In the business world, constant renewal is established dogma. Adapt or die! With a straight face, pundits repeat the story about change being the only constant. So how should we balance the non-stop pressure to adapt with the risk of change causing unhappiness, anxiety and even illness?
We know that new experiences are not all negative. Compare starting a new job with a hospital appointment, or the frisson of landing in a strange country versus the threat of a court appearance. The amount of personal control or choice is a large factor that separates the good from the bad, and can make the difference between enthusiasm and dread, engagement and withdrawal. Can we reduce the exposure to the disabling aspects of change, but retain excitement and spontaneity?
We hear that business survival depends on rapid responses to fast evolving customer demands, and the greater economy craves growth and innovation. Change and growth are the twin pillars of western democratic capitalism, even though they can cause pain and exclusion.
This pervasive atmosphere of change is epitomised by what tech firms call SaaS – which stands for Software as a Service. It refers to delivering applications that are constantly modified for subscribing customers, rather than delivering a finished product, which is sold once with occasional upgrades. A mobile network is a good example – always on, always up to date, constantly responding to user demands in the background, keeping ahead or abreast of competitors – never sleeping.
In the SaaS model, the demand on the workplace is for equally rapid flexibility, agility, adaptability and change, so maybe we should consider what ‘Space as a Service’ looks like? An office in continuous flux at the behest of the users, chasing better ways to deliver the service, like an unfinished symphony of walls, furniture and IT kit. No longer a fixed environment but a set of instruments, in harmony or dissonance according to the will and ability of the players.
This kinetic environment does not exist yet, but we have loosened up some areas with shorter leases, and agile working practices, so the search for greater flex continues. We must test the organisational demand for flexibility against the employees’ tolerance. The people that use space are not as easily managed as the hardware. Agile behaviour at work comes at a price, often paid in the currency of anxiety. When change brings uncertainty, expect resistance, which is why change management in our industry is a growth area. There is a paradox in demanding more change while employees usually want less. Is change imposed while a natural desire for control and predictability is ignored?