Why the train is the new office

There’s a certain romance to travelling by train. Even if you’re heading out of London’s Euston for the Facilities Show at Birmingham’s NEC as I am this week, there’s a distant echo of more glamorous journeys taken on the Orient Express. There are quiet lounges to sit in if you choose to arrive early for your train, or unlike planes where you must queue for hours, you can simply arrive at the station and hop straight on.  The hiss of the train as it glides into the station is reminiscent of old steam trains. The slam of the door, the station manager’s whistle and the grind of the wheels starting to roll out of the station all feel incredibly civilised compared to waiting in a bright airport lounge or at a bus stop in the drizzle.

And once you grab that cherished forward-facing window table seat, plug in your laptop and phone, connect to the WiFi and spread out your papers, you’ve never had a better office. Whatsmore, you need never move. Whereas the tea-lady has long gone from most offices, the train catering trolley rattles down between the seats, catching the ankles of the unaware, but providing sustenance to those embroiled in reports and emails. And from lunchtime even that most treasured of items: the G&T. For while an open can of lager is frowned upon on London buses, thanks to Boris, it’s de rigeur to enjoy a little alcoholic refreshment on a train.

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In defence of the office

Over the years I’ve written countless articles about new ways of working and they’ve all focused on the practical, tangible stuff – the buildings, the furniture and how the workplace itself has adapted to support people in their shiny new flexible world. I touched on culture change a fair bit, particularly looking at how the ‘management by presenteeism’ culture tended to be eschewed in favour of measuring people by their actual performance.

But what I hadn’t fully appreciated is the internal journey someone goes on when they learn to work intelligently, flexibily or whatever the latest buzzword becomes. We ask people to give up their desk stuffed with memorabilia, pedestals full of even more ‘stuff’ –their history – and give them a laptop and a range of ‘flexible working solutions’ and then tell them to get on with it.

Some organisations recognise what we’re asking of staff and do provide training in new ways of working, but many don’t  –  the budget’s all gone on the funky furniture and the workplace consultants.

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Park Life

Local authorities have a new money-making idea to make up for the funding shortfall from central government – to charge people such as personal trainers for using the parks as their workplace. Potentially even professional dog-walkers and nannies could have to pay. Hammersmith and Fulham parks department announced the move recently. Parks suffer from “recurring activities that took place on a commercial basis, such as private football coaching, which needed to be identified and charged”. The council said this month that use of the parks is free “however, as soon as personal trainers start charging and making money out of the park, they are running a business and would need a licence,” a report in FM World said.

Personal trainers have argued that they already pay for the upkeep of the parks through their council tax, but there is a reasonable argument that as they’re using them to generate commercial revenue, they could not necessarily do elsewhere (or would be charged to do so) then they should contribute some of that revenue to the park’s owner. Other businesses pay for the rent and upkeep of their own workplaces after all.

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Loose lips sink more than ships

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the unstoppable trend towards mobile working and how, wherever you go, there are people perched with their laptop or talking business on their mobile phone. I had two concerns: lack of free WiFi coverage and a lack of consideration for ergonomic comfort. The day after that piece was published in this magazine I was on the Stansted Express when two chaps got on and started discussing their employer, a well-known facilities management company. Not only did they openly name the organisation several times but they talked about what they believed to be fraudulent practices and made derogatory remarks about senior execs.

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Working on the move

This week I have worked at my own office desk, at a client site, at the kitchen table, on a plane, a train, a bus, on the Tube, and in a number of coffee shops. While some of this work has involved reading magazine and newspaper articles, chatting on the phone and scribbling notes, the majority has been tapping away at the laptop. An FM case study of a Liverpool building, for example, was largely written in the waiting room at Liverpool Lime Street station and on the train back to London, and then finished off at home.

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