Home from home

I was amused to read Lucy Kellaway's column in the Financial Times on Monday. It's all about the blurring of the lines between home and office. She wants to know why it is that people eat cereal at their desks. What prevents them from the 90 sec exercise of eating it at home? She suggests that:

"Over the past decade there has been a steady onward march of objects, activities and emotions from hearth to cubicle, so there is now almost nothing left that belongs entirely at home.
Modern office workers can conduct all their most intimate morning rituals at work. They turn up in sweat pants, take a shower, clean their teeth and apply make-up. Offices double as wardrobes and laundry rooms with damp towels, spare clothes and shoes strewn carelessly around the place."

What she doesn't discuss is whether she is talking about people who have their own private offices or people working in open plan areas in close proximity to co-workers. Maybe she's talking about both. There doesn't seem to be much difference – at least in the place where I work – except that private office 'owners' have more stuff that indicates home from home. Open plan or cubicle workers have to be content with a more contained form of showing domestic bliss.

Regardless, it is a subject close to my heart right now as I am engaged on a project to move people from one office building to another. In the new building there is much less space. So the challenge is to encourage people to rethink the idea – in Lucy Kellaway's words that:

Grooming complete, workers [can] present themselves at their desks, where they are greeted by stuffed toys, rugs, bunches of flowers and, of course, photographs of children and pets.

The new office space requires people to share space, work from home, hotel i.e. not have an assigned space but a bookable space on an as needed basis, etc. And the idea that some people will have a personal office is being rather frowned on. So what will encourage people to give up on the notion that they have personal 'real estate' that they own at the office? It's playing out in different ways.

1. We have compiled a list of "Can take/Can't take" and that remains a work in progress as people ring up with questions about a specific item they want to take with them.

2. We are encouraging work groups to establish protocols about working together. We don't want to put a blanket one on the whole office, rather they decide locally. So far the list of possible areas for protocols reads

  • Handling sensitive information in the open areas
  • Storage space usage
  • Supplies (provision of )
  • Common use areas
  • Use of wall spaces
  • Use of empty offices
  • Scents and perfumes
  • Food – smells, cooking, spills
  • Radios, headphones
  • Phone rings and tones
  • Indicating 'please do not disturb'
  • Conversations (pitch and proximity of)

3. We are considering introducing policies on some things. This aspect is also in a state of flux as new requests hit the decks. It's a whole range of stuff that makes working at a non-office location seem like the best bet. At least it would allow worker choice and avoid us having to rule on how to help someone who doesn't want to work on one of the higher floors of the building, or how to handle the person who wants to put paper across the glass walls.

It's all learning by trying out at the moment. What I find interesting is that if people were applying for a job in an office that was already clean desk, teleworking, hoteling, and so on they wouldn't be asking or expecting to have their own domestic/personal items to hand. They would just 'go with the flow'. Where we are all being asked to do something different from what we think we signed up for the going is much tougher. Here's where change management takes the accountability rap to make it work in the new world.

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