“And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, “What is the use?” For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.”
The quotation that opens this article is taken from what is arguably the greatest piece of literature from the annals of the Heroic Age of polar exploration, Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World”. Cherry-Garrard was a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated final expedition to the South Pole. For me, the quotation encapsulates many of the notions of choice that are implied by the future workplaces we now aspire to. In response to recent traffic emanating from the Workplace Trends conference I stated that I considered choice to be a form of personalisation. In the original context, what I meant was that, given the opportunity people will apply a degree of personalisation that allows us to fulfil maximum productivity without losing the essence of what we hold dear at the core of our being. Modern workplaces eschew gewgaws. Gone are the photographs of cherished grandchildren, diplomas, gonks and pot plants. In their place have come pool tables, slides and fussball. This almost seems to be a form of corporately imposed personalisation. I’ve never seen a marketing person descend between floors helter skelter armed with a tablet and smart phone. Maybe it happens but I can’t see anyone retaining their composure or dignity whilst doing so. However, the growing trend for flexibility in our workplaces over work settings and the ability for many to work from home or other locations of their choosing allows for the kind of personalisation that kept polar explorers sane and saw Alan Shepard teeing off in the Sea of Tranquillity. If corporate notions of the kind of places that people want to work in are predicated on cost control, brand aspiration and a desire for trend-setting/following they must also factor in employee well-being which can in part be supported by providing curated choice and flexibility.