If ever there was a sector where “Scotland” and “world-leading” applies, it is this one. The north-east is on the cusp of another exciting chapter with the welcome addition of renewables to the energy mix, and with more and more global, national, and local businesses seeking to capitalise on this opportunity.
In Scotland, the skills and expertise already exist within the energy sector to tackle these new challenges. We have people entering the sector with different aspirations and world-views, and who see a career in the renewables sector as being more aligned with their values. And if you’ll excuse the parochialism, we have the raw materials (plentiful wind and wave / tidal power) on our doorstep here in the North of Scotland. All that might be missing, based on the story to date with wind turbines, is increased fabrication opportunities (not capabilities) to serve this sector. That’s for another day and another author, however.
What does this have to do with my own area of interest, workplace design? The ability to transition from a solely carbon-based energy viewpoint to one that will increasingly also include greener energy sources is underpinned by flexibility. Twenty-five years ago, when I set up Space Solutions in Aberdeen to serve what I saw was a gap in the local market, many organisations were seen as being hierarchical and static, and this was often reinforced by the very traditional design of their workplaces. The dual-aspect corner office was almost the first space marked on the plan and automatically earmarked for the Chief Executive. “Big is beautiful” was part of the design lexicon alongside chrome and mahogany.
From speaking to our consultancy and design team before the pandemic, there was a feeling of the same old story when trying to push the boundaries with some clients when it came to workplace design. Heads nodded in agreement on the client side of the table when we introduced the potential benefits of new ways of working: moving from a culture of “command and control” to one of “support and trust” (with all the policy, technology, and physical mechanism to help with this transition). But when it came to implementation of said ideas, there was a real sense of decision-makers not being confident that their organisation was mature enough to take such a significant step.
There were outliers, of course; those who knew about Lean and 6-Sigma and understood that it was not just a process methodology but a philosophy that could also manifest itself in the way workplaces were designed. Spaces to support spontaneous interaction and multi-disciplinary problem-solving became more and more critical in these new workplaces. Technology helped – it typically does, when used properly – to support creativity.
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and the challenges thrown up by the pandemic certainly couldn’t have been avoided. Our workplace team have noticed a seismic shift in the attitudes of some clients. The types of workplaces we had been discussing with them now seemed not 5 or 10 years down the line, but within immediate reach (and definitely within the scope of the next office move or refurbishment).
It was, in a sense, a reinforcing of our central message about the importance of a well-designed workplace. For a business like Space Solutions, the past few years have been some of the most interesting times since we began back in 1997. Our consultants and designers have welcomed and responded to the challenges; personally, I am really excited about the next 5 years. For us, change is a good thing. Change means new ideas and new opportunities.
The mindsets that will allow any business to capitalise on new and existing opportunities within the energy sector are built on flexibility; at an organisational level (being able to quickly re-allocate resources) and at an individual level (learning new skills and applying old skills to solve emerging problems). Those businesses who are open to new ideas will be the ones to thrive.
Where will the renewables and wider energy sector be in 25 years’ time? It’s a difficult question to answer. We really need to go back 25 years from the present day and understand the degree of change, rather than looking forward from today’s perspective. The future might look familiar, but undoubtedly there will be plenty that we cannot foresee.
By the time Space Solutions celebrates its 50th birthday, I sincerely hope we’ll still be challenging our clients, still designing engaging and flexible workplaces, and still supporting Scottish industry as they tackle global challenges.