Workplace Trends

Fashion is the biggest productivity killer. Yet, we follow it anyway

Michal MatlonFurther in our series of guest blogs by speakers and supporters of our up-coming Workplace Trends Autumn Conference in London: People, Place, Performance, HB Reavis’ Michal Matloň has some observations on fashion in the workplace (no, not apparel).

The urge to follow fashions is strongly ingrained in our nature. Imitation is one of the basic learning mechanisms that we use as children to quickly adopt behaviour appropriate for the society we live in. Fashion saves us from burdensome decision making, because it offers us an easy, socially accepted solution to any problem. Do what other people do and the worst thing that can happen is that you make the same mistake as everyone else.
This is not so bad if the effects of our decisions apply only to ourselves. When wearing fashionable, but uncomfortable clothes, the only miserable person will be us. But it’s something very different if we make decisions based on fashion that influence daily lives of many other people. The reason is that fashion helps ideas and solutions spread quickly, based on shallow or non-existent understanding of why it emerged in the first place.
And so, managers, architects and consultants are often caught in this trap of fashionable thinking. Instead of thoroughly analysing the real and specific needs of their organization, employees or clients, they limit their scope to what they see others are using. They let their fear of judgement prevail over actually choosing a superior solution that might not, at first glance, look that well. They fear others might say it’s uncool, old-fashioned or perhaps, boring.
As a part of a certain project, I’ve been watching dozens of videos of office tours in American technological start-ups and companies. I’ve been noting down the characteristics and features these offices have and the way they look. After finishing, I realized, that with some minor differences, they are all the same. We think these companies carry innovation in their hearts. We expect them to be radically open to making things better, even if it means being different than everyone else. But the reality doesn’t match. Because they too, only follow the fashion.
So, you could ask: how can we expect a manager in a corporation or an architect in an established studio to heroically face the social pressure to conform? I say we should. Because the inability to do so has already created many working environments, which, although fashionable, don’t serve the real purpose of enabling people to work in the most effective and enjoyable way.
Fashion (supported by short-term financial goals) brought us the incorrect use of the open-space environment for purposes for which it’s not fit. Fashion allowed us to easily sell it under the claim that it increases the quality of collaboration, while it can often do the complete opposite. Fashion helped us decrease our productivity, while feeling good about the result.
And there are many other fashions. They change in time and are often cyclical. But what never changes is the fact, that we should invest the majority of our energy into solving the most fundamental and timeless problems, which often has the highest impact, while looking inconspicuous from the outside.
It’s possible that the happiest and the most productive workplace in the world will never show up in your social media feed. Because who would click on such a boring thing?

Guest post by Michal Matloň of HB Reavis.

Michal will be speaking  on “Crisis of Focus: What we are forgetting about in the age of connectedness” at Workplace Trends London on 17 October 2018.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash