Workplace is a discipline

On the occasion of the 150th post on workessence, a reflection is overdue.

When I moved to a new role as Workplace Director late last August, having been a global GM of property, people asked me “what’s that?”. I didn’t have a ready answer. I still don’t. It’s because “Workplace” – like many disciplines – is a composite of many others. The chart is probably incomplete – deliberately so. Why nail ourselves to a definition?


It’s not just workplace consulting as the WCO would position it– that’s the consulting bit, like the consulting bit of any discipline.

Its Part Human Resources –the workplace is for people. Environments change, the technological landscape changes, organisations change, cultures emerge and deflate. Space has to help people develop, grow, perform, interact, focus, be themselves, be what they want to be.

Its part design – and design management. The organisation has to be understood, and the essence of its culture, values, brand and stories frozen into physical form.

Its part psychology – understanding and interpreting motivation, emotion, habit, practice, development, resistance, and I hesitate to say it but…. engagement.

Its part Project Management – the design has to be made real. That’s a whole slew of technical disciplines under one programme, expertly managed.

Its part Facilities Management – the workplace has to work, the form has to have effective function, it has to stand up to the daily battering of occupation and changing needs and demands, be both the heartbeat and the face of the organisation.

Its part art social art – the workplace as a living organism that needs cause to have an effect, that needs constant visual, cultural and creative stimulation to remain useful.

Its part communication – like anything that “works” the workplace needs explanation, guidelines, a how-to-get-the-best-out-of.

Its part other stuff, that comes and goes, butts in and disappears. I probably should know better, think a bit more about what that might be, but it’s not that important.

Those of us in workplace won’t be agonising over the definition, the seat at the table, the meaning of it all. It lives amid the uncertainty and perpetual change that most disciplines would do well to acknowledge in order to free themselves from the tyranny of their own making.

There won’t be a professional body to erect barriers to entry, mysticise the boundaries, and fend off those without a certificate – we are fine with the wider network of the social web, and non-membership of the Global Institute of Nowhere. We will float in and out of other conversations, and gatecrash parties that look interesting – or need livening up. We are okay without rules, without answers .

The next time someone asks “what’s Workplace?” I will probably still not have the elevator speech – mainly because I use the lift. Or the stairs.

Workplace is a discipline, but without discipline. Long may it stay that way.

5 thoughts on “Workplace is a discipline

  1. Pingback: Workplace is a discipline | WorkPlaces for Inno...

  2. I, like Paul agree and whilst I am very comfortable with eloquent vagueness – which I see as a strength in the “space” of this discipline – the challenge for most organisations is to be able to measure imperially and financially the benefits of deploying workplace thinking in the first place. This requires vision.

    There is usually a corporate agenda – for large companies, how to manage change and drive down costs – for SMEs and start-ups, how to attract and retain fresh and motivated talent without paying through the teeth.

    Workplace should be an essential component of any organisations thinking, just as real estate should be on the monthly board meeting agenda. Sadly, reality is often rather different.

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