Around the world, spaces lie empty: University and Organisational campuses, Head Offices, Industrial Parks and Innovation Spaces. Their populations have not disappeared, but rather dispersed: home working, connected by technology, remote, but not apart.
But not together in the same way either.
The move to remote is about more than just distance, and what we have left behind is more than just architecture.
There has always been a close association between space and power: individuals and organisations have used the separation of space, the sanctity of space, and the control of space, to act as a foundation of, and perpetuation of, power. Control the space and you can claim power.
This is captured in the very language that we use: when you join an Organisation you are ‘shown your space’, literally your desk, but also hence your position within the hierarchy. Intrinsic to this is your power: defined in your legal contract, but held in your ‘space’. Similarly, if someone is put down, they are ‘put in their place’, literally moved back to their defined space, and hence defined power.
If we claim a voice, if we claim power, then we claim space, and when we protest, we invade, or vandalise, space (and hence interfere with or erode power.
So we find ourselves in an evolved context: we have fled the office, and are connected in new spaces, but ones that are shorn of the contexts of legacy power. Literally anyone can find and hold an equal or greater position to anyone else, if their story is powerful, authentic, and carried forward by others around them.
Plenty of CEOs and other leaders use this to their advantage: they carry their reputation into a social platform and seek to use it to promulgate and perpetuate their story. But it’s not without risk: their formal power does not control this space, and indeed may pollute the very space they try to control.
There are two defining features of the Social Age: firstly, we are radically connected, and secondly the technology is democratised. Both of those things contribute to the erosion of formal power, and the ability of anyone, who earns it, to find power even though they hold no physical space.
To understand this is to hold the keys to the Social Age: to recognise that formal power and formal space (physically) can be given to us, but that social power, and authenticity, must be earned.
The spaces we have left behind, those empty corridors, those abandoned campuses, may end up as monuments to a bygone power, or a warning to those whose pride builds monuments, but fails to listen, fails to focus on community, and fails to change.