PLACEMAKER: throughout life, there is a time and a place

by Paul Carder on August 17, 2014

by Paul Carder@paulcarder

How often has someone said to you, “there is a time and a place…”? In my case, it is usually because I have chosen the wrong time, or place…or both! My card was stamped early: he must read, listen, think, write, and occasionally be mixed with some smart people. And that is broadly what I have done. Never to be a diplomat, nor a senior executive. Relied on to be creative, and to do a good job perhaps; not always relied on to tow the party line (!), nor to suffer fools and time-wasters. I don’t want to spend all my time working; so, short efficient meetings, get decisions made, get stuff done – more time for life. I find it hard to deal with people who go around in circles and can’t make decisions!

The good team leaders I have worked for always know these things. They know how to get the right mix of personalities and skills; and the team members will know their place in that team. Those who have worked through an exercise on Belbin Team Roles as I have (a few times) will understand their place. I am always a Plant!

So, we are all different – OK, and good. Provided that we know! But I’m not always convinced by what I read about GenY (or even GenX – my lot), for the same reasons. I’m a Plant – and my eldest son is almost certainly a Plant! It is not about age, or generation even, but more about the individual. Assumptions can be dangerous. But how does a PLACEMAKER create and manage attractive places for all types of people?

There is a higher level of ‘time and place’. Have you ever considered the bigger picture of life, time and place? I’m convinced that workplace strategists, designers and corporate real estate professionals rarely consider this. Or what is called ‘life course’ research. Giele & Elder (1998: 22) define “life course” as “a sequence of socially defined events and roles that the individual enacts over time”.

Is the time and place of work a life course issue? It certainly changes, for most people, over time. I think it is an issue to be considered, especially as the workforce gets older. What is an attractive place to work when one is 25, is unlikely to have the same appeal at 65 – and far from being retired, many of us (and certainly our children’s generation) will be ‘at work’ in some form well past current retirement ages. Again though, it is not about age per se, and even in writing that last sentence I have made an assumption.

Barristers Chambers would be an interesting case study. A 25-year old or a 75-year old may be equally comfortable in the timeless surroundings of tradition, if they ever wanted to be there. The pleasures of rank and status may keep the ‘old’ lawyer just as content (or more, probably) than the fortunate young lawyer who recently worked hard to get there. They both know that they are part of a fortunate elite, in a club atmosphere.

But let’s face facts – most workplaces have been stripped of all their ‘status’ trappings and benefits. The accountancy and management consulting firms feel very different to the barristers’ chambers. The corner office looking over the river is now a meeting room of course – for use by anyone on a ‘needs’ basis. The long and expensive lunches are few and far between. The older accountants are mostly those whose income quadrupled when they made Partner, and who don’t wish to give that up. Those who haven’t made it, or decided it was not worth it, are opening a bottle at 8pm rather than opening emails in the office….

What will keep people in the corporate, city office, at different stages of life? What will keep them in the company, period? What’s in it for them? Money, perhaps. But many realize, some later than others, that wealth is a multi-faceted thing; not about money. Perhaps they enjoy the buzz, and imparting their knowledge to the younger generation. Maybe (as another increasing trend) they live alone, and/or are bored at home, and the corporate office is their social world. Another increasing trend is for ’empty-nesters’ to trade their cavernous 5-bed detached home in ‘the sticks’ for a bijou apartment in the city. To walk to work, to the restaurant, and the theatre; also happy with the corporate office, for its convenience and conversations.

San Francisco Bay area has certainly seen all this happening, amongst the savvy tech firms especially. The ‘kids’ want to be in downtown San Francisco – a cool place to be. Those with a family need a larger house, and trade the less ‘buzzy’ atmosphere of Palo Alto. But, some return downtown later, when they can afford the high prices attached to an apartment in one of the world’s most sought-after cities. So, there we see times and places to suit – a life course; and every one is different.

I think this may be a fruitful area of research for workplace strategists. So far, I only have anecdotal evidence from my own experience and discussions at workshops and events over the years. But, this will be part of the PLACEMAKER research as we move forwards.

Refs:

Giele, J.Z & Elder, G.H. (Eds.) (1998). Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Sage Publications

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