Faced with the prospect of chronic change, many enterprises are attempting to design their workplaces in such a way as to remind their staffs - and themselves - that no lead is secure, no product or service is dominant for long, no institution is permanent.
Some of these reminders are tangible: offices designed to reinforce the impermanence of the organization by eliminating walls, cubicles and personal spaces. Everything is open. The only thing that is yours is you. And maybe your phone or computer. But definitely not the space they are located today. Or tomorrow. Or ever.
Some of the symbolic and actual impetus is intangible: reassignment to new teams frequently and without warning, shifting responsibilities, non-specific organizational structures. As chaotic as it may seem, much of this is done after careful analysis of research conducted more or less constantly on what seems to be working and what isnt. The metrics may be experimental or a combination of the tried and true with the utterly irrational. Let's challenge ourselves to make sense of the madness, the ethos declares, because that is what the market is doing to us on a regular basis.
There is no doubt that the rest of the institutional world is watching: open plan has become a cliche. Foosball tables, food stations, in-house masseurs and concierges are now de rigeur.
Some people need quiet and space to optimize their contributions. The interim rejoinder seems to be: wear headphones. But in the long run, the longitudinal data will be accumulated, evaluated and endlessly reinterpreted.And the question is whether any conclusions will - or can - ever be drawn. Managements like to manage to a conclusion or at least to goal or achievable objective. In the case of this sort of ongoing design experiment, it is not yet apparent what those might be.
The challenge, ultimately, is determining whether this is leading somewhere - to a sort of organizational ideal - or whether it is the journey, the search, that is the only constant - and that that is the point. JL
Quentin Hardy reports in the New York Times:
Nothing is permanent, any product can be dislodged from greatness by something newer. It’s the aesthetic of disruption: We must all change, all the time.