Plan B

Encouraging flexibility in creatures of habit (the end user).

When we start messing with people’s work spaces, we start messing with their heads. There’s no other way around it, and it has to be acknowledged.

This is why workplace is about people, not spaces.

Spaces are easy. People are not; they are the sum of their own experiences and chemical wiring which is different to yours.

Each and every one of us has preferences that meet our own personal interpretation of pleasure, be it comfort, risk, safety, adrenaline, exposure, shelter, luxury or parsimony. If you find a good coffee place (good being subjective to your preferences) you go there the next day. If it is shut on the third day, you feel let down, right? Pleasure rituals are formed hard and fast.

I am often asked how, in a shared office environment, to stop people using the same space (desk / sofa / nook) each day. The answer is: you do not. You are not going to stop people creating preferences. Should you care if Bob repeatedly sits at the same desk? No more than you should care if he decided to wear his Christmas socks in June. Does it affect his productivity and required levels of engagement to deliver his role? Possibly, it depends on the set up, or position, of the desk….and how he’s made.

Engagement sessions at the start of the project may not reveal Bob’s singular preferences. But that’s ok. And the reason that’s OK is because not only are you going to be actively listening to everything your focus group discussions raise, including reading between the lines, you’re also going to be creating a wide variety of space types, with a variety of furniture, providing choice to cater for the broad, magnificent specimen that is office-bound humanity in as many guises as is viable.

But Bob’s going to set up home in a specific location which will then become ‘his’. How is that fair?

sheldon's spot

Plan ‘A’ – not always available (source:edition.cnn.com)

Now I’m going to assume that Bob’s just a creature of habit, that he’s a pretty easy going, if a little oblivious, guy with a perfectly understandable aversion to mornings. He likes his morning routine: it’s easy and he doesn’t have to think (we’ve all been there).

What does matter, and needs to be discussed openly, without identifying Bob, in a pre-move workshop is: What happens if you come in and someone has taken your favourite spot? The answer: Always have a Plan B. In a first come, first served environment jut because you like a particular space does not mean it is yours and yours alone. You have a choice of spaces, many of which are going to replicate your preferred spot in some form. Are you going to be mean and deliberately target Bob’s seat? Well that’s an interesting proposal Mr/s Workshop Delegate. Group, what are your views on that? Does it tie in with company culture?

To help identify Plan B’s, and support Bob in his quest for the perfect spot, the first day of a new, shared working environment should be more about trying out different spots, having a series of stand-up ‘space introduction’ sessions where you learn about how to meet an individual’s practical necessities, as well as the fun cool things. And Day 1 of the new office should start on the following day.

So when I walked into the office to find my new boss sitting at ‘my’ desk (the perfect desk, the flyby* desk, the ‘back against the wall’ desk) on his first day the voice in my head was shocked and horrified. So I just sat next to him and got on with some work.

 


*Flyby: People walk past it before they notice it, or you, are there.

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Desk = Worth.

How we view our desk has a direct correlation to how we view our ‘place’.

desk - old

The chances are, if you’re reading this at work, you’re at your desk. That would be ‘your’ desk, allocated to you.

The desk is a fascinating institution that represents us more than we may realise. Having a desk says you have worth, that your employer recognises you as an individual. It can indicate if you have – or are assuming – a position of authority, are aloof or approachable, if you have trust issues or how confident you are. It can tell us something about your work/life balance and how you might handle change.

Think back to when you first had a desk, that day you were told ‘That’s your desk, that’s where you sit’. Would this be your first office job? What about when you started school?

So, here’s my example:

  • Junior School: Allocated desks. Sometimes in alphabetical order (mine was that kind of school….).
  • Secondary school: They took our desks away! We had lockers, and shared desks. And we demonstrated the power of human habit and created migration patterns with our desk use.
  • University:  Lecture halls were more like the Mobile habits we want to instil in people as adults. We design students had work tables; cue more migration patterns.

The desk is all about us as individuals. It’s about the ‘me’. My desk, my space, my things, my place. The desk is the one thing in our working lives where we can be sure to express ourselves, mark our place in other people’s awareness and firmly anchor ourselves in our understanding of our validity as employees. It is the physical manifestation of your employer stating you have worth as an employee, as such you are entitled to some of the employer’s territory.

Conversely, a desk of our own can be about our fight against The Man who tells us what to do and when to do it, it’s about sticking it to our need to be working stiff for lack of a private income, it’s about stamping our ownership on part of our employers environment.

That is not to say the desk is a bad thing, quite the opposite, it has a vital part to play in any field – and it’s not going to go away. It simply may not provide us with what we actually need to do our job effectively, efficiently and happily.