Motivating Millions

Workplace revolution: a thought from the underground

On my way to Old Street tube in London yesterday I passed a hoarding around an emerging landmark office development.


Being a fan of lettering, the huge stencilled message on the hoardings made me take a closer look. The headline message is ‘WHITE COLLAR FACTORY – REVOLUTIONISING THE WORKPLACE’.

As I waited on the platform below it made me think. White collar… factory…. isn’t that counter-revolutionary? The idea seems to be that they’re reinventing the workplace, turning it on its head and freeing employees from traditional rules, structures and processes.

Then they express two things that seem to conflict. Boxing the workers up by labelling them ‘white collar’ and calling the building a factory. In fact, the opposite of undoing the shackles of convention or championing the value of individuality and empowerment.

Now, I realise that I’m probably over-thinking all this. It’s marketing language designed to look and sound cool – and in the spirit of the regeneration of an exciting, up-and-coming area.

I’ve looked at the development website and the architecture does present an interesting perspective on the re-imagined workplace environment. It’s about becoming ‘a trademark for a building type that combines the efficiencies of a new build with the character of a 19th century warehouse’

And I like that idea.

I also realise that in imagining a new type of workplace the developers are also re-purposing language. And I like that too.

But I do also think that as the much-needed reinvention of the workplace becomes mainstream, inspired by new developments like The White Collar Factory, language will become more and more important.

It’s the DNA of how we all work, connect, interact with and for each other.

Our vocabulary needs to change, not just the physical spaces. There’s untapped value in most of us, waiting to be unlocked. But the language of processes and structures stifles innovation, ideas, sharing, collaboration, informal mentoring and ultimately wellbeing.

Just a thought. Anyway, that stencilled type kept me amused for the couple of stops from Old Street to Euston.