29th November 2017

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For those facilities managers who have enough time in their life to watch TV, you may know him as Will on the BBC comedy W1A. He is the resident intern who is working at the BBC because he is someone’s nephew. He is the affable, ‘Tim nice but dim’ character that doesn’t seem particularly bright. But watch him more closely as he works in the programme commissioning team, and you will see that many of the good ideas come from him. Of course, there’s always someone in his team ready to lift his ideas and present them as their own. We could say that Will is a daydreamer…

So does daydreaming play a part in the modern office?

Apparently, always being ‘on’ blocks the brain. That’s why you can often see people in the office meander towards the window – to take time out and allow the mind to wander. In his book, ‘Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done’, Josh Davis, research director at the New York NeuroLeadership Institute, points out the importance of letting your mind wander. It seems that in the modern office environment, our minds are bombarded with short-term issues that prevent us from focusing on longer term concerns. Always checking our inbox and multitasking soaks up any energy that might be left for future planning. This is not just a question of scheduling. We need to discover the ‘off’ button that allows us to meander: to think about the future and be creative.

Of course this doesn’t always go down very well in an open plan office. I remember a work colleague being reported by the head honcho’s PA. The PA had watched my teammate spending time looking skyward, lost in thought. As it happens, my colleague proved herself to be one of the most inventive and original thinkers. But to the PA, watching in an open plan office, the signs seemed only to confirm that my colleague was a loafer, a sluggard, and a good-for-nothing. Appearances can be deceptive, particularly when you find yourself under observation in an open plan goldfish bowl. After all, some people that appear to be earnestly beavering away at a computer screen can be idly wasting time on Facebook or Candy Crush. No room for daydreaming here – and not really the best way of flicking the ‘off’ switch.

More and more research points to the value of daydreaming at work. Not only does it allow us to think ahead; it also enables us to come up with new ideas. In other words, by thinking about something else for a while we are able to return to a problem with a fresh outlook. Our brain is able to connect up the dots in the background whilst we are thinking about nothing in particular.

So what is the facilities manager to make of all this? Well I guess it’s important not to judge a book by its cover. As we move towards open plan environments, employees feel increasingly observed and under suspicion. Managers often think of the open plan environment as an ideal management tool for ‘time and motion’ studies. But should the facilities manager be an accomplice in this? Recent research on daydreaming at work certainly makes us think twice. When it comes to designing activity-based working (ABW) environments, the secluded quiet space shouldn’t just be designed for ‘intense’ solitary working. Perhaps we should be accommodating the activity of daydreaming: an environment that allows us to watch the clouds go by?



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