Sardines

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I’ve mentioned this before and I will mention it again.  People need space to work and to think.  But the amount of space they need is directly attributed to the society in which they grew up.  For instance, in areas where there is a higher population density, there is a requirement for less space.  Think about London where people are stacked on top of each other like sardines in a can.  To a Londoner, the amount of space needed to effectively do their job is smaller than someone in Alberta would need.  Alberta has lots of space.  More than enough space, even in their major cities.  I look North from my office and, once I get past the downtown area, nothing seems to be that much taller than the trees.  The city of Edmonton even complains that the density of the city isn’t high enough and that they want more people living in a smaller space.

Let’s go back to office space.  Sardines in a can or room to breathe.  I know that I want room to breathe.  I used to move around a lot in my career.  In my first two jobs covering the first four years of my career, I was in six different “cubicles”.  (OK, I spent the first two years of my career in one cubicle and then the next two years in different cubbies even though I was working for the same organization.)  Even when I was in what I would consider being cramped quarters, I never had the impression that someone was “too close”.  I’ve seen some of the cubicles/desks/holes in the wall that we put people right now and, quite frankly, I’m ashamed.  I know that someone from London, or New York City or Mexico City may feel right at home, but that doesn’t mean that in Alberta, in my mind, that it is the right amount of space.

The Government of Canada has introduced something called “Workplace 2.0 for Business“.  Workplace 2.0 is a set of standards that are used to create the work environment in which the Government of Canada believes will best serve their employees and the taxpayers.  They have very specific standards as to the amount of space an employee should expect based on the amount of time that they spend at their desk.  But not only that, they also understand the necessity for “Quiet rooms”, areas where people can shut out the world around them.  There is a photo gallery showing some of the designs that have been implemented.  This is not to say that everything needs to conform exactly to the pictures, but the general concepts embodied by the Government of Canada Workplace 2.0 Fit-up Standards are demonstrated.

So, why doesn’t the Government of Alberta adopt the same standards?  Or come up with their own?  At least honestly examine what they are trying to do.  There really are no standards right now.  No limits on how little or how much space someone gets other than the original design of the office space.  Sure, Infrastructure will come in afterward and say “We want four people in this spot” and the office space designer will say “But that’s illegal according to the fire code as it prevents people from leaving”, but really, what purpose is Infrastructure trying to serve?

The mandate of Infrastructure is not to supply good quality working space for staff, it is their mandate to reduce the cost of space.  Those two objectives are fundamentally opposed to each other.  If there was a way to objectively measure productivity then Infrastructure should be charged with providing the best productivity per square foot.  And contrary to what they may think, behavioral scientists around the world will tell you that shrinking the amount of space does not increase the productivity per square foot, it lowers it.  But until the people making decisions on the space are given a different measurement of their success, we will continue to work in an ever shrinking environment, reducing productivity and increasing the need to high more people to compensate for the decreased productivity and thus increases the requirement for space.  Yes, that never ending circle.

It takes someone willing to take a risk to stand up and say “Hey, let’s think about things differently.  Let’s innovate.”

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