Thursday, 12 March 2015

Making it personal - Environment is everything.

As I sit here in my little home office I’m pondering on the many and varied spaces I’ve worked in over the years. While what we do for a living it important, a job that we find fulfilling and pays the bills, its how we bring our own personality to the space that can make a difference. 

Maybe some companies are missing a trick? In the quest for corporate identity some are opting for bland and ‘safe’ rather than risk allowing people to bring their own identities to work.

Why do some organisations spend so long selecting and recruiting a diversity of people with the right unique talents and skills and then ask them not to bring their personality to work?

Here is my own journey through a variety of working environments:
At 18 my first job was as a colour hand printer in London and meant I had to work in a darkroom for much of my working day. Being totally ‘in the dark’ could sound really depressing but in fact it allowed me to be really creative. Without distractions and immersed in routine procedures my brain wandered to some very strange places. I made plans, plotted my future, imagined all sorts of possibilities, and sang without inhibitions! To all intents and purposes I only saw the walls of my working space for a few minutes every day.  It was a lonely existence and probably on reflection not great for my mental health but the plans I made then are still working out their path today.

At 21 I was married and working as an Area Sales Manager in Retail. Managing a Fashion concession which had branches in department stores throughout the West of England was a dream come true. I spent my time divided between train journeys going to stores (still wonder how I got the job without a driving licence) and on the shop floor. I loved the mix of environments, the solitude of a train and the hustle and bustle of a busy department store. Over time however as my poor feet ached at the end of the day I began to crave a ‘desk job’.  I envied people who could travel to one location, sit down and have their own coffee mug.

In my 30’s I found myself working in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a big leap from Retail management, but in the late 1980’s anything was possible! I started as Sales Rep. and my working environment was now either driving in my company car (yes, I finally got a driving licence) or in GP surgeries across the North East of England. My car became my office on wheels. I took pride in making it reflect my personality. I decorated it with all sorts of things, had different aromas for different times of year. Cinnamon and spice in the winter and lavender and vanilla in the summer. Car ornaments, audio books, music. It was my refuge after a bad call and a place all my own.
In the surgeries I visited, I began second guessing my customers (General Practitioners) different personality types based on their offices. Those who displayed pictures of their family, had pot plants and kid’s pictures on the wall were the sociable, chatty ones. Those whose desks were barren, ordered & neat were the analytical, questioning and sceptical lot. I will spare you the myriad of other observations and behavioural characteristic connections I made during this time but suffice it to say I began to make it an art form.

In my 40’s still in the Pharma industry I worked in Head office locations, many of which were cubicle open plan and as I rose through the ranks I got my ‘own office space’. Imagine, a desk job, sitting down at last. Over the course of a few years’ cubicles and single occupancy offices gave way to true ‘open plan’ spaces and that’s when the fun started.
Hot- desking, collaborative spaces, stand up meetings, innovation spaces a whole new lexicography had entered the workplace and environments were changing forever. For a while, I think I had more meetings about office space that any other topic. While many top managers welcomed this new way of working people actually working in these environments were not always as delighted.

Now in my 50’s and running my own small Innovation Company (that darkroom has a lot to answer for). Working from home in a small spare room I am now unconstrained from corporate restrictions on colour, layout, and furniture. I now find myself from time to time moving my desk to the other side of the room, painting the walls, changing the artwork and even recovering my office chair.

Productivity vs wellbeing
 “Extensive international research from Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase shows that 85% of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and can’t concentrate in open plan spaces”. The Guardian spt. 2014
We all know the research, the most obvious issue of open plan spaces is distractions and its impact on employee productivity. However, the less spoken of issue is that basic of needs; to put your mark on a place where you spend a considerable part of your life. I think its just as important to personal wellbeing at work.
I realise that fundamentally it’s doesn’t matter if you work in a car, a cubicle, or from your front bedroom, its not our working location that really matters but its how much we are able to put our mark on it.

Go on – let’s start a movement – How does ‘Environmentally friendly’ sound?

Although I may have heard that term somewhere before J