The workplace: a human resource

Is a “human-centric environment” the stating of the bleeding obvious? If a workspace is intended for habitation by carbon-based units, why would there be another type? Yet we often wear our built environment like a hairshirt. We write our brief in machine-code. We dream in lacquer. Our best intentions lie motionless in a gulf between what we say and what we create.

The workplace is fundamentally a human resource. And so a truly human-centric workplace….

Reflects the needs – stated and unarticulated – of people, not the compelling vision, ego or preconceived intent of a key sponsor or designer (more often than not the former, albeit the designers get most of the blame) such that it is a creation for and of itself. It means delicately balancing what works now with a constructive challenge to future expectations.

Is a journey, not a product – albeit is presented, packaged and sold as one – a permanent beta trial. A good chunk won’t work on its own, and some stuff won’t work when you put it together (lots of good bits does not always an effective whole make).

Is bathed in light – as we love to be bathed in light. Illuminate us, and we illuminate. Light pours in, light pours out.

Has ergonomics at its core, as our bodies rely on their core for strength, balance and composure. Sight lines, touch points, ease of navigation and use.

Supports personal respect and dignity – dispensing with gates, badges, and all of the signs and impedimentia of not being welcome or wanted – providing discreet security only where it is needed. In all other respects, trust of its occupants and visitors is to the fore.

Deals effectively with the “back end” of technology – not the glamorous front end that so much is made of – but the cables, the signal, the bandwidth, the boot-up, the things that make or break our consideration of the space we exist in, and that which we now come to expect.

Respects complexity and unpredictability – setting aside  the swirling BS about “collaboration”, which is merely one (important, and rare) mode of interaction,

Sweats the small stuff – lockers, wardrobes, staplers, all of the things that if ignored or forgotten can have us looking at the space through the wrong end of a telescope.

Cares sensitively for novelty – understanding that what creates impact most quickly loses its appeal most quickly. So the space either facilitates regular change in its jangles and bling, or deploys it sparingly.

Gives back control – allows behaviour, rather than constraining or compelling it. The space doesn’t tell you how to use it, but allows for a myriad of interpretations… it provides opportunity rather than instruction. If you don’t prescribe behaviour in people, they may well surprise you.

Delicately and evenly balances the masculine and feminine – in aesthetic, mood, amenities and support. Most new schemes still lean towards the masculine even today, while some could have strutted their way straight out of the pages of Loaded. Design still unfortunately skews towards the masculine.

Understands that the rich variety of settings it offers meet the needs of activity AND emotion – we are complex creatures, we don’t just “do” stuff we feel it too. Sometimes our emotions are out of kilter with what we are doing. The space allows us to be disconnected.

Allows time and space for people to do things differently, and opportunities for them to gather to talk about it. In doing so it also provides inherent permission for this activity.

This is subtle learning, rather than the grandiose gestures too-often made of glorious transformation. It is also not the easy pickings of gadget-driven probably-on-the-moon adolescent futurology. The workplace has always been for people, and always will be.

Listen to its heartbeat.

3 thoughts on “The workplace: a human resource

  1. Read this in the middle of the night, from Do Not Pass GO/ From the Old Kent Road to Mayfair by Tim Moore:

    “The tolerant individualism (of Kings Cross) that drew Gabby (Brazilian transvestite) to London was symbolised by its jerry-built anarchy. There has never been the civic will, let alone the way, to reshape the capital to some centralised and inhuman grand design. Most European capitals are dominated by great boulevards and sweeping vistas, created by wiping the map clean and starting again …

    … London will never be finished. We make do, we mend. Of the eighteen Monopoly streets which are actually roads (as opposed to squares, districts or pubs), no fewer than six were originally built by the Romans.”

    Your characteristics of truly human-centric workplaces are echoed, it seems to me, in the creative, chaotic vibrancy of a human-centric city like London.

    • At the heart of your thesis is the notion that organisations should have at their core the goal of gaining the maximum contribution from all ofits people….which I applaud….

      However, everything in a traditional organisational works against this notion…replacing it instead with the idea that people are but one of a number of expendable resources embedded in a power crazy archaic structure.

      In a world where knowledge is king this has to change. The primary purpose of a workplace is to enable each individual, team and team of teams to deliver their best contribution every day. This can be done in a range of more or less economically effective ways…but our start point had to be the people.

      The most powerful question we ask senior leaders….What are you trying to achive? Forget space…it’s only part of the answer to a much bigger question.

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