Wherever You Work, There You Are – Working Voices

I leave my home while the sky is still snuggled into its own dark grey blanket, and walk the 20 minute journey to the station.  Under the dawn sky’s low cloud ceiling, I am flanked on my right by trees that cling to the occasional brightly coloured leaf, shivering in the small gusts that blow us all with fine droplets of rainwater.  On my left, for the first half of the journey, is a canal.  The water ripples lightly with that same wind and rain. Eventually I turn left onto a busy road, flanked now by storefronts on one side and moving cars and red double-decker buses on the other side.  At the top of a hill I step into the train station.  After tapping my card on a device that beeps its confirmation of access to me, I stand in a quiet crowd on the concrete platform facing a similar crowd on the platform across from me, all of us quiet.  We look occasionally at the notice board that predicts the arrival of the next train, occasionally down the length of the platform in the direction of the expected train.

Inside the train we share a space perhaps 9 feet wide, flanking us with glass windows that look mostly onto the inside walls of the tunnels through which we wind.  The ceiling is low enough to make very tall people bend over.  The seats that run the length of the sides are filled to capacity and we find our places between the feet or above the heads of those occupants.  Once I find my place, I am in constant physical contact with the heads, coats, bags, and shoulders of those who shared the platform with me.

I arrive at my final stop, and when the doors slide open the majority of those inside the carriage move out into the receiving station. This is a space built out of shiny steel, glass, and polished concrete and marble. The ceilings are so high I cannot see them, and even looking up to try generates a kind of vertigo. We shuffle together to the foot of the escalators, giving our mobility over to a series of long moving staircases, from which the space performs its incredible vaulting heights and depths. This is a space designed to impress, and if it were your first day here, you would have to stop in the midst of it and be present to the physical awe it inspires. I have been here many times already, and so do not stop to acknowledge the impact of the architecture.

On leaving, with a beep, the final gateway of the transportation system, I step into a world of open sky, blustering wind, tall rectangular buildings reaching into the cloud cover, and the river water that surrounds every man made structure.  From some places the view extends far into a horizon of sky and water, or in other directions more urban architecture in the distance.  The wide paved walkways offer easy passage over a cold grey body of water. I walk between these sky-scraping structures of glass and steel, blasted by wind that sweeps the air out of your lungs, and then whips round to knock you sideways, towards the place of my first appointment.

I arrive in the marble-floored foyer of this building, announce myself and wait to be recognised by the one face I’ve seen all morning that will smile just for me.  I am shown into my own temporary workplace.  Now I am alone in a room. I can reach each of the walls within a few paces.  The ceiling is typical of an interior room: I can’t touch it, even if I jump, nor is it so far away that it is a mystery to me.  Today I am lucky – there is a recessed window looking out over the water that surrounds this building. In the middle of this room is a substantial round wooden table, and on one side of the room is a rectangular table, holding tea, coffee, and water for our comfort, some pencils and pads of branded paper, and a phone designed with several microphones and speakers for conference calls.

Now the working day begins.

This is a story of space.  Every environment we inhabit creates a physical and emotional response.  Hopefully in this description of my journey to work, I have given enough environmental description that you can get a sense of the different spaces.  If you listen to yourself, especially your body, as you enter the different environments in which you are asked to be productive, you may get a sense of “workspace stress”  as Jacqueline C. Vischer does in the research paper “The effects of physical environment on job performance: towards a theoretical model of workplace stress”, Stress and Health 23: 175-184 (2007) . If you do, how does each one make you feel?  The walk along the canal? Was it peaceful? Did it make you feel cold?  The train platform?  The crowded train car?  Did it feel familiar? The exit station with its high ceiling?  And how does it feel to imagine stepping out of the station into that windy open water skyscraper world?  When you arrive in the final room, are you ready to begin your day, or would you rather have stayed in one of the other places?

Does it matter?

Consider your habitat, where ever you are, do what you can to make it just a little bit better.  For you.  And for everyone around you.  Remember those other people on the train? They are also part of your workplace.  The happier they are, the easier it is for you to be happy.  And happy is productive.

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