You must have heard the expression “work is something we do, not a place” – that’s because it is now so vogue it is crass. It is supposed to covey meaning and support a viewpoint, but actually creates more confusion than it resolves.
We have all said at some point “I am going to work”. We didn’t say “I am going to work at my workplace” – because the expression refers to “work” as both verb and noun. The listener understands both without needing to question, because we instinctively know that work needs to be performed somewhere, wherever that place may be. In this regard, “work” means both the act of working, and the place of work. We have simply dropped the “place” element for convenience, as our understanding of the dual meaning is firmly established.
However I would content that “work” actually has six facets and not just two, or even one. I have often considered analogies from one of the most well organised and productive communities nature has to offer, the beehive. Incidentally the hexagonal shape deployed by bees makes extremely efficient use of space and building materials – so they are workplace planners and sustainable builders too.
The six facets are:
Why: you will have a practical reason for needing to work, blended with an emotional relationship with what you do – how many times have you asked yourself “why am I doing this?” – and considered making a change, either within your environment or to a new one?
Who for: you will have an employer and/or clients/customers, and a rational and emotional relationship with them that governs your attitudes and behaviour. We can – in most instances – make the changes we need to alter our relationships for the better.
How: this occurs on many levels – from your overall approach to work right down to the detail of how you perform each task. It covers the technology and tools you apply, and the help you obtain and receive through connections, colleagues and teams. We evolve our modus operandi over time, and by circumstance.
What: the actual job, task or service. Again there are several level to this. On the face of it – and to the knowledge of most of my colleagues and connections – I manage property and create workplaces. In reality, what I really do, is manage change. We may describe what we do on various levels, and change this to suit our audience.
Where: contrary to popular myth, we do actually have to work somewhere, even in this age of ubiquitous technology. This may not be the office or the factory, with the myriad of other connected places on offer. It may simply be home. But it’s a “where” all the same. You still “go to work” like you used to, but in many cases have more choice of where you actually go. Even if you don’t get out of bed at all.
When: judging by how packed the trains and roads are each morning and evening, most people still keep to regular office hours. However more opportunities have opened up for breaking up the working day. As people manage their responsibilities across various time zones, a “split” or even “fractured” shift becomes all the more necessary. We also have to learn when to stop working too. In an always-on world, the temptation not to down tools is ever greater.
The six facets are naturally categorised –
The “when” and “how” I tend to attach to “flexible working”, and the “where” to the “flexible workplace” –. an organisation can specifically address and support these; and
The “what”, ““why” and “who for” are personal matters – only you can address them.
The next time someone confidently says “work is something we do, not a place” –a wide berth may be called for.