The following is a post I created for The Workplace Conversation’s Crowdicity site:
Today “workplace” is a bigger business than ever; it has developed considerably as both a science and an art in the last decade. This has been driven by a combination of significant investment in workplace design research, improvements in construction techniques and materials, more attention being paid to the people who occupy buildings and huge advances in connectivity, communications and building management technologies.
However, many employees and contractors, perhaps the majority of UK plc’s workforce, have yet to experience the promised land of workplaces that actively enable their work or meet their psychological or emotional needs; for some, their workplaces struggle to meet even their physiological needs!. Still too often, property is viewed predominantly as an overhead and years of under-investment, especially in the public sector, are taking their toll. This is in spite of the considerable evidence of workplace’s contribution to people’s productivity (i.e. their ability to do their very best work), health and wellbeing.
This situation has been exacerbated by the media’s glorification of certain in-vogue subjects e.g. flexible working, homeworking, working in coffee shops (“coffices” anyone?), co-working hubs and the like. That is not to say that these places are not legitimate workplace locations, far from it, just that putting them up on such a high pedestal has unhelpfully reinforced the stereotype that the office is dead (I mean, really) and made us forget that there is a huge diversity of workplaces – factories, warehouses, shops and retail outlets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, airports and so on. Choosing where and when to work is only a viable option for a privileged few…
There is also much to do in terms of creating greater awareness of the need for people and place practitioners to better understand each other and have more meaningful conversations about what they are trying to achieve. HR professionals will continue to work on a large number of strategic challenges which have a direct relationship with workplace and physical environment – culture, engagement, work-life balance, wellbeing, organisational design and development, productivity, and yes flexible working to name but a few. The imperative for closer working relationships with FM and other members of the workplace community is becoming ever clearer: people and place are intrinsically linked and this is why the “property as overhead” mindset must be challenged in conventional, mainstream organisational thinking.
This brings me to what may lie in store for us in the future, imagining for a moment that I hold a magic wand. For me, the answer is to be found in our thinking and this will inform how HR, FM and other members of the workplace community go about working together effectively. There is an ever-present danger that we lapse into cliché or remain too attached to notions of “best practice” or whatever is the current fashion. It is critical that we explore what works best for the organisation in question – the need for people and place solutions to be contextual and circumstance-specific cannot be overstated.
I have a personal view that Systems Thinking provides a very helpful framework for conceptualising work which in turn helps us to develop these solutions – I would go as far as saying that I hope that one day it will become the cornerstone of organisational development thinking for people, place and fit for purpose processes. Systems Thinking reminds me of what the famous management thinker Peter Drucker said about the fundamental purpose of any organisation being to create a customer since we do not exist without our customers. I take the same view that HR and FM would not exist without their customers (the rest of the business and each other) so their purpose is to support and enable an organisation’s work in all its myriad guises. By understanding “how the work works” (to quote Systems guru John Seddon), we can design places and services that achieve this purpose and allow our internal customers to pull value from us (so they get what they want, when they want, right first time). In this way, work will become far more creative, innovative, interesting and engaging and the resultant reduction in waste will keep a smile on the face of the CFO. Not only is it a productivity and cost win/win, it is a wholly sustainable and adaptive approach.
So whether it is greater co-operation, full convergence or somewhere in between, closer ties between HR and FM cannot be a temporary state of affairs; they have to become the new normal. The Workplace Conversation is the first step towards achieving this end.