The role of the Office as a place for shaping purpose and making sense of a complex world
The painting ‘Wetzlar’ hangs on the wall of our shared work space in Brunswick. It’s one of a series by the Spanish artist Cinta Vidal that explores what it means to live physically close together in a city, but still be far apart in terms of our interior lives.
Until March 2020 it was a daily reminder to me of the importance of creating spaces for sharing experiences and purpose in our cities.
And after six months of not being in a shared work space, its absence is a reminder of why I don’t want my world of work to be reduced to one largely comprised of ‘Grindstone Cowboys’(1)
Assoc. Prof. Anya Johnson from the University of Sydney puts it well when she says:
“One of the most valuable aspects of a co-located workspace is that it’s a forum for informal sense-making of what’s happening in an organisation: of figuring out what a company represents. All those corridor conversations and accidental interactions nudge the company forward: help us answer the question of what we’re all doing, what’s the purpose of our work.
There isn’t the same capacity to do that in remote working. After all, an organisation is just the social networks people create. If you decouple the organisation from those networks, you’re just left with individuals doing tasks.”
I miss the daily incremental sense-making and nudging forward that happened in our shared workspace, and I loathe the thought of work being reduced to a world of individuals grinding through their work alone, staring at screens and just doing tasks.
Sure working from home and the efficiency of the digital interface has its benefits, but let’s just think for a bit what will be lost as well.
I cant wait to get back to our shared work space (its not an office, they were killed off by COVID19, remember ?). My goal will be to make sure it remains a place for meaningful social connection, for accidental learning, and for doing enriching work which helps make sense of the complex world we all find ourselves in.
(1) This article was published in the Melbourne Age as 'Grindstone Cowboys' but appears on-line under the rather more lame title of 'Work Schmerk: Tantalising or Traumatic, Zooming in our WFH future'