The routines and rituals that happen in a place can come to create an ‘insideness’ or a feeling of belonging. It is through participation in these rituals or routines that we get to know a place and feel a part of it - it is by being in a space that we know how to occupy it. My research at two case study organisations has shown that those who spend significant periods of time in the office have a greater sense of 'insideness'.
Our understanding of activity-based working environments, has until now, come with a clear set of assumptions about the behaviours that are expected and accepted. The greater level of 'insideness' felt by the few people who attended the office frequently meant they had ascribed themselves special privileges to shape the rules of the space. One of the most significant deviations from the intended practice was the informal allocation of desks. For some people, the ability to choose a work setting resulted in them actively choosing not to move, a notion which I was told by one user is, “…because you've got choice, so if you've got choice, I mean, that's what you do, you sit in the same place”.
The level of departure from the intention for non-allocated workspaces was laid bare for me when interviewees told me that they’d had someone ‘take my spot’. Somehow the intention of the space was clear, and yet, the behaviour of appropriating space was also accepted. There was a widely recognised norm that desks are not allocated to individuals, and yet, as one user explained, at the same time people found “that their day’s got off to a bad start because, you know, their regular spot has been taken”. These two opposing truths exist simultaneously in the space, the root cause of which is that there are insufficient people in the office to require greater mobility from people. There is no challenge to this resettling of behaviour. Those who choose to attend the office regularly have conferred upon themselves the privilege of determining what is acceptable.
The loyalty scheme was not just about the re-shaping of rules. Those who were physically in the workplace had a heightened sense of community or ‘insideness’ which those who are ‘just visiting’ do not feel. One interviewee explained that the fact that so few people attended the office meant that everyone had got to know each other well and had become friendly. This sense of insideness extended to socialising outside of work, something that they felt “wouldn’t happen in another work environment”. The open nature of the office was exacerbated by the lack of presence – it is easier to become friendly with a smaller group.
Another notable example of the informal loyalty scheme at play was the appropriation of space by a group of administrators who, one interviewee was informed, claimed a spot “because we’re here every day”. Almost everyone I spoke to recognised that this was incongruent with the philosophy of the space, but the fact that it had gone unchallenged meant it had become accepted as an exception to the norm. Those in the space have effectively helped to reshape the strategic narrative of the space.
Insideness is a term I have borrowed – see Seamon, D. (1979) A geography of the lifeworld. London.