Punk workplace: a virtual cuppa with Perry Timms

First published in OnOffice magazine, Workessence talked to Perry Timms (@PerryTimms), ex-public and Not For Profit Sector HR practitioner now independent, indefatigable and indeterminable. He believes in a new way for the thing we call work and that it starts with a movement best described as #PunkHR. For more excellent blogging from perry see his blog site.

W:  “I clambered over mounds and mounds of polystyrene foam” to be here – because when I first heard X Ray Spex back in 1978 my life changed. It was a seminal moment. It blew everything I thought I knew or liked out of the water. With the first few bars I knew nothing would be the same again – and when the late Poly Styrene (RIP) ripped in with the vocal, everything became possible. For most of us who experienced punk as teenagers, it has left a lasting impression. So the use of the term to describe your #PunkHR movement fascinates me. What’s the essence?

PT:  That same sense of “something radical needs to happen” without necessarily forcing a movement to be created. Rebellious spirit, positive deviance, attitude with acumen, credibility but chaos.  I loved Punk for what it did to the musical world and it seemed natural to tag something needed in HR that felt similar. The sense of excitement is so lacking in HR yet we have the most gifted element of any part of business – people and their contributions that we call work.  So it’s so beige it pains me.  Hence having a Rebel Yell…

W: So what does that mean for HR – and more importantly what does it mean for the people of an organisation if their HR function is “punk” ? Will they see something different, will their experience in the workplace be different as a result?

PT:  Great follow on! More complexity, more challenges and yet more of the same simply does not compute. The “model” is outdated and despite attempts to install a new version of HR (Ulrich Model and Next Gen HR) we still find ourselves looking and feeling, acting and delivering in a largely 1990’s version of work – an undynamic professional era – struggling to assert the right level of influence in the right areas. So, if HR had more attitude and acumen, was braver, more innovative and impactful then the result upon “work” will be profound.  It would be like Punk rockers wearing tweed jackets, corduroy trousers and listening to Yes. The fundamental difference a shift like PunkHR would bring to the workplace is bounce, belief and a sustainable future.

W: The danger is interpreting this “punk” attitude in workplace design is that we rush headlong into the dire world of novelty, where we thing that adding coloured vinyl and the modern equivalent of safety pins creates engagement and life. It might do for all of five minutes, like a pair of Christmas socks, but the downside is like coming off a sugar hit – a loss of energy and inspiration, and a deathly feeling of disappointment. So how do you think we might see a “punk” attitude translate into the physicalities of the workplace?

PT:  Physicalities is a really interesting angle and you’re right about dissipation and vaporising of the positive impacts.  So I think we HAVE to create a feel that the workplace is the opposite of cubicles, beige chairs and grey carpet with values posters and motivational rowing pictures on the wall.  Massive clear glass graffiti boards where we put thoughts, images, drawings, words of wisdom and taxing issues to inspire, stimulate and generate discussion linked to online capture of these boards onto the open-source, ever-updating corporate “fliptranet”.  Where no-one has the same furniture and any resemblance to 1984 is overcome by a random collection of locally built, recycled/reclaimed or beloved chairs, and desks come together like something from Steptoe & Son’s yard.  Character over Ikeafication.

W: I am loving this, can you keep going?!

PT:  Fluid not hard wired. Where there are no rabbit warrens, where meetings are held around coffee-shop like locations/warehouse decorated zones, where creative capture mechanisms are everywhere like iPads, white boards, mics, video cameras and editing software for instant film/Vine/Vimeo production, where a video wall plays the latest curated content from internal twitter feeds, where people consider the look and feel as their own and where they take pride in the place they call work as if it were their favourite gig haus where Punk and Ska bands play. Where and how people are organised and sit is important. Punks would have hangouts that varied but they chose a few places to “worship and collude”…. 

W: Wow that’s like a Dickies song. So – in a nutshell?

PT:  We need to be more radical about our physical space than anything else if #PunkHR really is about a lasting alternative to bland working life. Make the working environment the most poetically chaotic possible to create the most outrageous feel, and the attitude will flow. 

W:  I think we can agree on that….now, I’m going to get my ukelele.


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  1. Pingback: Best of the HR blogs May 2013: 20 great HR blog posts from May 2013 (XpertHR - XpertHR - Employment Intelligence)

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