No blind spots in leopards’ eyes: five hopes for Workplace in 2018

It’s a shame that trend spotters aren’t more like Giant Himalayan lilies, flowering once every seven years – it’s an irregular enough interval to forget, too. Seven years might actually be enough time for a trend, as opposed to the lurches they’re looking out for. But fear not the internet will soon be safe to return to.

So, below I’ve pitched five workplace-related things that I hope will happen, at least a little more of. Unlike with a trend, which washes over us rendering us helpless but to follow, we do actually have an opportunity to contribute. It may seem quite frightening, that this isn’t a game of spotting what might happen to us, but a challenge to actually help out, individually and collectively. You might even have decided to do so. If so, huzzah for you, please feel free to play Outdoor Miner as loud as you possibly can.

First, that we, as an entire industry, adopt a more critical mindset, a greater preparedness to challenge assumptions and oft-repeated statements with which we are regularly beaten into believing are truth. There are always a few in play at any one time. With this comes the equal responsibility we bear as the givers of ideas and hunches to accept critical thinking and comment as a well-intentioned wish to develop a deeper knowledge, and not a personal attack to be ignored or dismissed. We could start with the ridiculously one-sided view that all activity in service of wellness and wellbeing is automatically a good thing. For some that will sound like heresy – for others, an interesting challenge. Perhaps we can iron out the former. That’s the next post, by the way.

Secondly, that we might start to reject overpuffed self-important gobbledygook on sight. If you see it, simply refuse to accept it. This is not another point about ‘business BS’, its deeper than that. Saying things with flouncy corporate words that would never actually pass our lips does not make an idea or statement more important, or more impressive, it actually devalues it entirely. They are often written as though it is what we want to read, but really, we don’t. Phrases like “enhance user experience through engagement, empowerment and fulfilment” just means be excellent to each other. Everyone has a different view of what each of the three big words means. Trying to agree would occupy several hours of impassioned debate after closing time (in February). The statement therefore confuses rather than helps. It takes more courage to state things in simple, plain language. It says you can understand it, too. It is humble.

Thirdly, it would be fantastic if we could see a greater independence of design thinking, rather than the mimicry we are usually treated to. Yes, certain materials colours, surfaces and the like are in vogue at a particular time, but we get into a bind. Do we want them because we like them, or do we like them because they are what we are given? I maintain that tools like Pinterest have actually had a deadening effect on the design industry through their saturation. And no, exposed interior brickwork is never the right answer. Ever.

Fourth, it would be massively helpful if the property and workplace industry developed a better understanding of what other business functions actually do, and so where workplace fits into the landscape as it actually is, rather than make up its own version of what they do. The current claim that HR should run property and workplace is based on not having done any research into what HR does. There is a belief that IF HR = people AND workplaces are for people THEN HR should run workplace. All functions form part of the corporate landscape. They overlap, they dovetail. It’s not about who you report to, i’s about what you do. It’s not about who does it, as long as it’s done.

Finally, and it is a long-term hope, we need to encourage more occupier leader voices to be heard. We hear from a lot of consultants and academics. That’s normal for most functions. Academics and consultants write stuff, they have blogs, they speak at events, they advise. All of these activities are in service of their offer, so it’s going to happen, no use getting upset about it. Occupiers meanwhile are overwhelmingly busy, under-resourced, travelling relentlessly, and often balancing on the knife edge of confidentiality. Yet their experience is invaluable, and their voices need to be heard. Case studies like that by Tony Grimes of Investec  at last year’s Workplace Trends event have been hugely refreshing. They also need to be heard outside of the confines of the self-contained echo chambers of professional bodies, to reach a wider audience and in return benefit from a richer network. Being heard can have an unexpected a payback, the gift economy is alive and well. It is time.

Five things worth hoping for. And waiting for – but not for too long. I’ll let you get a cup of tea, then let’s get on with it.


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