A while ago I heard someone describe the fundamental problem with modern office design as being that office workspace designers design workspaces that would work perfectly well for offices that housed office workspace designers. Unfortunately most of us aren’t office workspace designers.
That thought has been bouncing around my head in recent weeks as I suffer from something of a crisis of confidence. On the one hand I have a lot of regard for, and indeed in many ways espouse the values of, people who argue that the way in which large organisations work is no longer fit for purpose.
The argument generally goes along the lines that hierarchical structures and organisational bureaucracy is a vestige of the industrial age, and that it’s not working for knowledge-based service industries. The networked economy is forcing change from the bottom, millennials won’t put up with the shit that their parents did, and big corporations need to re-imagine themselves or will find themselves subject to workforce disruption which will be terminal.
But this kind of argument is usually posited by people who, like me, work in the gig economy, freelancers, free agents, people who have opted out of corporate life unable to put up with its dehumanizing experience (but still happy to take its money as long as we are sitting on the outside). Maybe all we are doing is trying to imagine organisations in which we could fit, outcasts from a world of structure within which the majority get along perfectly well. Organisational designers designing organisations fit for organisational designers, as it were.
The reality is, as ever, probably in the grey areas inbetween. I’ve been reminded on a few occasions recently about the dangers of “endism” – there are plenty of things around us today, as resilient as ever, whose imminent demise has been predicted for decades. Heck, I even read something yesterday that said that the fax machine was making a comeback. The corporation is no nearer its imminent demise than a stack of other institutions that surround us.
On the other hand, there is change afoot. More people are working more flexible working lives (although whether that flexibility is in their or their employers’ interests is a moot point). Technology is an enabler and sometimes a catalyst to that.
There are no perfect answers, no “right” solutions. Just beware, I guess, of anyone selling them.