Open-access content Tuesday 6th November 2012 — updated 3.30pm, Tuesday 26th May 2020
6 November 2012
I saw a headline that said the office of the future would need to be flexible and productive, but that's a bit like saying that a house has to have walls and a roof. Let's examine those words in more detail though.
So you want to be flexible and productive? Well here's a thought; have a look for a photo of one of those offices that Victorian clerks used to work in.
You'll find a big open space where the workers all sit at desks facing the same way with a senior clerk, or overseer, sitting on a dais facing them and keeping an eye out for slackers and to ensure productivity. Everyone will be on some form of target for the day, so there was another productivity driver and the desks are not fixed, so the space is flexible. All we need to do is to take a leaf out of the Victorian's book then and so, job done, we can get off down the pub?
Yes I do have my tongue in cheek here, but only to a degree, for if we want to talk about productivity then the Victorians can teach us a lot, especially if we look past the industrial relations aspects and accept that they were of their time even if they are not acceptable in 2012. What they were good at was exploiting the opportunities to use emerging technologies to squeeze productivity and they would design their buildings around those.
They had the courage to compete and to invest capital as they evolved the benefits of the industrial revolution that they inherited. Water power had given way to steam and later that would be superseded by electricity; canals gave way to railways and sail gave way to steam on the high seas. Something new; great, out with the old and let's move on.
Organisations that do well embrace that attitude, they re-invent themselves and have the flexibility to evolve, but that takes courage for sometimes you will be bucking a trend and it can take guts to go against what is the current perceived wisdom. Visionary thinking is, by nature, ahead of its time and sometimes you can be so far ahead that you are laughed at, or even that what you have done is seen as having failed against contemporary standards.
The facility itself cannot be productive for that is the prerogative of the people who work there, but clue is in the word facility: The premises need to facilitate productivity, and you can do that most easily by making sure that the facilities work as they should do. If people are distracted because their working environment lets them down or even irritates them they will not be giving their best. Well run FM can make sure that the working environment is properly functional and also that the processes around using it are simple to understand and use.
The latter point is one where innovation can play a significant part, but this so often gets overlooked in the drive to measure performance. We get so focused on having SLAs and KPIs that the basic principle of why you are doing it in the first place goes out of the window. This is one of the fundamental flaws in the principle of the internal customer: supplier relationship theory as it so often results in an adversarial position being taken between people who should be on the same side.
The need for flexibility and productivity are blindingly obvious; but the clever bit is in having the vision, courage and drive to make it happen.
John Bowen is an FM consultant
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