CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited
The pursuit of ever greater flexibility has been the mantra of facilities managers for the last decade. But what impact does this have on us as human beings – do we really want to be free agents? The open-plan office, the flexible office, the non-territorial office represent the physical manifestation of an organisation's pursuit of untethered working. But several authors are beginning to argue that employees have been oversold this concept of flexibility; that much of the literature naively assumes that constant change is good.
The early writings of Toffler in Future Shock, forewarned of the social consequences of rapid change in the workplace, but it is the more recent work of Sennet (1998) in The Corrosion of Character, that has attracted current attention. In his book he argues that "today, flexibility means the capacity to move from one shape to another, to be always in flux – to have no essential shape at all".
Sennet argues that key figures in the modern economy like Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Michael Dell, have a marked "ability to let go". If Microsoft think it makes economic sense to dispose of its Windows operating system, that is exactly what it will do, irrespective of the hardship on its customers or software developers. Rather than being a criticism, it is a reality that if they do not constantly tear apart their companies, someone else will.
But not everybody is like Bill Gates. We find it difficult to break an attachment to a person, a place or a worksetting. We define ourselves by our connections to the world. Sennet argues that by breaking these connections, the new flexibility corrodes character. "Jobs" are being replaced by "projects" and "fields of work". We no longer have "relationships" but "contacts".
To what extent do facilities mangers play a part in the social engineering. As move managers, space designers and virtual working facilitators are we simply implementing the current demands of business for flexibility? Do facilities managers have the responsibility to ask – "flexibility for who?". Should modern workplaces enable the formation of human attachments or are we seeking detachment through virtuality? Some interesting questions that put facilities management in the front line.
ReferencesSennett, R. (1998), The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY.Toffler, A. (1970), Future Shock, Toffler Associates, Manchester, MA.