While visiting the west coast recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day at the office of one of the tech giants there. Traditional training and development, move over. I learned that there’s a new mindset in town, and it’s shaping the future of where, when and how we learn in the workplace.

Our multigenerational workforces have something to gain from the influx of Generations X, Y and Z. The new kids on the block are bringing with them a more open approach to change. If you think about it, many of our workplaces have changed dramatically in the past 10 years, thanks to technology and the shifting mindsets that we have had to acquire to keep up. Gens X, Y and Z are used to this rapid pace of change. Some even thrive on it.

So, what does that mean for our workplaces and the future of training and development?

The water cooler in the corner has transitioned to a large open space with high-top café tables and unlimited custom gourmet cappuccinos and vitamin water. Is this the same leadership mindset of “provide staff with consumables, and they’ll produce”?

Just another box of doughnuts? I think not.

In the book “The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees,” Jeanne Meister and Kevin Mulcahy present a progressive workplace where, as part of the recruiting process, prospects tour virtual workplaces and interact with avatars of potential teammates. As part of the engagement process, Meister and Mulcahy highlight the importance of making the workplace an “experience” and embracing on-demand learning.

My foray into designing physical learning spaces happened years ago, when I became involved in the makerspace movement. Our focus was on creating open spaces where we could flow learners through a creative process, with power outlets where we needed them and enough checks and balances to keep workspaces safe and clean. These spaces only came to life for me when learners were there – creating and making things.

When I was on site at the west coast tech giant, I watched throughout the day as people flowed in and out of open spaces (away from their open desks) and stopped to talk, connect and share notes. Pathways throughout the building seem designed to bring everyone back to that gourmet coffee and water space. Even when the space was empty, it looked to me like a place of learning, not a kitchen.

Then it hit me: People were writing on anything and everything: on the walls, the table, the windows, the floor, their coffee cups, each other (well, maybe they didn’t go that far). And when they walked away, their writing hung like flypaper, drawing in passersby.

We know that communication is a key ingredient in knowledge transfer, skill acquisition and behavior change – what we’re designing our training initiatives to do. But in that modern workplace, I witnessed communication as out-in-the-open as the box of two dozen doughnuts sitting on the counter: “Come and take some.”

If one person left a note (on the wall or the table) with a question, another came along and answered it, or a group formed around it and started talking (over coffee, of course).

That physical space is enabling a workplace experience that fosters on-demand learning – by providing good beverages for free and encouraging team members to write on any surface. Maybe it’s not as simplified as that, but it’s a starting place, for sure.

Are building designers and architects working with learning experience designers to develop these fully immersive learning experience spaces masquerading as “where I work”? Is it part of the formula of the future workplace?

You tell me.

And bring along a doughnut for good measure!