How do you see the physical workplace? Often, leaders see it as a cost that they would reduce if they could, a source of distracting low-level noise they would rather not hear or an inconvenient necessity. Yet, at last, after many false starts and at least 60 years after the first experiments in making it more engaging, there is an emergent realization of what the workplace can do for the organization and its people. For too long, its contribution has been hiding in the light. In short, place matters.
It’s important to make a distinction between space and place, which are all too often used interchangeably. Space is empty and unoccupied. We strategize, design, construct and furnish it. We take some amazing photos that ooze cool. It is our blank canvas. Place, on the other hand, is occupied. It is where physical space and people create something entirely new. In creating a workplace, we need to understand both. When we add opportunities to connect and share in digital space, we genuinely create the social workplace.
The workplace sector often focuses on a single idea to promote its contribution –productivity – yet it has been unable despite the work of many academics and strategists to separate the contribution of the workplace from all other factors that influence the performance of an organization. It also often neglects to consider those organizations for which productivity is not an aim – nonprofit and public-sector bodies, for instance. Instead, there are 14 other benefits that a fantastic workplace can bring to an organization.
1. It Is a Physical Reflection of Your Mission.
Your workplace is physical reflection of your mission and purpose, your ultimate vision, the reason your organization exists and your ultimate self-awarded permission to be different. Wherever there is doubt, it centers all involved and is the embodiment of the path the organization has taken from an idea to success. It is the writing through the middle of the organization.
2. It Can Liberate You From the Burdens of Expectation.
A great workplace can free your organization from expectations like symbols of hierarchy and tradition. Its physical form can guide its occupants to see the organization as egalitarian, as a meritocracy, and as a place of fairness and trust. A modern workplace is a liberator.
3. It’s a Place to Learn How to Be Excellent to Each Other.
It is a place where, outside of instruction, hierarchy and compulsion, we are able to understand what being a colleague and a neighbor means. We don’t need a slide deck for that; we instinctively know it – but the place can allow it to surface.
4. It Helps Teams Grow Together.
A great workplace can provide all the facilities and amenities needed for teams to work, grow and develop together and to create their identities and purpose. It is a liberator again, this time freeing the individual from the tether of a numbered seat.
5. It Provides Comfort.
The workplace can provide escape and relief from the inevitable tension and stress of a fast-moving organization through the combination of its spaces, amenities and services. This benefit may be fleeting or momentary, but just enough.
6. It Can Resolve Conflicts.
From its calming influence, the workplace can create a more collegial mindset and attitude – and can also offer spaces where either emotion needs to be recognized and allowed into the room, or necessary conversations can take place in an agreeable setting. Its ability to reflect the purpose of the organization also reminds everyone why they are there and why resolving differences can be constructive.
7. It Can Offer Space for Creativity.
The workplace can provide a space for creative and expansive thinking for individuals and groups. This space isn’t provided through a conference room with a big sign over the door saying “Brainstorm Room” but through the variety of space provided, in the unexpected nooks or volumes that suit each person.
8. It Attracts the People You Need.
Your workplace should attract people who can make a difference. Sometimes, they’re what we might call “talent,” because industries love to use that expression. Sometimes, they’re raw potential and enthusiasm. They’ll have seen and heard what a fantastic place your organization is to work at.
9. It Can Promote Diversity and Inclusion.
Everyone deserves a fantastic workplace, and no one should ever feel like a special case because of who they are or how they choose to be. It can be the most clearly demonstrated commitment of an organization and the most important of commitments – not a hint of unconscious bias in any of its fibers.
10. It Is Living and Breathing Change.
The workplace should reflect the organization’s openness and willingness to never consider its mission complete; to constantly reinvent and look for new ways to do things; and to be a permanent beta test, comfortable with being different tomorrow.
11. It Activates and Sustains Social Cohesion.
Its amenity spaces help break down silos and bring people together, and its pause points freely allow interaction and the development of relationships and provide a focal point for activity. An unsocial organization won’t last long.
12. It Offers Protection and Security.
The workplace looks after your people, your data, your assets and your value. It relaxes where it needs to and is wary where it should be, keeping everything and everyone safe.
13. It Boosts Health and Wellness.
The workplace can boost the health and wellness of your people – and therefore of the organization. Happy, well and energized people work better. If they can eat and drink well, exercise, relax, learn, take the time they need to solve problems, and mix, they will return these gifts to the organization – in spades. You make it possible, and they decide to do it – but the more it’s possible, the more they are likely to.
14. It’s the Place Where Everyone Thinks They’ve Been.
It has influenced your people to share their experiences socially – face to face and online – in an age where instant accountability means we can only influence at best. When the workplace is fantastic, the workplace works for us.
How do you see the physical workplace now? Creating a great workplace does not have to require a heavy investment – it is about following the right thinking, keeping the process simple and understandable, and understanding how you can make a fantastic place from people and space. It is time to realize its potential while chasing the intangible no more, and to look around at what might be. Everyone deserves a fantastic workplace. Let’s get on with it.