PLACEMAKER: its not what you do, its the way that you do it

by Paul Carder on May 16, 2014

by Paul Carder (paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com); Twitter: @paulcarder

When Terry Hall of Fun Boy Three brought Bananarama in as backing vocals in 1982, to release “It ain’t what you do, its the way that you do it”, he couldn’t have foreseen it being quoted in a blog about work, work-styles and workplaces! But here it is, and its true – its the way that you do it, that’s what gets results. Organizations of all kinds are about getting results, for their investors, customers, charitable donators, voters, or any other group of stakeholders. So, one has to question why managers so often feel the need not only to allocate work (‘what’ you do), but also to manage the location and process (the ‘way’ that you do it). Managing the ‘way’ that work is done, especially for highly skilled knowledge-workers, restricts their ability to tailor their work output to their own personal circumstances and preferences. Everyone is different. Why expect them to all work in the same place, in the same way? Its like giving them a car, but fixing the seat height, the steering column, the mirrors, giving them a one-speed gearbox and a speed restrictor…..the car would soon be returned to the leasing company! Why do we do it with workplaces?

The PLACEMAKER, in those circumstances, also has two hands firmly tied. Their skill-set includes finding the best work locations, flexible providers, great service experience, and supporting the individual in whatever way they chose to work. But, the PLACEMAKER may only be allowed to use the one element of that toolkit – the large, standardized, pre-set, corporate office, in the centre of the city. Or worse, not even in an interesting city! The corporate office could be in a nondescript business park, where the only respite from monotony is the entrepreneurial woman from the nearby town who brings a van-load of assorted sandwiches at mid-morning. Or a smoke in the purpose-built smoking shelter, with your other buddies, also ostracized like citizens of the Athenian democracy (albeit not for ten years, just for ten minutes). Yes, I have been one of their number….

In one of our OJ network discussions this week, Marcus Bowen (our man in Hong Kong) raised a very interesting point. It is an unrestricted gulp of fresh air to be PLACEMAKER to the ScrumMasters in the software development industries. They do not suffer from these restrictions. The much sought-after (and expensive) ScrumMaster will fly into a hub like Hong Kong, or Singapore, all pre-arranged and planned by a multi-skilled PLACEMAKER. The ScrumMaster and her team will have done a lot of preparation work remotely, in one of many different personally-suited work settings. But then, at some point, they need ‘face time’. They need that frenetic activity – a short, intensive work period – to get over that creative hurdle. Maybe three or four days – they will be too tired to do more.

Before they get to the Scrum, the group of software developers will have been using remote team-working tools; sharing a work-space in real time, but not real proximity. They may ‘sit’ next to each other, online – but in reality could be a mile or a thousand miles apart. It makes no difference. The PLACEMAKER will be there, wherever, to provide (maybe through a third party) the place, and the space, and the service experience which supports productive work.

I hear some readers saying, ‘here we go again – this is all about knowledge workers!’ The laptop and tablet-carrying free agents of the contemporary workplace. Highly paid and highly skilled people, whose needs have to be pandered to. But, it is no longer true, is it? We would have said, medical doctors need to be in hospitals. But paramedics with helmet-mounted cameras now routinely get advice from a doctor who could be anywhere.  We would have said, teachers need to be in schools and colleges – they may be, but their students can be anywhere with a webcam. Or vice-versa. The man (it is usually a man) digging up the road will be there, until someone invents a machine that can do his job all day without leaning on his shovel for ten minutes every hour. The person fitting caps on toothpaste tubes will equally be physically located on a bench, day in day out, until similarly someone invents a machine with equivalent dexterity. But, these jobs, in fixed locations, are reducing in numbers every time there is a new innovation – and they are not being replaced.

Much has been talked about the future of the office (no….open your eyes….stay awake now) – its quite simple, it will be a bit of what we have today, and part working at home, plus many other locations and spaces which suit the individual at a specific time. Workplace becomes workplaces. Corporate real estate teams will be providing an agile service to the workforce, not a fixed ‘product’, in a fixed place. Facilities management will become more about managing the work experience, of place, space and customer services – but as those places are spread around, to suit the individual more than the corporation, this new higher-level facilities management will be provided by the PLACEMAKER. The developer, the entrepreneur with an interesting ‘place’ where people just really want to work. The bus stops here – all change please, all change….

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

James Ware May 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Paul, you are definitely on to something very important. I believe this move towards multiple places must indeed change the role(s) of the Placemaker – or in fact create a new role. First there will be those who manage specific places, who must deal with a rotating set of users – perhaps different people every day, or even every hour. Much like traditional FM professionals. But let’s look to other industries and roles to learn how to do that even better – say, hotels, restaurants, airlines – all deal with places that “host” a changing cadre of people.

But then there will be those who focus on the people and their continually changing need for a place – and for different places for different activities. Maybe more like a hotel concierge?? I think it is a different role than the traditional FM one, but equally important – concern with place, but ensuring that each individual or team has the place they need at a particular time, with all its variables taken into account – chairs, WiFi, white boards, paper, refreshments, etc, etc.

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Maggie Corke May 17, 2014 at 5:27 am

Good piece. We get it but of course, the person delivering the sandwiches in the van HAS to be female. The frenetic ineffectual ScrumMaster who hurls around for three or four days and is then too tired to do more is of course female. And as to Pigs and chickens…well…you lost me there.

I am no feminist but PLEASE OJ!!

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paul May 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Maggie, I’m sorry, I did try. I put the scrum-master in the ‘feminine’ on purpose, and being tied had nothing to do with male/female. I’m told that 4 days is about all anyone can handle, as it is a full-on experience. Fair point about the sandwich lady. However, I suspect you are joking about the pigs and chickens 🙂 as I have no idea either….thanks for your comment, Paul.

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Doug Langmead May 17, 2014 at 4:36 am

I’d have to agree with you Paul, its the way I work now after years hunched over a drawing board.

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paul May 17, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Yes Doug, freedom at last….

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