Power plays

A recent poll of 2,000 office workers considered the items that denote workplace success. Whilst many of these included dispensations for rules that apply to the rest of the workforce (e.g. allowed to work from home), some were directly related to the design and operation of the building.  Particularly, taking ownership of elements of the built environment (having one’s own office, an allocated car parking space and space for additional / higher quality furniture, even having the keys to the office) was considered a marker of achievement. For much of history, real estate has been used to create power hierarchies. In particular, religious buildings (size, separate areas for more holy people) and government / judicial buildings (symbols of authority, seated height of judge relative to height of defendant) have been deliberate in their positioning of relative power. For many, our own homes are conspicuous artefacts of success, rather than utilitarian environments which map to our activities; and our office receptions tend to speak to the aspirant success of our organisations, rather than being somewhere to funnel people into the building. Interesting then, that the modern open plan office itself eschews these characteristics in favour of flat, non-hierarchical structures. The prevailing management theory is that flat structures bond teams, and lead to better functioning organisations. However, if employees and clients remain secretly attracted to power statements, the oversized reception and c-suite cubicle might have life in them yet.