Most of us have likely watched the movie The Internship where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson become immersed in new technology when applying for roles with Google. From the initial online interview, to the Google campus where playgrounds with slides, free food and sleep pods are the norm; we find ourselves asking is this the future of the workplace? Should every corporate aspire to create a workplace similar to Google? Will this actually result in increased innovation, collaboration, community, and ultimately productivity?
The workplace is important as it represents the physical environment employees spend many hours of the day within. However, I find that workplace design is often confused with company culture; corporates believe that through redesigning their workplace, culture will automatically adjust to meet some desired result and improved performance will follow.
Having consulted for a large number of different organisations across different industries and geographical locations I’ve witnessed this trend in action as traditional office layouts are replaced with Activity Based Working (“ABW”). Companies see the various facts and figures that are presented to support this method of working and think they to will be able to reap the benefits simply by re-fitting the workplace with funky common areas and hot-desks.
People define the culture
A company’s success or failure depends on the people within the organisation. Attracting and retaining the best human capital should be at the top of any organisation’s agenda. Workspace design is a tool that can be harnessed to both attract these people and help drive the types of interactions these people need to succeed. However, everything starts from having the right people to achieve the company’s vision.
Its said “like attracts like” and in my opinion this is reflection of what ultimately drives culture within organisations. But instead of seeking to understand the drivers of the team members who comprise the organisation; HR teams write policies to dictate the organisation's culture. It often goes as far as holding multiple meetings with the Board of Directors, Senior Management and staff across the wider organisation; in pursuit of the answer to the question “Why do we exist?”
Culture is intangible – and the people who comprise an organisation ultimately define its culture. It is paramount that the leaders within an organisation are able to define what they are looking for in people and be positioned to both attract and retain those people (and take action where they don’t fit.) Writing policies is a fruitless task and this effort would be better directed to ensuring “the right people are in the right roles”.
Learnings can be taken with Netflix’s talent philosophy “The best thing you can do for employees—a perk better than foosball or free sushi—is hire only “A” players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else”. Having the right people within the organisation and promoting and harnessing that talent is the most important factor that will develop and define a productive culture.
Workplace and technology
After focusing on your people, workplace design becomes about creating the best environment for your teams to work together to create superior outcomes for your customers. As the saying goes, “ten minds are greater than one” but remember one size does not fit all; a company’s ultimate aim in designing their workspace is to create zones that enable and empower your employees to make them more productive.
The right technology must then be incorporated to enable connections between your employees, but the focus must be on creating truly seamless connections vs. simply installing the latest product available. The people who comprise your business are the ultimate drivers of success and the goal of workplace design and incorporation of technology must be to give them right environment and tools to create the best outcomes for your customers.
Workplace and technology act as enablers that will allow your people to take your company culture from good to excellent, but neither will ever replace a company’s most important resource – its people. Or putting it another way for those that are mathematically inclined:
Winning culture = Right people^(Workplace design + Technology)