The Weird and Wonderful World of the Office

Why is an office looked at differently than a shopfloor?

The Weird and Wonderful World of the Office

In recent years I have become fascinated with the approach to work in the office environment and how we look at it differently to the shopfloor. Having worked on the shopfloor in a manufacturing environment and transferred to the other side, it strikes me there are some stark differences that don't make sense.

Before I explain what I am on about let me be clear, this isn't about the us and them, or we're better than them divide that exists in some places. This is purely about different cultures and approaches.

Let me start with a busy fool. Anyone who has been employed for a while will at some point comes into contact with a training course designed to help with time management and making you and your organisation more efficient or effective and one of the many things you are encouraged not to be is the busy fool. I get it, I really do and I understand the training around focusing on the right things etc, but it is down to you to manage this and often to fight against the organisation and colleagues around to do this, which suggests that the place is full of busy fools and you are the one that is different. Now, in a production environment, there are no busy fools. Everyone broadly knows what they are doing, in high volume places down to second, with clear purpose, joint responsibility, and in varying ways, one team. No office politics at play. You won't find anyone running round doing stuff that is working on all the wrong things at the wrong time and not understanding priorities. You just won't. Any hint of such behaviour is pounced upon and set right. It is a place of real performance management, focused on delivering the desired output in the most efficient way possible.

Now, parking creative activities for a minute, anyone working in an office is still there to do things, deliver an output in an efficient way. So why does the situation arise where people are free to do "stuff" where it is possible to work on the wrong things. Why do busy fools flourish in the office environment? Production teams don't have people floating around doing lord knows what. What is the cause of this?

I am sure there are plenty of reasons around the environment, individual mentality, etc that contribute and people far more intelligent than me can discuss and research, but for me it comes down to leadership. Surely it is down to the leaders in the organisation to take note and learn lessons. Is it not them that should make sure everyone knows what is going on, what needs doing, is focused on the deliverables and the outputs and driving efficiency. The other thing that strikes me is the lack of understanding of the role people play. In a production environment, without getting involved, people know the roles of other departments, other stages, and how their section fits. Is this the same in the office? I would say not, but why? Again, the leaders should be looking at this and working with their teams to address this.

Another thing that fascinates me is what I like to call the incompetent organisation. Anyone who has spent time in large organisations would have realised that the left hand and right hand are not always joined up, that you can't figure out who is responsible for what, and you can't really figure out what people's job titles mean. Vacuums exist, as do power struggles. Now I don't mean to suggest that those people are incompetent but that organisations have grown and developed and not really been designed. This leads to disconnects and grey areas and an organisation that is not performing as well as it could. I have spent some time looking at this and organisational design but again I am struck by the difference in a shop floor environment. I know not all production operations are perfect and issues arise to varying scales but while the consequences are potentially way more damaging, the problems are far less than in the office domain. All the departments and sections are much more aligned, united, and together. Why? Why are things in the office domain allowed to drift in a differnet way?

So, time to talk about the creative process. I get there is a different approach required in creative activities and I am not what you would call creative but surely there must be a recognition that once you get beyond the creative activity that you have to get on with a deliverable output in a reasonable way. From what I have seen, creative organisations allow the free will of the creative process to reign through organisation. Who has ever come across a creative business that is recognised for being early? I can't help but think that if their activity was analyzed properly there would be plenty of scope to improve but obviously this involves a clash between the artistic and productive mindsets and that is a subject in its own right.

That's it. This is my first post and if people are interested, I will write more on the world of work through my eyes. Please comment with feedback on the points raised or on my post. Thanks for reading.

fact or fiction
Mike Scruton
Mike Scruton
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