Who are you here to see again?

We all visit Receptions. We all can’t wait to get through them. We all have stories. This is because in the main, the Reception of a building – the part that should leave the most positive, profound effect – offers an experience similar to be backed into by a huge cat. The worst, first. It is the point at which developers, occupants, managers, interior designers, IT, architects and service providers collide to create a formless purée, draining a seemingly everlasting life from features and practices in which the purpose and meaning has long been lost. The ritualistic creations continue to frustrate and disappoint in equal proportion to our inability to consider that they might be conceived differently. Who are you here to see again?

The revolving door that if you try and walk faster than it will allow – or hop into its paternoster rather than waiting for the next section – breaks your nose. It’s why you always find a success-fee personal accident and injury salesman lurking outside every corporate building. What’s wrong with a normal door?

The Reception desk, an open landfill of lists, papers, coffee cups and used tissues… sandbagged, Ambrosia guns trained, the marbled and veneered spirit of Rorke’s Drift presenting an indestructible, quarried defensive barrier, a petrified and petrifying two-finger salute. We have all the tech needed to now render them the pointless and redundant husk they have become.  What’s wrong with a face-to-face greeting?

The signing-in. Like ordering a Starstruck coffee, who will I be and who will I work for today? Because no-one ever checks that what I say and what I write are the same. And when did anyone last need to check the list? “It’s the thirteenth, Mr Obama. Its ten past two”. Thanks.

The photo. Step back into the wash of daylight so I am a silhouette, shot on a minus-meg camera, to create a picture you will never need and even if you did it would be worthless. So why take them?

The badge, to be worn around our neck and hung visibly in front of us. A tried and tested humiliation technique for millennia. As cheap as possible, because it’s a bane of an expense. Does a badge stop anything bad happening, or make anything easier? Does a badge make your visitor feel special, or valued? So – why make them wear one?

The Corporate Directory. Because it’s the law that Your Host Can Never Be Found, however you spell their name. Every Corporate Directory exists in a parallel universe that is one stitch in time removed from our own. Mike – try Michael, or Mick, or Mickey or Mickey-dickey-do. No? Or try Tosh. That’s his nickname. There are seven Toshes – which one? Can it be that difficult?

The Security Guard. Just back from major surgery to a paper cut. We can’t take the risk of not having them there because if anything happened….and yes, nothing’s happened because we have had a Guard there. At least that’s the untested conclusion that perpetuates the practice. So bored senseless, paralysed with the tedium of watching the formless purée ebb and flow, they would likely miss the action anyway. Better to be close by, doing something meaningful, a few seconds away when needed?

The access control gates. Only enter this building if you want it badly enough. Using an idea originally conceived in a backwater swamp north of Darwin, let’s make sure we threaten to keep a chunk of you for DNA testing. Just in case. You don’t see access gates in clothing stores, because they use technology fit for purpose. So why can’t offices?

The wait. When was your host last in Reception at the appointed time to greet you? Because Nothing Ever Starts On Time. It’s a law that sadly I obey as much as anyone. If we added up all of the lost productivity from waiting in Receptions for our host it would amount to a Big Number, as big as a lot of other Numbers. Maybe even bigger. The ideal Reception would have no seating – because you wouldn’t have to wait. So if we took all of the seats out, we would make sure we were there on time so as not to embarrass our guests. What’s wrong with being ready?

The Reception area is the ultimate in being everyone’s responsibility, and no-one’s. Because it is the point at which developers, occupants, managers, interior designers, IT, architects and service providers collide, it is actually the area of a building in which the entire property industry has the perfect opportunity to prove that it is a joined-up, integrated discipline.

Every time you visit a new building, while waiting (because you will wait, it’s the law), instead of reading yesterday’s paper take some time to look around you. In those fifteen minutes, you will quite probably see why it still remains an opportunity. 


2 thoughts on “Who are you here to see again?

  1. Thinking back over the many businesses I have visited over the yeas, I am reminded of something I noticed long ago: you can sense from the reception area whether or not a workplace is a happy one.

    I used to love to watch went on in reception areas. What gives it away is not how the reception area is furnished but by the warmth of welcome from the receptionists – and people just passing by asking if I am OK and being seen to, and have I been offered coffee? It is also the banter between the receptionists and the people in the building as they pass by the reception desk. My first impressions gained from reception were frequently confirmed by subsequent dealings within the business.

    Ed Glinert, in a book that explores London area by area and street by street tells the story of how the King of Norway came to Bush House on the Aldwych, while it was still where the BBC World Service radio programmes were made. After taking his details, and I imagine getting distracted, she apparently turned to him and said:

    “Which country did you say you were king of, dear?”

  2. Reception, at prior delicious points in history acting as hospitality, became security in the last odd decade in which we imagined we were actually so globally important that we’d be a target of somebody who looked unfamiliar. So now, reception is resistance. I (we) don’t want to go anywhere anymore. Oops! What happened to the economy?!?

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