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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

There is one room in our house that has proven to be more versatile than any other. It has been a nursery, a bedroom, a dumping ground, playroom and then during the first lockdown it became the school for our two children. Today it has become a co-working space as one child enters a period of isolation along with the rest of her school class.

I recently published a blog about how the words we used to describe an activity can shape how we think about what it is we are doing, and perhaps the value we place on it or the attitude we bring to the situation.

The same is also true of how we think about pace. Several years ago, when my role was more focused on workplace and workforce transformation, I used to challenge customers to think about space as a tool for supporting and enabling employees to deliver value, not just a place to do other things. We think about the other tools that we give an employee (or least we should do!) so why not consider the space as well?

With the world continuing to be in its liminal state of not being able to work in a pre-pandemic way but not yet worked out what the new mode of operation is going to be, there is an opportunity to think about space and how we label. The way we think about the space can have just as much of an impact on the attitude we bring to the situation as can the words we used to describe something.

As it looked like the lockdown conditions introduced in March 2020 may change, I penned a blog titled “Return to Next” and then followed up in August 2020 with a webinar during which I asked: “Which best describes how you are currently working?” The results of this poll are shown below:

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The responses show a significant people described themselves as working from home. Whilst I’m not surprised at this, I think it reflects the mindset that we approach our working life, which may become a limiting factor. Thankfully, and no doubt sped up by the pandemic, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in an environment where “working from home” was code for “shirking at home” or having a cheeky round of golf. This, however, isn’t the experience for everyone.

With several teams, it has taken many conversations, persistence and reinforcement to get people to stop asking if they could work from a specific location. It needed a continual change in language — to stop asking “are you in the office today” or asking for a meeting room in a corporate location.

When we think about where we’re working as choices between “being in the office” or “being at home” then I believe we’re implying that somehow one is better than the other. There are advantages and disadvantages of each, and many have been forced to work in a way they might not have chosen. However, there can be an opportunity in reframing how we think about the space that will help shift our perception of what is happening.

In the poll results, it was encouraging to see that just over 10% of the respondents considered themselves to be part of a distributed workforce. Providing organisations can take this view of all their employees and not create a different group who are based in corporate locations then it opens up a way for us to talk about how space supports and enables value delivery rather than just being somewhere to go and “do work” because that’s what has always happened.

Language is a powerful thing and if it has taken a pandemic to force us to evaluate what and how we work and challenge old preconceptions about space, then perhaps there is still the opportunity for good to come out of this.

Finally, this isn’t a universal situation. Many people need to be in specific locations to deliver the value to the customer, though I still think there is benefit in exploring how space enables. A supermarket isn’t just a warehouse to hold products until a customer buys them. A train carriage isn’t just a can to move people from one location to another. If we consider these spaces, a vital part of your customer value proposition they can not only be better for customers but undoubtedly for your employees.

My co-working buddy for the week has disappeared to take part in “jump-start Jonny” and I’m looking forward to having a bit of enforced variety to the week and no doubt some different inspiration and perspective on challenges.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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