PLACEMAKER: who creates ‘home’ for people at work?

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By Paul Carder : @paulcarder

I attended a fascinating ‘Mobilities Workshop’ on Friday at University of the West of England (UWE). It was one of a number of research seminars and workshops run by the Department of Geography & Environmental Management (GEM) which is fortunately in the same Faculty as my colleagues in Architecture & Built Environment. This allows, and promotes, some great multi-disciplinary thinking, between Departments across the Faculty.

As Frank Duffy said in his introduction to Rob Harris‘ book, ‘Property and the Office Economy, the study of geography produces people “well formed in that most physical and integrative of all disciplines”. That was certainly the case at the Mobilities Workshop, with attendees from human geography, sociology, planning and architecture backgrounds.

The agenda intrigued me, with the stated aim, “to connect home with mobility and migration, to explore how home is theorized and analysed within the mobile paradigm”. In our market sector of workplace strategy, and perhaps corporate real estate and facilities management, we talk about mobility in a very different way – it is all about agile working. And we talk about working from home, from offices, and from a multitude of thirdplaces continuously springing up in urban environments. But, do we think about the concept of ‘home’ and what it means?

My colleague Edward Wigley framed the discussion:

Home sometimes disappears in the analysis of mobility, where the experience of being on the move is the focus, rather than the places at either end.  Of course, home itself may be nomadic, but the place called ‘home’ still has social resonance and meaning, even if those meanings are contested.  There is an opportunity to explore how the home is positioned in existing academic narratives of mobility and migration, and the potential for new interpretations and approaches.

This made me really think hard! In the world of work, and the places which we create and manage to support that work, to what extent do we consider the concept of ‘home’? Thoughts, feelings and emotions about home. We have all heard the phrase ‘a home from home’, but do we create this concept for people at work? More widely, who thinks, and who leads, on the corporate organisational side?

Who creates ‘home’ for people at work?

That is not to say that we want to re-create some physical resemblance of homes; workplaces are not homes! And we all have different tastes! But perhaps to re-create the feeling that people have for (and of) home – but somewhere else, where they are with other people in a work setting. So they walk into a place and soon feel ‘at home’; comfortable – not distracted, or stressed, or alienated. But able to entirely immerse themselves in whatever it was that they went there to do. To work, in some form, probably with others, or maybe alone in concentration.

Hotels – not for the first time, mentioned in this blog – clearly know how to do this.

What is the difference between an office and an hotel? Many years ago, there was a great deal of difference. But in the best of offices (and in most thirdplaces and co-working hubs especially) the feeling of an hotel exists to varying extent already. An office is simply an hotel without bedrooms for rent. Though even that is not a concrete definition, as I have visited offices in the City of London with visiting executive and VIP guest suites.

The real question is ‘who creates’ this experience of ‘home from home’? It is part of the professional toolkit of the PLACEMAKER. If that person has a hotel management background, and has sufficient seniority and budget to back up their skill-set, you will feel the experience of a hotel, possibly before you even set foot in the place. The signage will be clear and welcoming – not security style. The reception will be attentive, efficient and relaxing. The hospitality will be immediate and consistent throughout your visit.

You’ll feel at home….just, you are not. The PLACEMAKER is at work, even if you don’t feel like you are.

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