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.


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