The worst parts of the cacophonous Great Workplace Conversation that began two- and a-bit years ago have relied on an ignorance of what went before. In particular, its core, unnecessary insistence on a blunt choice between home and office, enshrined in a thousand LinkedIn polls, relies on a caricature of work as it used to be in February 2020. But work wasn’t really like that caricature, or at least not for the majority of people. And we already knew a great deal about a wide range of workplace types and working cultures before the pandemic hit. Which is why so many of the specific aspects of the conversation have been so familiar over the course of The Conversation, and why so many people have been so well qualified to discuss them.
Many of these people are contributors to a new book from the IFMA Foundation called Work on the Move (WOTM3). Indeed, this is the latest edition of a series, with the two previous volumes dating back to 2011 and 2016. It is edited by Alexi Marmot, the academic and co-author of the 1995 book Understanding Offices – a dog-eared copy of which can still be found on my bookshelf; and Michael Schley of FM Systems and the IFMA Foundation. Other contributors include Max Luff, Erik Jaspers, Chris Hood, Angela Johnson-Culver and Kate North.
It is broken down into chapters, which is interesting in the way it allows the reader to consider specific bits of the elephant it is describing. Inevitably this also means it is something of a curate’s egg, with some chapters that may be of more interest or relevance to each reader. There is also an inevitable overlap between some sections. In their own contributed sections, the editors do a great job of framing the challenges and opportunities of the new era of work, which they both identify as an accelerated, catalysed version of the old era of work. Michael Schley and Pat Turnbull set out the major talking points and present potential solutions.
Major issues thrown into relief by the acceleration of flexible working include equality, the environmental performance of buildings, the role of technology, the design of cities and wellbeing. Each enjoys its own treatment in the book.
Alexi Marmot places workplace trends in the context of wider social and economic forces and, in a second chapter, brings it all back to people, asking the question what makes an office ‘worth the journey’. This will be the major question taxing the minds of the office and property sectors now and for some time. Other major issues thrown into relief by the acceleration of flexible working include equality, the environmental performance of buildings, the role of technology, the design of cities and wellbeing. Each enjoys its own treatment in the book.
Many of the authors have a vested interest in the subjects they write about, but it was refreshing to see that this was only apparent on a few occasions. This is a testament to the editors, although personally I would have liked to have seen fewer references in some sections.
The case studies at the end are essential, especially when so many organisations are adopting workplace strategies while also knowing that they will have to adapt them, given we are still in a period of great uncertainty. Watching what others are doing and the options available will be a vital part of this feedback loop.
However, while the case studies are international but there is a pronounced bias to North America. This is a shame because it doesn’t do justice to the regional differences that might drive the cross-pollination of ideas from different cultures and geographies. We are all on a learning curve with this stuff, but the book is refreshing because it strikes the right balance of recognising that we are in a new era, while also acknowledging the progress we had already made and the things we already knew. W&P
For further details about Work On The Move, go to the IFMA Foundation WOTM3 page here