Monday, September 28, 2015

Office of the future? I quit!

Is it just me, but are “things” getting too darned smart, and kind of in a dumb way? As in the “smartest building in the world”. That would be the Edge, an Amsterdam office building.

Oh, there are lots of great things about the Edge – and isn’t The Edge the lead guitarist for U2, not a building in Amsterdam?

It’s the world’s greenest building, with the highest sustainability rating ev-ah granted by the Brits – a near perfect 98.4%.  Sensors – there are 28,000 of them throughout the building – monitor motion, light, temperature, humidity, etc. – and make all sorts of green-friendly adjustments. Robots do the cleaning, and rain water is used to flush the toilets. In the gym, some of the exercise stations throw your energy back into the grid. (Do you get compensated for that, or is it a freebie?)

But what sets teeth on edge at the Edge is not that the building is so enviro-friendly. It’s that it’s so (to my way of thinking) worker unfriendly.

A day at the Edge in Amsterdam starts with a smartphone app developed with the building’s main tenant, consulting firm Deloitte. From the minute you wake up, you’re connected. The app checks your schedule, and the building recognizes your car when you arrive and directs you to a parking spot. (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, I’m down with getting directed to a parking spot, as long as it remembers where you parked and lets you know at the end of the day. But do I really want “them” knowing where I am and what I’m doing – or should be doing – from the moment I wake up? Is nothing sacred? Do “they” need to know I’m in the shower, dawdling over breakfast, sitting in traffic grinding my teeth? I guess if you’ve got an app’d up smartphone, spies really are everywhere.

Then the app finds you a desk. Because at the Edge, you don’t have one. No one does. Workspaces are based on your schedule: sitting desk, standing desk, work booth, meeting room, balcony seat, or “concentration room.” Wherever you go, the app knows your preferences for light and temperature, and it tweaks the environment accordingly.

With 2,500 Deloitte workers and only 1,000 desks, this sounds  like a weird version of musical chairs.

The concept is called hot desking, and it’s supposed to encourage new relationships, chance interactions, and, just as important, efficient use of space.

I like that “just as important”? What makes me think it just might outweigh the benefits of “new relationships” and “chance interactions”.

Meanwhile, I can easily imagine employees gaming this, and figuring out how to prime their schedules so they actually get to stay put for a few hours at a time, rather than having an app dictate that it’s their turn to stand up or bide a bit of time in a balcony seat.

If you’re wondering where people stow the stuff – comfy shoes, a hairbrush, tampons, a toothbrush, a few packages of peanut butter crackers – they used to keep in their desk, the answer is: no place. Workers do have access to a locker. But they’re “discouraged” from using the same locker for any extended period of time:

…because part of the het nieuwe werken philosophy is to break people away from their fixed locations and rigid ways of thinking.

Yes, indeed, the desire not to have to schlepp your sweater and mouthwash in every day is a sure indication of a rigid way of thinking. Oh, wait a minute, in a smart building you’ll never need a sweater.

And as for the personal stuff – pictures of the kids, Dilbert cartoons, that mug filled with pencils, the communal come-on-in candy jar – that people used to keep on their desk. I guess the answer is forget about it. Only a rigid thinker would want to go to the same fixed location everyday, and look at a picture of the same damned kids.

Is it just me, but does all this sound like a nightmare?

Just as it’s wonderful to walk in the door when you get home at night and just plop on our very own couch and decompress, when you’re at work, most of us want to, say, come back from a grueling meeting and plop into our very own desk chair and decompress.

Maybe none of this bothers the hellzapoppin’ millennials who are always on, tech savvy, and, let’s face it, know that they’re just one bean-counting minute away from having their job downsized or outsourced, or being turned into a contract worker on a short term contract.

But human nature being human nature, it’s hard to believe that millennials don’t want to have a home base, with their own stuff in it. That they don’t want to know that they’re going to see their office buddy first thing Monday at the coffee machine. That they wouldn’t even miss the annoying neighbor who’s always on the phone complaining about something.

Why are new relationships so much more important than old relationships?

Guess it’s just my old school, fixed location way of rigid thinking.

Glad I don’t work at the Edge.


With special thanks to one of my oldest – and most fixed – relationships, my sister Trish, who saw a reference to this article on Huff Po.

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