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People Need New Places to Work

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People Need New Places to Work

In my last post, I explained how workflow was changing. Why? It’s because success in business is increasingly an ecosystem...

6 Minutes Read

In my last post, I explained how workflow was changing. Why? It’s because success in business is increasingly an ecosystem play. New market niches like the connected home, the connected car, and the smart city are ecosystem plays and are much more than lofty concepts; rather, these entities and their value chains are developing into synchronized products and services set among a diverse range of players. These emerging opportunities that many of our clients and prospects are serious about winning, call on companies to assemble new workflows and work-teams; to blend skills, capabilities and innovative thinking inside, outside and across traditional organizational structures. Our report Space Matters gives you the insight track on how to do this but the upshot is people need new places to work.

 I am convinced this is why the tech titans like Apple and Google are spending a king’s ransom on developing amazing new campuses for the actual business of work. Their goal is to foster innovation and creativity among their people. Apple’s stunning circle of glass now taking shape in Cupertino is mind-blowing, while its underground theatre designed to bring people together will rival the Colosseum in Rome! Meanwhile Google’s plans for its London HQ which I cannot wait to see—the “land scraper” with 92,000 square meters complete with a running track installed on its roof—is designed to support the well-being of its most important assets, their people. These investments are changing the face of our cities and neighbourhoods where people come together to work and play. You can see it in London’s once infamous Kings Cross which changed beyond recognition; ditto Hudson’s Yard in New York. And Google’s plans for Toronto’s Waterfront intends to give Toronto a “smart city makeover” and provide a template for the modern metropolis (be careful Toronto; it looks a little sanitized to me). So, as they saying goes “if we are all software firms now” should we ape how they look and feel as well?

 You can be forgiven for feeling a little bit nervous as you look around where you work. Let’s face it, your real estate budget goes nowhere near the likes of Google or Apple, in fact, what these companies spend on caffeinating their workforce on one day probably doesn’t come close to your real estate budget for a whole year! But there are spatial principles these companies use that you can use to boost innovation and improve how work moves through your business. Remember, there is a new toolset for work in the modern era—data, analytics, algorithms, automation. If these tools are used to help people do what their good at—using visual cues, reading emotion, empathy, applying judgment, understanding ethics and social context—then we can dramatically enhance innovation from our teams and the level of inter-company collaboration that needs to happen. And yet many firms still organize work in analog ways and ask people to work in spaces designed for analog work that is quite frankly, dying out. It matters: It’s not only the organizational system that determines the way people behave and feel but also the structural environment they find themselves within and the cultural signals that it sends.

 When you think about it, the actual task of transforming an enterprise and retuning its culture takes years rather than months. The workspace has a huge role to play here. Think how your people can see an enhanced culture taking shape and its working methods evolve. The target is to get to a point where empowered teams habitually roll up their sleeves and lean into a problem or a challenge rather than pass it down the organization through hierarchies and choke points. But I think space must be seen in a broader context – as a living and breathing eco-system that unfolds around the world. Almost like a digital nervous system—this is why "organization" and "organism" share the same Latin root. The big trick is to see and use space as a big lever to drive corporate culture, people, and performance. The space for work, if properly conceived and instrumented, could be used to open up the creativity and innovation that this new age of platforms, data, and consortia demands. Start by conceptualizing the space for work in different ways—as virtual, productive, intelligent, and innovative but above all, as a mechanism to catalyze new workflows. Read Space Matters to get a head start.

 PS. I enjoy hearing how cities evolve and how step changes in technology shake up a city’s form and function. The ancient aqueducts that still transport water to ancient Rome powered its success; or the genius of Bazalgette’s sewage network in London (and I bet you didn’t know as you stroll along London’s Embankment you’re stronlling on top of one of Bazelgettes’ 18th century sewers). However, visiting Chicago some years ago and taking the excellent architectural river tour presses the point home about how step changes in technology can reveal a lag in form. Check it out: in 1871, fire tore through Chicago, devastating the centre of the city. Rising out of the destruction phoenix-like were the world’s first skyscrapers as engineers took advantage of the spanking new technology—reinforced concrete and mechanical lifts—to create buildings taller than had previously been seen built. When you look at photos of these early Chicago skyscrapers, you find something fascinating. Yes, they were massive steel towers — like the tall buildings you see today — but they were covered in old-fashioned stone cladding and Gothic columns. Why? Because architectural style hadn’t yet caught up with the rapid technological advances that enabled these structures to be built. The world had changed — but it took time for people to realise it and play catch-up. Watch out Toronto… 

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