The Workplace is Dead. Long Live the Workplace!

Happily, we are now in a world of cheap computing power and real-time access to information and expertise.  This has enabled small, entrepreneurial teams to reinvent entire industries with little more than their wits. The ability to innovate like this should make knowledge workers the most important, value-creating asset of any company.  Except for one thing, workers are not an asset. They are people.

Innovation starts and ends with the people who have the talent, aspirations, capacity for unreserved effort and willingness to risk failure.  Therefore, supporting these workers and teams is critical for achieving long term competitive advantage.  Yet, in the competition to attract and retain the most talented workers, companies are still offering obsolete workplaces with draconian command and control policies or they are busy creating new open seating plans in the misguided belief that rearranging the same uninspired workers into the latest collaborative formats will spur innovation.

It’s not surprising that traditional corporate workplaces, which often have office utilization rates below 50%, have difficulty responding effectively to demand for a better way to work.  According to primary research sponsored by Serendipity Labs last year, workers feel they lack the mobility, wellness and work-life balance they need. The highest level unmet needs workers describe are for inspiration, autonomy, creative focus, and self actualization.  Indeed, delivering an inspirational experience is a very tall order for facilities managers to fill.  But by satisfying these higher level needs, the most talented workers and teams say they can excel at innovation, creativity and stretching to reach their potential.  Now that is a common goal among companies and their workforces!

In my recent talk at the Worktech13 conference in New York, I focused on the consumerization of the workplace and how commercial workplace offerings are proliferating in response to worker demand for more inspirational experiences.   In the past 5 years, hotel chains have invested over $6 billion dollars to create workplace experiences in their hotels; from new collaboration-friendly lobbies to high performance meeting venues designed to serve project teams.   The multi-billion dollar workplace-as-a-service (WaaS) industry, including business centers, coworking and other hybrids, is also creating new workplace offerings every day that compete to satisfy workers’ desire for autonomy and inspiration.

For companies seeking to win hearts and minds of the most talented workers, it’s already too late for half measures, incrementalism, and watered down workplace pilot programs.  The time has passed for cheery memos from CEO‘s explaining how working from home (and personally shouldering the company’s real estate burden) will  provide worklife balance or how commuting every single day to the good old HQ to stay up to date on the latest office hub-bub will drive innovation.  The consumerized workplace is replacing the old ways of work as workers choose where when and how they get things done, every day.  The old workplace is dead.  Long live the inspirational workplace.