Agilquest Blog

The Future Office – Shiny Metal Objects in an age of Culture

I attended the Future Offices Summer 2018 conference in San Francisco and was pleasantly surprised at the content and conversations.  There has been a noticeable shift in the way we think about the workplace, and the future workplace.  This shift did not appear overnight but has been drifting into conversations over the past decade; but it finally seems to have taken hold, even in organizations many of us thought would never change.  This shift I’m referring to is the change in focus from how to fit as many people into the space as possible, to how to support and foster employee happiness.  Here are some of my thoughts after attending the conference:

The Shift

Everyone wants in on it – the “Future” Office.  But what does it really mean?  I hear it year after year after year, and it always seems to be the same thing: knock down walls, make it more sustainable, add more technology, give them flexibility, make the buildings smarter, provide more wellness.  Nothing really new, other than the “shiny metal objects” (a.k.a. new technology) available to bring the workplace closer to the space age.  Cool stuff, but let’s face it, without the people in an organization, that new technology is just that – a shiny metal object.

So, what about those people in the “future” office?  This is where I have really seen the greatest evolution in how we talk about the workplace of the Future.  It’s no longer about just the space, it’s about how to support the employees.  It’s how to help foster productive and happy employees. Yes, I said happy! Gone are the days of treating people like machines, set up in a drab cube farm with no individuality, no culture.  The Future is about looking at the DNA of your employee culture and making sure your workplace offers choices that are comforting, inviting and energizing for everyone.

Why this evolution from the focus on space to a focus on the people?  In one way, it is reflective of our global society’s growing awareness and openness to individuality and culture.   But we can’t forget we’re still talking about “work” and what organizations are starting to realize is that happiness tends to drive engagement, engagement drives productivity, and productivity drives revenue.   So, happy people = more revenue!

At this summer’s Future Offices 2018 conference, I moderated a panel called “Creating a Custom Workplace to Appeal to Your Culture” with panelists from Pinterest, Soundcloud, PwC and BIFMA.  It is not surprising that newer organizations like Pinterest and Soundcloud have focused from the beginning on individuality and company culture in the space and amenities they provide. However, what was surprising was to hear from PwC, the second largest professional services firm in the world with roots dating back to the 1800s, that only within the last few years have they started to redesign offices from the antiquated cubicles and closed doors to more unique, culture-oriented spaces.  They are completely throwing out their traditional workplaces and now it is “all about the experience.”  And to prove it is working, just last year they had about 50% of their US population still in the traditional space and the rest in the new space, and their employee satisfaction surveys revealed an obvious unbalance in employee engagement between the two.

So yes, while I did see green walls, fancy lighting and smart building technologies at Future Offices 2018, everyone I talked to brought the value back around to increasing employee satisfaction in one way or another.  Even us at AgilQuest!  Because to support individuality, you must measure and understand employee preferences, and then provide the right choice and mix of space to allow your employees to work wherever they do their best work, helping them Love Where They Work.

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