In Brussels, I have my favorite coffee house (Karsmakers) and my favorite chair (the big one on the right). Sadly, I cannot always have it. Sometimes, there’s someone else sitting in my chair. When this happens, I usually pick another spot in the café with a clear view on my chair; I give the people in my chair the evil eye whenever they glance in my direction; and when they get up to leave, I immediately jump up to claim my chair and I scatter my belongings all around it. If I were a dog, I might pee against the plant standing beside it.
Sometimes, people ask me, “What do you think of shared office spaces and flexible work areas?” (In Dutch: Het Nieuwe Werken) It needs no explanation that I’m totally in favor of new and better ways of organizing work. I myself don’t even have an office! The whole world is my flexible work area. I consider myself a prototype of the flexible worker. However, I do have my favorite places to sit down. I’m not only a creative networker. I’m a human being as well.
You might remember that I worked at Vienna airport for a whole day half a year ago. It’s one of my favorite airports, not in the least because they have good coffee. A few weeks ago, I was at Vienna airport again, with some time to kill between two flights. Guess what? I eagerly went to find myself exactly the same spot where I had worked for a day several months before, and I happily ordered myself a coffee. Familiarity creates habits, I guess.
I am not against companies changing traditional offices into flexible work areas when half of the traditional office desks are not being used. However, the goal–flexibility–is often pursued as part of a straightforward cost-cutting operation, while it is introduced to employees as “a 21st century work space”. People are expected to sit at another desk every day, with no chance of enjoying a favorite spot and creating a habit.
Don’t be fooled!
Flexible work areas only work when the office is every employee’s favorite place to work, and when people enjoy picking their favorite places to sit. Sadly, this second aspect of modern offices–enjoyability–is often missing. Most creative networkers would rather choose a nice spot at a coffee house, or a comfortable corner at a modern airport, over the uninspiring office space–and terrible coffee–their employers usually provide.
Flexible work areas should be enjoyable work areas too.