Friday, 11 January 2013

My Path to Workplace Consulting

Workplace Consulting is a relatively new and specialist profession. Based on the description provided by the Workplace Consulting Organisation (WCO), it appears to be:
“using a range of techniques, including engagement with the business and end user, to gather data that will determine an organisation’s requirements for their current or future working environments”.
There is no formal training in Workplace Consulting, no Masters courses nor accreditation. Even determining the basic criteria for who qualifies to call themselves a Workplace Consultant proved difficult for the Workplace Consulting Organisation, see their website for more details. I am therefore fascinated by how people came to work in Workplace Consulting. I know fellow consultants who have entered the profession via architecture, design, HR, FM and IT. Below is the story of my journey into the Wonderful World of Workplace Consulting.

It all started way back at school. I was all set to do A Levels in physics, chemistry, maths and applied maths - I was a serial scientist. But then I went to a careers fair where I learned about the field of Physiological Measurement. They offered two years training and a college qualification but more importantly they paid people to do the course. I applied immediately and was accepted onto the programme.
I spent the next two years working in and around Birmingham hospitals in various “ology”departments - audiology, cardiology, radiology and electro-encephalography etc I successfully completed the course and this gave me the opportunity to move to London and work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the Neurology department. Most of the work involved monitoring brain activity in patients undergoing deep invasive surgery such as amputations and open heart surgery. One of my fondest memories is seeing a human heart exposed and beating – it is quite a magical site. But I also started working with a whacky Californian psychologist. I monitored the brain activity and heart rate of people undergoing psychotherapy. My interest in psychology grew and motivated me to study psychology at Keele University back in the midlands. My main interest at university was in what was then called "man-machine interaction".
Well I got my degree then moved back down south to the Building Research Establishment in Watford. There I worked for the Human Factors section researching the impact of environmental conditions (temperature, noise, space etc), on satisfaction, comfort and performance. Research involving observing people in their home and office is quite voyeuristic. I spent 11 years at the BRE and managed to find time to gain my Masters and Doctorate degree. Happy times but I felt I couldn't spend my whole life researching and theorising - I needed to go out into the real world and apply what I had learned.
Fortunately I was offered a consulting post at Johnson Controls. Initially the role was to critically evaluate buildings and their impact on occupant satisfaction and performance. But this soon turned into working with designers and applying my knowledge to create new cost-effective and productive workplaces in places such as the Shetland Isles, Algeria and Singapore. Without realising it, I had become a Workplace Consultant.
I then worked with an architectural practice (SHCA) advising many international companies throughout Europe and Africa. I spent much of my time working in Nigeria planning offices, a hotel, housing and an airport – that was until I was evacuated by helicopter due to a violent demonstration. I then worked with a niche workplace consulting practice (AMA). We mostly worked with public sector bodies such as the British Council who I advised in Dubai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Eventually I joined the world’s largest workplace consulting practice – DEGW. Over a 15 year period I honed my skills and knowledge, evantually becoming internationally recognised in the field of Workplace Consulting.
I was so proud of my new profession that I co-founded the Workplace Consulting Organisation - a professional body for us specialist consultants. I have also now set up my own consulting practice Workplace Unlimited.
So I spent just over half my career in training and research and the remainder in workplace consulting. It’s been a long journey, and I’m still learning, but a worthwhile one. Contact me to learn more about a career in the Wonderful World of Workplace Consulting or contact the WCO directly. Also please comment on how you got into Workplace Consulting and why.
This blog is based on my CC1 presentation to Toastmasters.

1 comment:

  1. Nigel, I was made redundant at Severn Trent as a quality facilitator(problem solving, business planning and coaching and training business improvement techniques) but was lucky to be offered the chance to be a Quality Assurance manager on a building project. The role soon morphed into me becoming the driver of the business requriements gathering and delivering new ways of working to 150 engineers in Warwick. From that point I became and internal 'workplace consultant' in Severn Trent and have taken the role forward within the business over the last 8 years!