Office life in a goldfish bowl isn’t for non swimmers
We worry about the external environment, particularly for future generations, but we’re generally pretty poor at internal environments for the current generation of office workers. A little time spent thinking less about corporate image, brand and status and more spent thinking about people, removing status differences and an environment conducive to high performance levels, would be time well spent.
If we had our time again and we could afford it, all of our staff would always travel first class on the train and business class on air travel. Unfortunately, with the daft prices being charged, we cannot afford it.
This means that, to ensure no status differentials, I have to make at least 6 x 4 hour ‘standard class’ rail journeys each week. Rail companies know everything there is to know about piling on the agony. If you can get a seat, you settle down in the hope of avoiding the journey from hell. Within seconds you know that hope was a forlorn one.
The first announcement lets you know that staff shortages mean no trolley service. The second informs you that a failure to pick up supplies means little choice of food or drink even if you beat the odds by fighting your way to be served at the buffet car before it is your stop. Regular announcements will follow to let you know that high winds, signal failures, speed restrictions, platform congestion, awaiting replacement crew, sick drivers, sick passengers, sick jokes, or any combination of these, are conspiring to make your estimated arrival time later and later.
Each carriage will also be given a handful of tone deaf, but self taught, musical drunks and at least four of the most miserable kids in Britain – all record holders in sustained wailing! You will always be seated next to ‘Mr Mobile Phone User of the Year’ who has flu, the plague, rotting feet and spends every non coughing and sneezing minute patronising his staff, clients and family with tales of his machismo life style. There surely must have been an opportunistic colleague who could have found some scissors when he went bungee jumping?!
What has rail travel to do with offices? Well, unfortunately, despite the sterling efforts of wonderful systems furniture designers at Steelcase and Herman Miller, most of our office environments are just as miserable an experience. Only those with ‘seniority’ have the appropriate space and seclusion when needed. We stint on square metres per person. We provide few relaxing, informal communal areas to which to go whenever one wants.
We don’t trust staff in the open, behind closed doors or in communal areas. We make personalisation of work areas taboo. We monitor time of entry, time of leaving and all events between these times. We minimise the available choice and quality of food and drink which is freely accessible in the working day. Is it any wonder that most people in open plan offices find a way of barricading and hiding behind a filing cabinet?
People can be trusted to work well in a positive, friendly, spacious, status free environment. Herding us on trains or in offices leads to group mediocrity and kills individual flair and achievement. Keeping us in a goldfish bowl will make us long to swim with the sharks. A first class internal environment is more about thought and trust than money.