23 May, 2021

Are they being served?

They say the best wisdom comes from children. Or, maybe from kid’s movies. As we consider what’s next for workplace, we don’t mind saying we’re feeling inspired by a classic from almost 30 years ago that showed us what hospitality is all about. In this month’s “On Our Minds…”, we invite you to make workplace a little more magical. Scroll on down, won’t you? 

On our minds

Lately, we’ve had dancing flatware on the brain. Our mind’s eye replays a rousing musical number from a certain hit animated film from the 90’s. While we love a trip down memory lane as much as anyone else, this isn’t about nostalgia. It’s about what the song asks of the listener: “Be Our Guest”

A lot of organizations are now coming to the unsettling realization that the workplace experience of yesteryear just won’t satisfy anymore. They need to offer more than just a flat desk with access to some nice amenities. We’ve sorta been saying this for years—but that’s spilt milk at this point. Trust us on this: employees are not jazzed to commute 45 minutes each way just for a free beer fridge. Free kombucha—maybe. But probably still no. If the workplace experience doesn’t make them feel special, they’re not coming back.

Many people whose jobs allowed them to work from outside the office have now been doing it for over a year. They may have a lot of the kinks worked out and have arranged their lives around a more flexible approach to location and time. They might really like having lunch with their kids or being able to use their very own toilet. Their home office might be customized to their exact specifications. But wait! There’s more!

Now that many people can work from anywhere, workplace isn’t just competing against the comforts of home and flexibility of coworking. It’s also competing against “bleisure” (yes, that’s a real word). The hospitality industry is actively courting the kind of traveler who wants to be able to do their work from a beautiful environment chock full of luxurious amenities, stunning scenery and enchanting experiences. So just as travel restrictions are being lifted, people are discovering that they can do their jobs just fine from a beach thousands of miles away.

Aside from cases in which people require special equipment or are working face-to-face with customers, there’s really only one experience that people can’t easily recreate on their own: each other. Community is unique to the organization, the people who work there and the culture they co-create.

We wrote about the intersection of community management and workplace way back in 2014, so the idea that organizations might need to implement these techniques is not new. What has changed is the urgency. Companies functioned during the prolonged telework of the pandemic by relying on the relationships people already had before the lockdowns. But that will only work for so long.

What is being done to continue to create and strengthen social bonds? Who’s nurturing the next generation employees and helping them to build the networks they need to sustain your organization? Unless your company is actively supporting community building, it probably isn’t happening. Eventually, this could be detrimental to the culture of a company. That need not be the case, of course. Each organization has the tools of policy, culture, and choice at its disposal, and those can be powerful—if used thoughtfully.

One way to think of this emergent opportunity is that of imagining: “onsite” is the new “offsite”. Many organizations used to take their staff on lavish retreats to resorts. Or, at a smaller scale, they might host culture- and team-building events at local restaurants or bars. Now, the office itself can become a destination, provided the right investments are made in cultivating a space and experience that make people want to be there.

From the archives

A year ago we released our first version of our workplace reentry roadmap. The tremendous response convinced us to start our ongoing webinar series guiding people through the challenges and opportunities of workplace reentry. (Check out this webinar recording of our Roadmap 2.0 for a preview of what's next.)

Back in 2019, we spoke at DisruptHR about the need to create a workplace experience that welcomes and embraces the broadest possible range of occupants. Whether through long term telework, coworking or other flexible arrangements, the ability of employees to choose their work environment is even more vital than it was then.

And that’s all for this month. Drop us a line to let us know how you imagine your workplace providing service with a smile. Or hum a few bars of whatever song is on your mind. If you need some inspiration, check out this Tiny Desk by Lianne LaHavas.

In Case You Missed It

If your plate was too full to catch these the first time around, no sweat! Here’s what we’ve been up to lately.

How to Make Virtual Learning Workable: A Parents’ Guide

Check out these research-backed tips for leveraging your space to better meet kids’ needs.

Experience and Brand in a Hybrid Workplace

>Our April webinar explored how branding must adapt to support culture in hybrid workplaces.

Our Webinars So Far

It’s been a year since we began our ongoing panel series to guide organizations through this challenging period. Here’s what we’ve covered so far.

Businesses Need More CDC Guidance

The Washington Post published this OpEd calling for the CDC to issue clear guidance to businesses.

Unfolding Intelligence Symposium

Artists, scientists and humanists gathered to discuss aesthetic, technical, and critical issues pertaining to artificial intelligence (AI) and computation.

Improving People Experience and Engagement by Leveraging Space and Data

We spoke with the Future of Work Podcast about the role of data in workplace reentry and beyond.

DesignX Symposium Results

See full coverage from conversations with innovators and visionaries, academics, global firms and novel startups who are accelerating design, cities, and the human environment.

When Will You Return to the Office?

Our colleague Andreas Hoffbauer argues that behavioral tipping points—not corporate policies—will be the real drivers of the workplace reentry timeline.

Our Updated Workplace Roadmap

In spring 2020, we released our first guide to navigating the challenges of this moment. In this video, we share what we’ve learned in the last year, and how organizations can continue to move forward.

Looking Ahead

We’ve rounded up a veritable buffet of enlightening and satisfying experiences. Here’s what’s on the menu:

Young New Yorkers DA Forum

Manhattan District Attorney candidates convene for a discussion about the impact of their work on young people. Happening May 24.

Return Agile

PLASTARC presents at this two-day event to discuss workplace reentry. Hosted virtually by SpaceIQ May 26-27.

MIT DesignX Pitch Day

Following months of refinement, the startups selected for this spring’s cohort will deliver their final pitches on May 26.

Reimagining Work After COVID

Leading scholars discuss how the nature of work has recently changed, the impacts on mental health, and how it is likely to evolve further in the future. Hosted by APS on May 26.

Diversity in Design Conference

Hear and learn from diverse design leaders around the globe in order to network, collaborate, grow in your design endeavors. Hosted by dmi, Jun 9-10.

The Science of Sound

In this special webinar with Hushoffice, we discuss the surprising impact of vibrations and acoustics on the workplace experience. Coming up Jun 8.