Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity
Do you have what is often called a ‘Bucket List’? A list of things you really want to do or places to go, before you die? Well I do, and I have been lucky enough to see, do or go to a significant number of them already. I still haven’t been on an African Safari, probably one of the first I put on my list. Nor been to the tombs of Petra. But I have been able to visit most of the other wonders of the ancient world as well as many of the modern world. And I’ve taken part in several events that were also on the list.
Now, while training for a marathon is seldom the ‘fun’ part, I have been very fortunate over recent years to run through a lot of iconic venues as a result. Red Square, Trafalgar Square, Tiananmen Square, Times Square, Grand Place (Brussels), St Peter’s Square and St Mark’s Square (from where I am actually writing this blog).
I could ask what all these locations have in common and, no it’s not the name ‘Square’, as in Brussels it’s not a square but a ‘Place’!
It’s the people.
People have for decades, in some cases centuries, congregated to do business, meet friends, be seen and to ‘see the sights’. Seldom do you see someone on their own and if you do they’re often waiting for someone or for something to happen.
I do enjoy people watching, like I am now. Especially with a nice leisurely coffee (although these particular ones are rather expensive) or maybe, in the evening, a glass of wine. I too am not alone in this. My wife is with me now and I know, as I look around, that I am one of many people watchers here.
Sure, it helps that the sun is out and it’s warm, and the buildings around here spectacular, but regardless of the weather or the architecture, this is something most humans do at times.
“No man is an Island entire of itself” wrote John Donne. Yes, I know Paul Simon wrote “I am a rock, I am an Island” but that was about the loss of love, not the way forward.
In short, humans are by nature sociable animals. We need interaction to thrive. Positive interaction to flourish further. We go to the ‘square’ near us – to see, be seen and socialise.
So why, at work, do we so often burrow ourselves away in our little burrows (offices) and not talk directly to anyone from 9am until 5pm except by e-mail, text or phone?
I know that many Praxity member firms have dispensed with offices. Partners, even Managing Partners, occupy desks in a general, open space. Yes, there are small privacy screens and computer monitors obscuring the view, but most occupants can see others around them. The reports on this are generally very positive. Sociability improves and, although this can be a double-edged sword, in general it increases esprit de corps, which is good. Thus, efficiency and effectiveness can also improve.
In short, most people work better in ‘social’ areas. Just think about where they tend to congregate in ‘conventional’ offices. The water cooler or the coffee machine. Well, why not make the whole office one big water cooler meeting space?
I know that many people say they prefer their own space and effectively like to put blinkers on to “just get on with their work”. And there are times when we all need to isolate ourselves so we can focus fully on a task. That’s why all the offices I mentioned also have break out rooms of various sizes, to allow individuals or teams to focus on their goals uninterrupted. These are essential, but perhaps should only be used when genuinely required and not occupied permanently to avoid interaction.
Can you re-think you own work space? Where’s the square for you and your colleagues to interact and generate great thoughts?