Can one size fit all? That was one of many points that were discussed at Workplace Trends on 15 October. Since then there have been a few blogs of different natures from people like Richard Byatt (good narrative) and Simon Heath (incisive observations). But what can we learn – really?

Inclusion is great – but it only works if HR, FM, IT and corporate real estate are all aligned and talking to each other. What we should not be too fixated upon is what the corporate space looks like. As Simon says, ‘cool’ is in the eye of the beholder. But if a workplace is to succeed as a dynamic, creative and effective destination for people to enjoy being productive in, then some compromises are going to be needed.

So, one size can fit all, but, only with some thorough thinking and a willingness to be flexible. Most importantly things cannot afford to become too contractually prescriptive. The workplace needs room to breathe, like we all do.

This leads me to one of the critical points I took from Workplace Trends: the different sensations we all experience and need to feel every day. So, as Steve Maslin says – what’s wrong with fidgeting? Everyone has a different way of behaving, despite the corporate obsession with culture and values. A workplace, even following a tight brief to meet brand guidelines, has to allow for people’s idiosyncrasies whether it is an obsession with biscuits, coffee, leaning back in chairs or a desire to fidget.

What’s more, the workplace has to cover critical social issues as well – like disability. Yes, people consider ramps, access etc., but, for example, what impression do these features and the accompanying signage in a building give to the end users? More often than not, all our other senses come into play and within areas such as reception, the interior as well as the building itself is very much talking to you. When you take inclusion to that level, some interiors are perceived to be shouting at people with their use of on-trend design, while others make it very near impossible to hear each other – physically and metaphorically. So please consider everything from the giant stairs to enter the building, to the loud echoes within the grand reception. Then have a think about what message the ‘funky’ wallpaper on the walls, with the continued background buzzing of the air conditioning, and poor lighting is really giving the end users.  

What we should also be doing is talking to HR about understanding job descriptions. Think about it – if someone was redesigning your own ‘space’ and they failed to ask you what you wanted, what insight do they have? How do they know what you need to do your job and the type of person that you are? That’s why the starting point should be having conversations with employees, and working together with all departments so that the needs of the business, the teams and the employees’ are brought into play.

Life is too short to spend in dull spaces, but we need to avoid trying too hard to make them cool and funky. Yes, spaces should not be dull but clients should not be rushing headlong to copy Google’s or Facebook’s office. For example, random furniture in a lovely atmospheric setting can be cool and effective – but only if everything else is aligned. Brand should not be enforced to the extent that it leaves little or no room for local.

Can one size fit all?  I said yes before the conference, I’m still going to say yes. But it only works when the CEO is willing to allow a little more time for me to get to know you and the company facility manager. And yes, I’d like to also speak to a good cross section of your staff too, including HR. I can then start to build that 3-dimensional picture of your company, with input that will inform the end result. Maybe we will also factor in a cool thing or two, but no slides please.