Workplace Communities Suck But Coffee Makes Them Rock

I have this point I want to make, the point being that workplace communities are idealistic annoyances and ‘open workspaces’ really aren’t helping in any way.
Of course I get it’s all meant to be about collaboration and creativity. But isn’t it all ultimately about getting a group of people to form this shared vision, cohesiveness and amount of care about each other? Something that kind of looks like a community?
I was going to write about how small rural communities are able to prosper, despite the expansive distance between the members’ farmland. But then I thought about the mental health crisis in Aussie farm communities and the community’s characteristic insular nature. Ah yes, that one time I was asked “Why would you want to learn another language?! Everyone in Australia speaks English!” My childhood recollections of farm town living didn’t seem like the way to form a thriving and excellent community to prove my point with.
I wanted to show that jamming people into a small place wouldn’t result in community. I wanted to shout to the rooftops “cubicles and open workspaces are a cheap solution to a space problem, not an elegant answer to questions of workplace communities!” It soon became glaringly clear that small towns and work communities had a very strong common factor though in geographic constraints. Like highschool, they’re a group of people being forced to co-exist in close confines or a sort of isolation. A semblance of community may form, but I would tend to think of it as a way of doing things, a culture if you like – not a tight and cohesive social entity. In fact, being forced to participate in geographically defined groups based on residence, age or employer can be pretty fucking brutal.
So I decided this point was probably moot now, since it didn’t really matter how people lived (in apartments or farms) or were arranged (in offices or cubicles), they would still only create a weak community. Unless people believe in the cause bringing them together and are committed to the group that forms around it – the only pressure being applied to the formation of the group is external. Geography is one of the clearest external forces moulding groups into communities. But it isn’t the force that turns group carbon into community diamond. Not even the external force of time can create community diamond, unless the time allows for commonalities to be found. Because it’s when people meet over mutual interests of sports, faiths, hobbies, illnesses, support needs, politics – you name it – that a strong, vibrant and cohesive community forms. The interests form an internal suction, a magnetisation
of the group members to be together, an attraction and pull to the group which makes it a community.

In the end, I suppose my point has been made though. If you want a community in your workplace, hire people who all like coffee. Have a fancy coffee machine, beautiful coffee cups, and create a communal place for the making, drinking and sharing of coffee. End the torture of ‘open work spaces’ that supposedly foster interactive work and community. They just end up annoying the crap out of people.

Or maybe herbal tea?
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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  • 29 January 2013