Do You Need Rules in the Workplace

We need rules. Despite the popularity around notions of freedom, free will and a healthy disregard for authority and conformity (think hipster beards, no ties and topknots) we all need boundaries.

How so? After all aren’t many improvements in our workplaces rooted in social democratisation and listening to what employees feel helps them be happier and more productive? Doesn’t that fly in the face of a plea for rules in the workplace?

On the face of it you might think so – but look around your workplace. For a flexible space that has been created because of ideas around activity based working to work smoothly you need to understand how it actually functions. Rules give you that guidance. Without that useful ‘how to use my space’ handbook approach the grand theories developed after months of auditing the needs of employees will crumble.

If you’re not convinced, then think about the developments in the actual building you’re using. If it is a modern, well designed space then it will have been created to meet high standards of sustainability. It will be a ‘green building’ with a good EPC score. But is it being used properly?

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that occupiers and users of energy friendly buildings are unwittingly sabotaging them – often because facilities management professionals are not asked to contribute to the design and build process of carbon friendly buildings at the concept stage. In 2014, Julia Day doctoral student at Washington State University conducted research showing that people often negate the benefits of energy efficiency design in buildings. She visited an office that was designed with daylighting strategies to save on lighting energy, but found that all of the blinds were closed and numerous lights were switched on. It turned out that cabinetry and office furniture blocked many of the blind controls.

The culture of the occupants effectively sabotages the energy savings designed into the space.

The same can happen in a workplace environment.

We need rules, guidelines and handbooks to break down the culture and drive home the change management process that goes hand in hand with any alteration to an office space. It might be something simple such as not using key phrases such as hot desking – something that actually scares people. It could be something physical and tangible such as using the newly provided available storage space to best effect – i.e. not squirrelling away stationery and piles of documentation on a desk surface.

Marketing and design professionals have design guidelines. Cars, dishwashers and televisions all come with a manual. Why not make sure your workplace has one too? They do not have to be referred to as rules – just a useful handbook about how to get the most from your space.

People need boundaries, but also, if a workplace plan has been implemented it needs to be allowed to function – it cannot be derailed or sabotaged by the ‘users’. The ‘rules’ just allow you to navigate those boundaries.