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Workspace & Workplace – one in the same??

Words are the building blocks of language yet we use them in ways which others find confusing. Take for example’workspace’ and ‘workplace’ – these are used in multiple ways and mean different things to different people. Over the Easter weekend, it struck me that those of us concerned with enabling work should take a step back and reflect on how we talk about our task. To the consumer of workspaces and workplaces we speak in a myriad of tongues, most of which have little relevance to those concerned with business agility, value and sustainability. It is becoming clear that we need to streamline our vocabulary and develop a shared language to enable more fruitful and fluid communication.

I have always been intruiged by language, growing up in Ireland where language was (and remains) a provocative social and political issue. As a child I asked myself why I was speaking English when I didn’t live in England.
Although both islands started off speaking different languages, English now dominates with Gaelge becoming increasingly endangered .
Having had the opportunity of visiting many different lands over the years, I cannot help but wonder at the use of language and how we communicate with one another. In many cases it’s down to how we listen and understand and this comes back to the use of a common lexicon. The recent state visit to Britain of Ireland’s President Higgins highlighted this for me. Our islands have a long and complicated relationship and this visit called for the careful use of symbolism and of language. President Higgins had a hard act to follow as the royal visit to Ireland in 2011 was a masterpiece in setting a tone and ensuring that all audiences got the message. The centerpiece for me and for many commentators was his juxtaposition of a powerful metaphor in Irish with its English translation. As somebody fluent in both tongues he described the relationship as “ar scath a cheile a mharamid” meaning’we live in each other’s shadow’. However Higgins explained that ‘scath” has two definitions; shadow and shelter. The subtlety in meaning, so crucial to fully appreciating his view of the islands’ relationship, could have been easily lost in translation. It struck me that those of us interested in the workplacemust aspire to a develop a greater fluency and commonality in how we describe and discuss our subject matter.

It’s possible to draw out some parallels between Ireland and England’s relationship and that of those concerned with the consumption of property and facilities:
– The history of thinking and uses of commercial space is long and complicated
– Many see it as a Samson and Goliath type relationship
– people think they speak the same language
– just as there are many Irish living in Britain and vice versa, many facility managers have crossed into property and vice versa.

Just as HM the Queen spoke of “our two islands growing the relationship as friends who see the best in each other” those of us involved in the workplace sector need to think along similar lines. Personally, I don’t see any difference between the ‘islands’ of Corporate Real Estate and Facility Management – everyone is actually in the same boat, but one on the starboard side and the other on the port side. I suspect, however, that many don’t realise this because of the language used and the fragmented nature of the relationship. Has the time arrived to think differently?

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