Office Ecology

As an adult of mild autistic persuasion, I feel I’m positioned to both experience and articulate my experiences in work roles and the workplace. Naturally, I also have opinions.

Ideally, wherever adults congregate to create something as part of a mutual endeavor, there will be a relatively equal measure of contribution and eliciting the contributions of others. Therein, you have the best solutions to choose from, more than one mind might manage to produce in the same span of time.

It might be argued, as we are of the natural world, that bio-diverse polycultures have an edge over monocultures when it comes to survival. Various plant species sport different chemical resistances to pests and disease, and display varied aptitudes in sensing and making the most of the environment. In combination this can serve to limit the spread of unwelcome influences.

Also present in nature are matriarchal and patriarchal social systems of order, for example in primate social groups. We see many examples of individual organisms thriving in a predator or parasitical relationships with their target species as with the large cats or the tiniest Cordyceps fungi.

My opinion of office environments, from my particular neurological perspective, is that they are functionally a harbor ecosystem teeming with potential action and interactions, populated by tribes of islanders with all the aforementioned qualities.

The office ecosystem itself at best creates inputs to stabilize the continued functioning of the system including location, security, and income, whilst managing external inputs like threat of disaster and competition. Those seep through mediated channels enough to keep the system from becoming static, fostering evolution of the system’s processes.

Enter the human element.

From my perspective I recognize that you can bring the human in from the wild, but that you cannot take the wild out of the human. Without preexisting social or tribal bonds, at best a working team is a hairy (or hairless as the case may be) collection of individuals.

Ritual and working procedures are often codified in a document known as the Employee Handbook.

This particular collection of tribal rules necessarily is designed to both cut across cultural and biological individualism, organize the playing field, impose or encourage a working hierarchy, and protect the business from the consequences of codifying procedure at all.

Now a quality I envy is the ability to influence with unspoken communications. This is a fantastic skill to have, and in most people it is arguably inborn or certainly learned by proxy from an early age. It is a skill that can coax a reluctant lover to bed, compel men to leave home and hearth to war, or win a place of privilege. It’s also useful for skirting or subverting the Employee Handbook whilst minimizing the risks of being caught out.

Alas within office ecosystems we have an imposed hierarchy, which can frustrate individuals of varied persuasion and ambition. In that scenario I begin to see attempts at consolidating influence, position oneself closer to power (seeking power by association) and establishing the modern equivalent of fiefdoms in the workplace with the overt or tacit support of the ‘monarch’ or office management who themselves might see benefit in the misdirection such politics provide.

I wonder at the varied proportions of work activity to political activity, and if it is in our evolutionary history somewhere to curry favor, or seek power by proxy.

Perhaps it is a form of modern de-evolution, or entropy playing out as a natural force in our workplace, unmediated by a higher form of human ambition, that is, the survival of our species.

What I am sure of is that a ratio of work action to political action exceeding say, thirty percent at most, unless honorably managed, confuses collective focus enough to destabilize forward economical progress, and discourages clever problem-solving.

Inevitably the system crashes eventually as drag mounts on a once-agile entrepreneurial environment.

What is your office ecosystem’s characteristics, and how do you rate its odds for survival?