Guest Blog post by Neal Usher, Executive Consultant, workessence

Neil Usher has been thinking, talking, listening, sharing ideas, and writing about the workplace. He’s authored a book, The Essential Workplace, and will be speaking at the upcoming CoreNet Global Global Summit in Hong Kong. His thoughts in this blog are focused on seven ideas that he calls the ‘laws of workplace’.

First, every workplace exists in a state of perpetual beta. A workplace is never finished. We may see spikes in expenditure and project activity, we may perform a fit-out or renovation, but they are merely events on the journey. If we ignore our workplace, if we allow our organisation and colleagues to grow and change around us, this is not sustainable, merely a delay in responding.

As a result of the first, we are leaders of change, not workplace or property leaders. ‘Change management’ is not a downstream plug-in to a workplace project. It is a complete flip of the understanding of the last several decades. It won’t flip back. This isn’t a comment on the hygiene factor of reporting lines within an organisation – that doesn’t matter, as long as the right work gets done.

Third, all workplace solutions exist in a state of balance: science and art, digital and analogue, inside and outside, built and natural, open and closed, sound and silence, focussed and interactive, activity and rest, light and shade, and more. We never find the solutions in the extreme, but often explore the extreme as a possibility while new until we return to equilibrium.

Fourth, the workplace exists to serve the organisation. Not the other way around, as is often the case. Organisational decisions should never be taken on the basis of what property options exist. There is always a property and workplace solution to an organisational challenge. It may be problematic, cost a bit more, require a bit of planning – but there is always a solution. The future is always about what’s best for the organisation and its people, not how long is left on the lease.

Fifth, the workplace enables work. The workplace needs to respond to the way we work now (the way we are), and the opportunities to positively and beneficially change the way we work in the future (the way we might be) – in balance. Influences we ascribe to the workplace are actually those upon work – technology, for example, changes the way we work, not the workplace itself. The workplace evolves in perpetual beta with work, because work is in perpetual beta too.

Penultimately, unless there are compelling reasons otherwise, we should always choose the option that brings people together in the same space. Technology may help us work collaboratively when apart, but there is no substitute for being together, human beings in proximity.  Valid reasons why this may be problematic or not desirable, may be cost, regulation, proximity to specialist talent or markets, but they need to be set against the default. This also means we always choose the workplace solution that has fewest physical barriers – levels, stairs, other interchanges.

Finally, workplace is part of an organisation’s culture, not separate from it or outside it. Space is empty, place is occupied – workplace is therefore part space, part people, in balance. The way we are, and are towards one another, is half of what makes a workplace fantastic. Phrases like ‘culture eats design for breakfast’ misunderstand workplace entirely. A great workspace won’t fix a rotten culture, but it will significantly enhance an environment of respect, encouragement and trust.

Each one of these themes is pertinent to workplace professional working in every market.  As a sector, we need to challenge ourselves to answer some of these big questions and be brave in doing so.