The Elemental Workplace: A Solid Step-by-step, All-inclusive Guide to Creating Fantastic Workplaces

Several months ago, I stumbled on a blog post published by Neil Usher called The Friday Club. I clearly remember that it was exactly what I needed back on that day. A decent work-related article that was not too serious for a change! Caught in a black hole of endless information on the Great Resignation and the new post-pandemic hybrid workplaces, The Friday Club made me giggle at every sentence and recall some of those past traditional office days with nostalgia. It was also what inspired my article on the four types of co-workers you’ve secretly missed while working remotely, if I want to be honest.

But it was not only an article it inspired; it was a whole new idea. Well, everyone who knows me knows what a bookworm I am. So, I thought, why not bring together my two loves of writing and reading and use my passion for healthy work environments as a reference point to create a digital corner for work-related book reviews? Needless to say, Neil Usher’s Elemental Workplace had to be on the top of my to-read list as he was the unintentional inspiration behind all this.

Then, of course, life happened, as it always does. And this project was left as a yellow-highlighted sentence in the brainstorming section of my notebook. However, it was far from forgotten, which was exactly why I knew I had to do it. And so I did. Never too late to start something new, right? Do what you preach, sister!

Back to our first book review, then. The elemental workplace is not a book to read; it’s a book to study. It will get you back to those good old university days when you had to come up with practical ways to maintain a strong focus and not miss that one super essential sentence that will make the whole chapter make sense and your brain able to absorb knowledge on a deeper level. But with a bonus, if I may add, which is nothing else than the author’s sharp humour and apt sarcasm, given in proper doses every now and then.

It (the book) has had the corporate bullshit and buzzwords surgically removed. It is not a ‘business book’

Neil Usher, The Elemental Workplace

Neil Usher made no effort to write in an appealing simplified way, and he is pretty self-conscious about that choice. There was no intention from his side to offer some easily-digestible content. While there is an undeniable structure in the book (there is a specific number of elements presented after all), the reader will soon notice that each topic is unfolding in a more free-style way of writing, often resembling an essay-like recording of a sequence of brainstorming thoughts.

However, I was only a few chapters in when I had the epiphany of “oh, I can see what you are doing here!”. Once I got his writing style, I knew exactly how to make the most of it. I got a notebook, a highlighter, and a pen—the good old-fashioned way that never fails.

I deconstructed all the information. I went back and forth when necessary. I made lists and used arrows. I kept notes within parentheses. Do you know what I had by the end of the book? I had a solid step-by-step, all-inclusive guide to creating a fantastic workplace. One that is remarkably flexible and can accommodate the needs of all types of companies.

Neil Usher is not leaving a stone unturned. He investigates the potential of creating an ideal work environment from all possible perspectives. He genuinely believes a fantastic workplace can exist. All necessary tools are provided. You keep what you need, disregard what you already have, and often come back to check what boxes are still checked and which ones need to be re-evaluated. As often mentioned in the book, a fantastic workplace is a never-ending process, so don’t get too comfortable.

Workspace itself is a journey, not a product. As Robert Propst said in his work The Office: A Facility Based on Change: “We must be allowed to change our minds. We must be allowed to respond to errors as they emerge.” We are not attempting to create a perfection that we can stand back and admire. To refer to Parkinson’s Law once again, “Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death.”

Neil Usher, The Elemental Workplace

Essentially, what makes Elemental Workplace an excellent source of information is how the writer decided to write this book. It was not an easy read. There were paragraphs I had to read twice. There were pages I had to come back to. The readers have to do the work to get the whole picture and get the best of it. But let me tell you something: if you care to create a healthy, positive and sustainable working environment, you need to go that extra mile. This book is worth the effort.

The investment is not in the asset, but in the people using the asset.

Neil Usher, The elemental Workplace

p.s. You can find my Goodreads account here.

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