Commentary

Workplace of the Future

I’m personally fascinated with innovation in the workplace. About 10 years ago, remote working — AKA working from home — was gaining traction, offering new possibilities with groups like women looking to balance a family and a career. With VPN access and the continued adoption and proliferation of high-speed broadband and wi-fi, remote working became a reality even before Blackberry made access ubiquitous via push e-mail.

Companies like Jet Blue led the way in terms of powering their entire call centers (ticketing, customer service) using stay-at-home moms, largely based in Utah. Dell perfected the ability to outsource their technical support to countries like Malaysia, India and the like.

Unfortunately, trends in the workplace seem to have taken a turn for the worse during the same period. Open plan seating is just another way of putting lipstick on a pig in the form of cubicle purgatory. Once upon a time, we could aspire to occupy that corner office. No more. It’s sad that the model for today’s corporate office environment is 1999s Office Space and no, giving everyone locked and supervised iPhone’s doesn’t exactly make me feel differently.

What excites me is the boom of shared workspaces geared to today’s start-up, consultant or mercenary. I’m not talking about the more corporate kind offered by companies like The Regus Group, but companies like Grind, WeWork or Alley to name but a few. It's a mushrooming category of cool places to rub shoulders with fellow creative class, founders and entrepreneurs.

Perhaps once upon a time, it was cool to have a “virtual assistant” who would answer the phone and dupe your caller into thinking you were larger than life. Nowadays, the transparency afforded by social media is sort of a democratized open secret that lumps everyone into the same Twitter, Facebook, Web, Moo Card, Card Munch, Evernote and Dropbox melting pot.

Getting wi-fi is not a differentiator, any more. It’s pretty much free no matter where you go (Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Cosi, Panera, McDonalds and the list goes on) and if Google gets its way, it’ll soon be accessible in every public place or space. A desk and a chair is essentially a commodity, but what makes the difference here is the ability to be a part of a growing community and movement.

At Evol8tion, we don’t have an office. Rather, we utilize partnerships with said shared workspaces. Sometimes we pay and sometimes we don’t. We choose to move around like nomads with next to no overhead.  What really attracts us to these spaces is the commonality of the people who work there and the collaborating opportunities that are just waiting to happen. Need a freelancer Web developer? Guess where you can find them.

In addition, there is so much value add in the form of guest lecturers (from Cindy Gallop to Noah Brier to myself), events (mixers or pitch nights), office hours with potential investors or even mid-day yoga.

The innovation doesn’t stop there. A company called Loosecubes is doing a “Priceline” with available space across companies of all shapes and sizes. Major corporations with excess space (perhaps due to inevitable rounds of layoffs) can now put this space to use and in the process, get a leg up on talent acquisition, ideas and even a bit of incremental revenue.

If we want to see more innovation in the workplace, doesn’t it make sense to begin – literally – in the workplace?

I remember back in 1997 when I interviewed at TBWA\Chiat\Day, they were experimenting with an incredibly innovative approach, which was ahead of its time. When I eventually joined them in 2001, it was no more. The idea:  no one had an office, except for the CFO and HR, for obvious reasons. Instead people just had lockers and could move around anywhere in the office, logging in and out of shared terminals.

What other trends do you see affecting work? What innovative approaches are helping companies – big and small – do better at attracting, retaining and maximizing the full potential of their talent pool?

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3 comments about "Workplace of the Future".
  1. Ric Dragon from DragonSearch , October 28, 2012 at 9:17 a.m.
    I'm not sure people are actually happier having floating work stations - either within a set office, or between different locations. A lot of people are happiest with their own set place. Leaving the 800 LB of a question, "what DOES make workers happier?"
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , November 23, 2012 at 10:32 a.m.
    Home is where the heart and loyalty are. Scatter people's base structure and you will lose their best efforts with lost revenue.
  3. Cece Forrester from tbd , November 24, 2012 at 9:46 a.m.
    I may be condemned for saying this, but a modern workplace should still allow for use and filing of paper. There are some situations where working with a hard copy component is more efficient and functional. A couple of other things people need from time to time: A quiet area, and a surface to spread things out on. Yes, I recall reading about Chiat/Day's 1993 experiment with tearing down the walls and turning employees into nomads. The concept was that people SHOULD perform their tasks anywhere--never mind if they actually COULD. A media person was reduced to keeping media kits in her car trunk and towing them around in a little red wagon, hoping to keep one step ahead of the modernity police. Whatever is tried, I hope companies will resist the temptation to subordinate ergonomics and productivity to some nebulous ideal based on little more than a loose idea of futurism. Employees should be free to ask for and be given whatever will actually help them get their work done, not have their employer actively interfering with the process in the service of somebody else's idea of what would be cool. And how about starting with the recognition that psychology and work styles can and do vary?