David Chipperfield and The Culture of Deregulation
This September the RIBA had their opening event for their Europa Launch. It is a series of lectures given by young European architecture practices and the aim is to demonstrate that Brexit is not the end of a fruitful collaboration between the UK and mainland Europe. The inaugural event was a conversation between the prominent UK architect David Chipperfield and Marcus Fairs, editor and founder of the world renown architectural blog Dezeen.
Chipperfield has made his personal views on Brexit clear several times and this event was no exception, however this text seeks to highlight a different topic which surfaced during the talk. As the head of an international office, including offices in Berlin, Chipperfield reflected upon the Anglo-Saxon culture of deregulation in comparison to the highly regulated German work environment.
Deregulation is supposed to be 'good for business' and in the UK the general notion is that it is working. Over the past few decades London has established itself as the financial capital in Europe. How come Germany is far superior in other sectors such as manufacturing industries and the development of advanced technology then? Chipperfield presented this as a paradox.
The British system of deregulation is based on easily quantifiable variables, such as working hours and other quantifiable output including revisions, meetings and reports. Further, the current culture of 'hire and fire' enables companies to expand and contract easily according to demand and required expertise. Also, with Europe still in crisis, UK companies can pick and choose amongst the brightest talent in all of Europe. The extreme competitiveness results in long work hours, unpaid overtime and of course if an employee can not put up with it, they can easily be replaced with an equally or better qualified person. All this is surely good for business, right? However, this policy does not give much regard to non-quantifiable variables such as personal development and ownership.
It seems ownership is one of the keys to the German success. It is hard to develop ownership to a business if one is reduced to a replaceable cog in a hierarchical structure. As such, in the extreme competitiveness found in the UK, working long hours and a potentially time-consuming commute on top of that might not be enough. On the contrary, in Germany the worker finds himself in a much more secure environment. The fear of loosing ones job and the constant pressure to overachieve is far less prominent, not to mention the health implications caused by stress and fatigue. As a result the employees can focus their energy on the job itself. In such an environment it is easier to find a sustainable rhythm, which in in turn further enhances work performance, quality of the output and general happiness.
It is obvious that quantitative commodities such as hours, number of revisions, meetings and reports are easier to monitor than qualitative commodities. That is also why a large number of corporations find it easier to push numbers over other less tangible variables such as quality of output and general workplace well-being. However, happy workers will provide a business with stability and ensure continuity. This is desirable for any business because having a high staff turnover and high numbers of sick leave is very expensive. Retraining new staff and project handovers is disruptive to any business, especially if these come thick and fast.
Quality Over Quantity
Hopefully, countries such as Germany can be an example in proving that it is fundamental to take care of workers and to provide them with the opportunity to flourish, take responsibility and develop ownership to what they are doing. The sum of all this will eventually result higher quality output and ensure continuity. That should appeal to any corporation, also in the UK.