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October 6, 2021

Workspaces of, by, and for the People

What makes a space "of, by, and for the people"--i.e., your employees? Here are what two “Saltminers” discussed in a recent conversation.

As workspaces continue to evolve into more people-first iterations, RE and HR teams everywhere are hyper-focusing on how they can accommodate employee preferences, differing workstyles, as well as how their employees actually connect with their workspaces. It’s no longer enough to have just “space”--workspaces shouldn't just only enable good work, they now have to foster better work experiences.

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From a labor market that favors the laborer to the fallacy of "if you build it they will come"--this week, two of Saltmine's own share thoughts on changing workplace/CRE trends and how space innovators are reframing the idea of task-based work, as experience-based work. 

Ryan Tidwell: Phillip, thanks for joining me today.

Phillip Youakim: No problem, Ryan--thanks for having me. 

RT: For some context, tell us about yourself. Let’s hear about your role here at Saltmine and your background in the CRE space. 

PY: I’m a customer success manager here at Saltmine but by my education and trade, I’m an architect and designer. I spent many years designing hospitality, which eventually evolved into a lot of commercial workspaces in both Europe and the United States. I spent some time at WeWork and saw the evolution of that company both in terms of its effects on the larger workplace industry, as well as more specifically on developing enterprise workplaces for companies.

RT: It sounds like this whole conversation regarding the future of work--and the future of the workplace--is something that's really close to you.

PY: Yes, I’ve had a front row seat in terms of changing trends and where it's going--and I think the effects of the past year and a half have on it are going to be pretty significant. 

In just under two years, space planning and the CRE industry finds itself in a rapidly evolving whirlwind.

"...offices need to be more purposeful--that's going to be the main reason people decide to go back to an office."

RT: With having this perspective--and feel free to share your opinion as well--where do you think the “office” is going? 

PY: In terms of “where it’s going,” it's not going anywhere. I look at it more as how it’s evolving. For example, I’ve never really liked the phrase “return to work,” because people have been working this whole time. 

We’ve seen homes transform into workspaces, which people eventually became accustomed to--we adapt really quickly to spaces when they’re comfortable. So, if we now expect people to leave the comfort of their own homes, how can we make offices feel more comfortable, like a home? 

I believe office space is going to look more comfortable--it has to. I think offices are going to be almost residentially inspired and people are going to feel a sense of ownership and pride over their spaces. That’s at least where I think we're headed. 

phil snippet_field of dreams

RT: Interesting, a couple months ago I read that Dropbox has completely rebranded their offices as “studios” to adapt to a more hybrid workforce. Do you think this trend is going to stick? 

PY: Yes, definitely. I see the office becoming more like a “social club.” Dropbox made a great choice because offices need to be more purposeful--that's going to be the main reason people decide to go back to an office. And that’s only accomplished when space is intentionally designed to improve at-work experiences--it’s a movement towards creating a more meaningful workplace. 

Furthermore, I think it's going to play very significantly into gathering talent and retaining talent--the labor market at-large is fierce. 

Many progressive companies give more amenities to their employees--food, drinks, events, gyms, etc.--to attract and retain talent. For example, Facebook has everything from valet parking to barbershops--they even have their own medical centers and dentists for their employees. It’s a total hyper-focus on enhancing the employee experience. 

That’s what companies are up against as it pertains to attracting and retaining talent. Spaces not only need to be flexible but dynamic--we really have to build purpose into the space in general to get people back to the office.

"The purpose of a space is for connection. For humans to interact with humans... a space built for human connection fosters an environment of trust and gives employees a sense of pride and ownership with not only their space but their work--their role, their team."

RT: Any assumptions on what industries will follow this trend? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume that this “social club”-type workspace won’t work for everyone. Will there be any industries who will hold onto the more traditional office setting? 

PY: Personally, I think it's going to affect every industry. I mean, even courtrooms went virtual over the past year or so--no one is safe. 

Obviously, there are certain roles that can only be done in-person, and while we'll see that these types of specific roles stay physically present, it will still affect other parts of all those companies. 

For all of these other roles, that don’t necessarily need a space in order to function, we should all agree--we don’t technically need spaces to meet. After all, Zoom can do that. 

The purpose of a space is for connection. For humans to interact with humans. And that looks different for every company. For some, space may be predominately intended for fostering camaraderie and creativity--for others, it may be how they innovate and strategize. 

Whatever the case may be, a space built for human connection fosters an environment of trust and gives employees a sense of pride and ownership with not only their space but their work--their role, their team. And if you're competing for the best talent out there, you have to make sure that there's something drawing everyone to your spaces.

You’re familiar with the movie Field of Dreams, right? 

RT: Yes.

PY: Well, workplace strategies used to be, “if you build it they will come.”

That’s not the case anymore--it’s not enough to have just a structure for bodies to come into, because people won’t come to an office unless it’s for a specific task, such as collaboration. And I would further argue that that's not even enough. Once again, we have Zoom for collaboration and it has worked just fine for over a year. 

I think we need to reframe this idea of just task-based work, and evolve it to experience-based work. Why? Because we can do virtually everything--pun intended--from the comfort of our own home. Workers have saved thousands of hours and dollars on commutes, have shown they can be more productive with working remotely, and have been given so much needed autonomy over their own lives. Why take that away from the lifeblood of your company? 

You can’t force people to come to an office--if you do, I think you’ll miss out on a lot of talented people who simply want a healthy work/life balance. You can, however, provide them an office experience specifically designed for them. 

RT: It’s interesting you say that because just the other day I was writing about how flexible schedules used to be an occasional “perk.” Now, if you’re not flexible with your workforce, they’ll leave.

PY: Exactly, and also think of the context of pre-COVID work times--there was almost a stigma about working from home. Working from home was viewed as “lazy” and that you’re trying to cheat company policies. And thankfully, that mindset is so close to being a part of the past. We’re realizing that happy, autonomous, and accommodated employees are key for innovation, creativity, and higher productivity.

This is a job seekers market--it’s all about employees and allowing them to influence what work looks like.

"It's going to make people want to be at their office and people are going to be proud of their spaces... That’s what really excites me about the future of work and the workplace..."

RT: Finally, what are you personally most excited about when it comes to the changing workplace trends? 

PY: Good question. I think it's a lot of what we discussed--specifically in terms of better company cultures that reflect happy employees. 

I believe that a lot of us nowadays, really identify with our jobs, our companies--what we do and where we do it. And the physical space in terms of the office becomes a manifestation of the company’s culture. 

Think about the last time you walked into an office--were you content and happy to be there? Were you comfortable like you are in your home office with your dog? Or did you feel like you were there because you were told to--that a mere “office attendance policy” dictates not only how you work but where you work. 

The loyalty you get from employees when you treat them like the adults they are, and provide them flexibility, autonomy, and accommodate their workstyle preferences, is so valuable. I think it's going to be an exercise for most companies to assess what they want to be culturally--which if done properly, will create better spaces with the employee at the center.

It's going to make people want to be at their office and people are going to be proud of their spaces. People are going to want to see colleagues in-person and celebrate what they do and their company’s culture. That’s what really excites me about the future of work and the workplace, at-large.

RT: An actual manifestation of employee passion--a space “of, by, and for the people.”

PY: Exactly. 

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phil snippet_customer pain point

 

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