer I may receive. If any.

“Tea will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual” he offered. He glanced at the phone I had placed on the table, from habit raher than purpose. “Are you going to stare into the inconsequential abyss, too?”

“Its social media – social, something you seem a little unsure about?” I replied with the naive confidence scooped from skipping a stranger across two centuries of social and technological development.

“I’ve seen your social media, compressing your life through the throttle of a profile, the tyranny of the human face. As I can see you have pre-judged me, how does your addiction differ from my own?”

Was he really asking me this? “Addiction? From the stupefication of laudnum? When everyone has access to social, and your habit is a rare and expensive find, notwithstanding a social evil?”

“But imagine, if you are able. Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

“But” I protested “most are usually clear-headed, sober when using social media. We interact in clean light, our minds roll our thoughts before we speak, we decide its the right thing to say before we say it. We discover and culture beneficial relationships….”

“It is most absurdly said” he interrupted, seeming a little uncomfortable “in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety. For this reason, your social media is already aranging its life in order, for its imminent passing. Rest assured it will be expected, but unexpected nevertheless.”

I was confused. “Social is just coming into maturity, inclusive, all encompassing, integrated with our lives. How can you think this?”

“Allow me to offer my congratulations on the truly admirable skill you have shown in keeping clear of the mark” he smirked. “Not to have hit once in so many trials, argues the most splendid talents for missing.”

I didn’t understand where my aim was awry. Noticing my hesitation, he continued. “Your social media has reached its limit by the very nature of its sociality. Every creativity and insight is diluted, every shard of light lost in the daybreak of conversation. What you believe you have discovered, you have in fact already lost.”

I was agitated now. “So we’re better off drinking laudnum unaccompanied in a darkened room, speaking with and knowing no-one, alone with our own weakness and indecision?”

“I don’t say that my dissolution in opium is the answer, no dear boy. But your social media has no response, no outlet. It relies on conscious, waking experience, which is inherently limited. If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the incommunicable. The limits of communication will hasten its demise, as our search for more ecstatic pathways continues.”

“So I’ve been – and am – wasting my time? If social media is extinguihsing itself, what follows, surely it is something more intensely social, more genuine still? I need to have some idea, if you’re so sure.”

His gaze wandered, he seemed finished with me, or at least the idea of me. “You are next, just and simply you….your thoughts….your imagination…that only you will know. Social will never be enough. The only pathways worth treading are open to you alone.”

“And what would you have me do?” I asked in frustration. But he had already locked me out, absorbed in his contemplation once more, detached from the physical form in front of me.

“Forget your anger before you lie down to sleep.”

My phone buzzed several times. Having been distracted by the alert, I was alone at the table. There was a little tea left, dark, cold.


Kensal Rise to Borehamwood

The lift call-light flickered, flickered again, and dulled. It was the stairs again for Gavin. He heaved the riveted door and began the four-storey ascent. Those from Fitch would need to sail on past, some another five levels. Every fraction of fate worse for someone else made it a little easier on Gavin.

He was already later than he had intended, having stepped off the bus four stops early to down a potable coffee and use a wifi that didn’t strobe like an eighties disco. It was always best to get some work done before it became near-on impossible to get any work done.

When he made it through Petra’s apologetic smile to his desk, he swapped his trainers for his day shoes and spun his Nikes and rucksack into the abyss beneath, steering them into the corner with his feet. The twin sagas of Kieran’s wedding planning and Sheena’s asthma were rattlesnaking one another as they had been yesterday, and the day before. In blissful ignorance, neither was listening to the other. Gavin eased the papers from both desks back over the crumb-catching cracks and eased on headphones the size of pillows, the smallest space possible between two unfolding tragedies. In defining his estate, his set out its limit. The sound of his own heartbeat was reassuring.

The last shard of morning light between the cabinets dividing Sales from Accounts made its way across his files, thinning to a razorpoint and out. They must have nudged the pillars of Stonehenge around for decades to hit that sweet spot. The fairytale Druid in him muttered a pagan prayer, as he opened his InBox. He wondered for a moment what twentyfirst century work would be without it, as he scanned the bold items for anything from Kelly. Nothing yet. She would be bored soon and the more bored she got the less Gavin could think about anything else.

Alan was wearing a resplendent tie again. It was a form of inner protest only he understood and persisted with. After years of unofficial and demonstrative campaigning for a more relaxed dress code, he had become dispirited by the greige all around him, the variant shades of indescribable drabbery his colleagues managed to source set against a backdrop of uniformly unchallenging drabbery the organisation managed to source. So he spiked the day as only he was able, like dropping a tequila in his own drink.

He could see Christine gesticulating at Frank, the office manager – her plant had been taken away again. It made regular journeys between her desk and the storeroom or the rear yard, depending on how far Frank had managed to get with it before the protest began. It was her own confused and bemused plant, answering only to her, but own plants weren’t allowed. Greenfly. But Christine was hardwired to connect with nature, she pleaded, but Kevin on the other hand was hardwired to the Policy tablets. There was no middle ground.

Gavin’s mobile rang, it was the agency he registered with last week. He slipped out of the cans and spoke very slowly as he edged out toward the lifts, trying to avoid any suspicion. Everyone’s lives were on show, a modern curiosity shop. As he reached the redundant lobby, the signal opted out – hello? Hello? Shit. Wherever there was a fragment of privacy, there was an accompanying curse. The toilet traps were no better, and the damp cold crept into every data packet. You could almost feel the caller’s bone marrow chill.

When Gavin returned to his desk, Simone waved him over. Hacking his way Indiana-Jones-like through sticky notes reminding of calls never returned, was a website and an idea – the “Elemental Workplace”. Gavin read the post and shrugged, more to himself than to anyone else.

“We could do with some of that, eh Gav..?” she nodded towards the flytipped contents arrayed before them.

Gavin paused and breathed deeply. “What’s in the bloody filing cabinets anyway?”. Everyone in earshot shrugged at Gavin. “Righto. Let’s get them emptied and out of here. This has to start somewhere”.

And in that moment, everything changed.


#workstubs 3

Paths we think are new are often just dust on old footprints

The human brain – the original wearable technology

The art and science of work are married only in common sense

It is said that as leaders we cast a long shadow – if so, how much resentment and power festers in the darkness

Build relationships in an organisation from the ground up, and have a hundred eyes and ears

Its when robots start wearing “business casual” that we really have to worry

If you think your LinkedIn profile needs some work, its probable everyone else will

Careful about the statements you make – you believe you’ve earned the big car, many will think you fluked it

If you manage the company’s money as though it were your own, its doubtful that the project needed that new Prada briefcase

Thankfully, we only talk about Millennials every thousand years

Everything isn’t awesome – thank heavens

At some point we are all judged – all we want is for it to be fair

The courage to fail means having the balls to admit it was your idea

Sport is the ultimate misplaced, short-term metaphor for business, management and leadership success, as anyone associaed with Oxford United can tell you

I don’t have an elevator pitch, I use the lift

In space we wear a suit – in a suit we need to wear space