Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious

It may be apparent that this blog site considers the world of workplace design and provision to be a relatively simple proposition. The information we need is all about us, if we are sensitive to it, and are prepared to watch and listen. So a combination of a Twitter stream from a recent London workplace conference espousing the social and wellbeing benefits of a café in the workplace (worth the entry fee, I am sure), and a design publication that hit the desk this morning (quaint in itself), considering that focussed work is important as collaboration, had me thinking. Not in a good way, you understanding, but in a despairing “no shit, Sherlock” kind of way.

It is no surprise that lurching from the extreme of private enclosure (we don’t talk, there is no buzz) to the other extreme of open plan working (I can’t hear myself think) was likely to produce an equal and opposite problem – the surprise was how long it took for the penny to drop.

The clues to effective workplace design are in our everyday lives, the way we live beyond work (if we can actually determine what that is). The best research is not research at all, but sensitivity.

So are a few suggestions of other blindingly obvious things that we may wish to consider when thinking about the workplace.

  • We are different – shape, size, complexes, paranoias, emotional disposition – and so we need different things, or at least the ability to influence to some degree what is around us
  • Script our behaviour, and we will rebel – it is amazing how punk even the most unlikely polycotton processor will be when straightjacketed by the environment they are shoehorned into
  • We react badly to novelty – with Christmas coming, there will be plenty of sock-based evidence – it is at best momentary and at worst embarrassing – and we will shun it – please, forget the fussball table, climbing wall, table tennis table, and most of all, forget the slide
  • As I have discovered with my young daughters, however you dress up a Barbie, it’s still a Barbie – you can call it something else, you can put it in a different box, but everyone knows it’s a Barbie – flexible working is flexible working, it isn’t agile, activity-based, smartspace, or (the list is quite needlessly endless) – as people shun novelty, they aren’t fooled by gimmicky marketing either
  • People need to eat and drink – yes, we do it at home and even in our own time, but strangely our carbon-based bodies need fuel and we tend to take this together, hence conversation occasionally spontaneously sparks
  • We have stuff, and we need somewhere to put it – even the brave paperless workessence office has a gym bag, several pairs of shoes, a hard hat and site boots, and a big box with lots of other stuff in it that I am convinced I may need at some time (but haven’t yet)
  • If it’s too noisy to concentrate, we will go somewhere it isn’t – simple as
  • We like to look at something beautiful, it makes us feel good – we are all one part aesthete, it’s one of those things that distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom

The Ministry has lots of other resources that may help. When thinking about the workplace – in fact, when thinking about almost anything at all – it’s always the best place to start. And end.

4 thoughts on “Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious

  1. Haha! Brilliant! The plethora of nonsensical guff and consultancy BS that pervades the apparently lofty world of workplace design typically emanates from the increasing numbers of wannabe design gurus. Feel free to quote me “Knowledge is inversely proportional to bullshit”. Ie the less some folks know the more they compensate by employing contrived buzzwords. You see alot of it coming from certain US based furniture manufacturers, and a great deal from IT infrastructure resellers. Good design has always been about simplicity and clarity, and by definition is about humanity.

    The subject of your post is close to my heart. Love your sentiments Neil.

  2. Nice rant and elements of truth. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a consultant) not everyone sees the bleeding obvious or has common sense so need help realising them – another fact of human nature.

    Will we ever get the Ministry of the Bleeding Obvious and the Global Institute of Nowhere sharing a workspace?

  3. Another good post Neil. I will say though that the entry fee to Worktech was worth it thanks to two speakers: Alan Moore of SMLXL and Gerard Boyle of Orangebox, the former for his radical vision of human-centric workplaces, economies and societies and the latter for his sheer entertainment value. I can’t disagree with you about the rest of it.

  4. Yes its all true –
    But from the consultant side, it’s amazing how hard you have to argue, cajole, convice and highlight even the most ‘obvious’ stuff sometimes.
    In every audience there seem to simultaneously be those who need to be taught to crawl, walk, run, dance and figure-skate when it comes to workplace design.
    And common sense just isnt as common as we’d like to think. . .

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