Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian’

Hot Desk

Posted by Admin on April 24, 2021

Last week, Idiomation took on the hot seat and this week Idiomation has decided to research hot desk and hot desking. It is also occasionally referred to as LIW or location independent working. Hot desking, however, is not to be confused with hoteling which are bookable workstations or desks for staff who need to reserve a workstation or desk when they are actually at work and on the premises.

Hot desking is when desks are used in a work situation where different people use the same desks at different times, and where there is usually no assigned desks. Think of it as a first-come-first-serve concept except for offices.

The practice is meant to maximize space efficiency and reduce what is known as redundant office space. Unfortunately, it also increases distractions, uncooperative behavior, and negative interactions.

If Idiomation took a run at guessing why that might be, the territorial nature of people in general is at the top of the list. But this is a blog devoted to the meaning and history of expressions, idioms, phrases, words, et al, and not a blog dedicated to human psychology so we will stick to what we know and do best.

On 18 April 2021, CNN Business reported that HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) was getting rid of their executive floor at their headquarters in London in favor of having their executives hot desk in open-plan areas two floors below what used to be their executive floor. The expression was included in the headline.

HSBC’s CEO Is Swapping His Office For A Hot Desk

It’s interesting that a large corporation would opt for that style of work at the office when on 14 May 2008, CBS News referred to hot desking as a ‘short-lived ’80s efficiency fad’ in their news story, “Is Hot Desking A Cool Idea — Or A Catastrophe?

Hot desking was allegedly the brain child of advertising executive Jay Chiat (25 October 1931 – 23 April 2002) of Chiat/Day who believed that private space trumped personal space, and that private space could be accessible anywhere at any time, and there was no need for personal space when private space was always available. He instituted the concept in his offices in 1994, on a day staffers called V-Day.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Bernard De Koven claims to have coined the word coworking in 1999. According to De Koven the word refers to people working together as equals in an office or business environment, and was supposedly inspired by the kind of hot desk workspace Jay Chiat put in place for his business.

On that day, instead of desks and cubbyholes, workers were assigned small lockers to hold their personal possessions, and then headed to the concierge window where they signed out a PowerBook and a cellphone that was to be returned at the end of their work day.

The problems weren’t far behind. The lockers were too small to hold more than a few small items, and employees began to lug around their PowerBooks and cellphones as well as important papers and contracts and story boards and more.

The business “bread lines” started as there were too many employees at certain times to allow for a PowerBook and cellphone per employee during certain hours of the day. Of course, there were the coveted places to sit at the office when an employee was on the premises, which led to employee conflicts and resentments. And at the end of the day, not as much work got done as got done when the office was set up the traditional way with private and personal space for all.

Some even compared to this way of going about their workday as working inside a migraine.

The New York Times reported on this in their 16 October 1994 edition with an article written by American architect critic, Herbert Muschamp (28 November 1947 – 2 October 2007) entitled, “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Ad World.” The subheadline referred to the hot desking offices of Chiat/Day as a ‘new dream factory‘ that was ‘an advertisement for itself.’

By mid-1995, it was understood at Chiat/Day that this concept wasn’t viable at either the LA or the New York offices, and by 1999, the man in charge was president and chief creative director Lee Clow, and hot desking wasn’t a thing at Chiat/Day anymore.

But there are a few years between the 1980s mentioned by CBS News and Chiat/Day’s experiment in 1994.

The article by financial reporter Shane Hickey in the 15 October 2015 edition of The Guardian titled, “The History of the Office: Why Open-Plan Fell Out of Fashion” mentioned hot-desking arriving on the business scene in the 1980s with no source mentioned to support that claim. In fact, a number of article in the 2010s made similar claims with no corroborating proof to back them up.

History indicates that open-plan office designs were the big thing in the 1960s. Personal space was sacred with invisible territories and boundaries marking what was public and what wasn’t quite as public. Everything at a person’s desk — their private personal space — was set up just as the person liked it, and when they arrived at work every morning, everything was expected to be as it was when they left the night before.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The open-plan office design was the big thing in the 1960s but the idea originated with Frank Lloyd Wright when he designed the Larkin Administration office in Buffalo (NY) in 1906. It even came with built-in office furniture! In 1939, the Frank Lloyd Wright design for the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine (WI) opened with the ‘great workroom’ where secretaries worked. The building is still the world headquarters for the company which is now names SC Johnson & Son.

But an open-plan office design isn’t the same thing as a hot desk office environment.

Three years before Jay Chiat’s experiment at Chiat/Day began, Sunday Times reporter Godfrey Golzen (2 February 1930 – 1 August 2001) wrote about the concept in his 5 May 1991 article, “Cut The Office In Half Without Tears.” In this article, hot desking is mentioned so we know that in 1991, hot desking was happening in some business offices.

It should be noted that Derek Harris wrote about hot desking in his article for The Times a year later in an article titled, “Turning Office Desks Into Hot Property.”

In October of 1989, the firm of Ernst & Whinny merged with the firm of Arthur Young to become Ernst & Young. It was reported at the time that they consolidated their respective operations by abandoning three separate Chicago locations and taking up seven floors of the Sears Tower, and revolutionizing their new workplace with hot desking. The new firm was able to decrease its space usage from 250 feet person to 100 feet per person thanks to this new concept where workers were renamed ‘visiting employees.’

On site, ‘visiting employees‘ could use whichever desk or workstation was available instead of having a permanent desk or workstation assigned to them. If they absolutely needed the use of a more permanent office space for a meeting, they could call ahead and reserve the space and time for that meeting.

The term and practice is similar in some regards to the naval practice of hot racking that has been around since the 16th century. Hot racking had low ranking crew members sharing bunks and beds in rotating shifts as a way to maximize space in ships at sea. Hot racking is also known as hot bunking and hot bedding, mostly because as one person vacates the bed, they leave the bed warm for the next person occupying that same bed.

However, that definition doesn’t seem to quite fit with hot desking other than the concept is meant to maximize and reduce space for business ventures. To that end, the connection may be an unintentional red herring.

The earliest reference to hot desking by name is in the 1991 news article with a number of descriptions that fit the definition of hot desking in articles from the latter part of the 1980s.

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Black Maria

Posted by Admin on January 8, 2014

In some circles, Black Maria is a form of whist in which players avoid winning tricks containing hearts or the queen of spades, but in other circles, Black Maria is a police van used for transporting prisoners. Black Maria is also referred to as Mother’s Heart because no matter how many are already in the van, there’s always room for one more.

On July 10, 1931, the Canberra Times carried a brief description of how the Black Maria came to be. The paragraph at the bottom of page 3 read:

The expression “Black Maria” with application to a prison van originated in America over 60 years ago. A big negro woman called Maria Lee kept a seaman’s “lodging-house” in Boston. the men were usually unruly and Maria was often called upon to help to get them under lock.

Travelling back twenty years, the Lodi Sentinel edition of October 22, 1912 attributed Black Maria to an African-American woman living in Boston, MA during Colonial times. Allegedly, it all began when Maria brought three drunken sailors to the lockup all at the same time because they were too much trouble to keep in her boarding-house. And the story goes that she became of greater and greater help to the police, especially when sailors in the area got so out of hand that even the police couldn’t subdue them. The article states this:

Few people know of Black Maria Lee as the boarding-house keeper of Colonial days, but she handed her name down as a menace to the vicious of future generations, in the modern jail wagon. To “send for the black maria” is as much of a threat now as it was in Maria Lee’s times.

A decade before that on January 31, 1902 the Amador Ledger carried the story about Black Maria. Also a brief story, it read thusly:

The following is given as the origin of the term “Black Maria.” When New England was filled with emigrants from the mother country, a negress named Maria Lee kept a sailors’ boarding house in Boston. She was a woman of great strength and helped the authorities to keep the peace. Frequently the police invoked her aid, and the saying, “Send for Black Maria,” came to mean, “Take him to jail.” British seamen were often taken to the lockup by this amazon, and the stories they spread of her achievements led to the name of Black Maria being given to the English prison van.

But that explanation disappears completely and is actually dispelled in the monthly magazine, The Guardian” in the February 1859 edition. The magazine was devoted to “the social, literary, and religious interests of young men and ladies.” when the editor, Reverend H. Harbaugh, wrote:

What do we mean by Black Maria? That is a proper question, and it shall be answered. It is not a colored woman, as the reader perhaps hastily supposed, that is to form the subject of our present article.

Not to prolong suspense we will at once proceed to define. Black Maria is the name given to a certain strangely constructed vehicle, used in some of our larger town and cities to convey prisoners from the prison to the court house and back again.

The editor’s research indicated that Mary (or Maria) in Hebrew meant bitterness, and then offered his opinion that “he who rides in [the police wagon] was made in the image of God, and designed for a better end.” By choosing the ways of crime, the accused, riding in disgrace through the streets courtesy of the Black Maria, was surely bitter about his disgrace of riding in the Black Maria.  The wagon, of course, was painted black hence the color reference.

According to the St. Louis Police Veteran’s Association website run by the City of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in Missouri, the City of Saint Louis Police Department purchased its first Black Maria in 1850 because it was too difficult for patrolmen to walk their suspects back and forth to jail.  It was a horse-drawn carriage, also painted black, with the carriage acting as a secure prison cell complete with iron bars on the windows and doors. Years later, on April 9, 1866, another Black Maria was purchased, and the idiom is used in the minutes of the board meeting of the St. Louis Board Of Police Commissioners.

In “The Knickerbocker” also known as the “New-York Monthly Magazine” in Volume 17 which was published in June of 1841, the magazine included a story entitled, “The American At Home: A Ride In An Omnibus.”  The story included this passage:

One of them I knew; and a better patriot, when he is not drunk, is not to be found in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At the east wing was standing, pensive and melancholy, the Automedon of ‘Black Maria,’ the equipage used in carrying criminals to court and thence to their prisons, melancholy, no doubt, in apprehension of being turned out of office. These are fearful times! This public functionary is in the thief-taking line, and doubtless, availing himself of his official influence, has been meddling in politics, thereby subjecting himself to the displeasure of government. His black wagon stands just underneath the Philosophical Society, a conspicuous figure in the group; bearing about the same relation to the other equipages as the hangman to the rest of the community.

It’s a fact that magistrates Sir John Gonson, Sir Thomas De Veil, and, Henry and John Fielding were responsible for creating the first professional police and justice system in England in 1720. This resulted in a number of horse and foot patrols, at night and during the day, and this police presence deterred most criminals for committing crimes. Fifty years later, the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 was responsible for the creation of seven police offices, and each office had three stipendiary magistrates plus six constables responsible for detecting and arresting criminals. Then in 1800, the Thames Police Office at Wapping opened with three stipendiary magistrates and one hundred constables.

With the passage of Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act in 1829, the concept of policing was firmly entrenched in England. When the second Metropolitan Police Act was passed in 1839, constables were no longer employed by the magistrates, and became a police organization instead. Somewhere between 1839 and 1841, police wagons came into use to aid officers on foot and horse patrol.

Idiomation therefore places believes it is reasonable to peg the idiom Black Maria to 1840, between the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 and the publication of the story on published in June of 1841 in the Knickerbocker magazine.

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