Corporate office spaces define new paradigm of work in the era of ideas
By Meghan Hall
True value of specialized employees has only come into focus in recent years as highly technical companies that make up most of the economy in the Bay Area compete for the nation’s top talent. The Behavioral Sciences Future of Work Forum, an association of experts in a wide array of disciplines including brain science, workplace psychology, global economics and organizational design, studies the impact that this shift in focus has had on the built environment. According to Dr. Rick Beaton, the culture of work has changed in large part to not just the growth of cities, but a massive generational shift. An estimated 18,000 Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce daily, leaving room for Millennials — and their values — to change the nature of commercial real estate.
Tell me a little bit about the Behavioral Sciences Future of Work Forum. What is its history and why was it founded? Why is the forum particularly relevant to how commercial real estate professionals view the workplace today?
The workplace is an ecosystem that we create. If work is primarily done with and through people, it is incumbent upon us to design an ecosystem in which people can thrive and do their best work. Like many other industries, commercial real estate is undergoing significant changes in the way work is done. The content from the Behavioral Sciences Future of Work Forum can help commercial real estate professionals achieve the business outcomes they seek through new, researched based methods of leading and managing their people, building teams, managing projects, creating workplace culture, etc.
“BUSINESS TODAY IS, IN GENERAL, WORKING WITH A 1950’S VIEW OF PEOPLE. WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A MAJOR REDEFINITION OF HOW WE UNDERSTAND HUMANS.”
The last development cycle has seen exponential growth in markets such as the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. How has the nature of the workplace changed over the last decade given the rapid growth and demographic changes occurring in these gateway cities?
The nature of the workplace has changed because of a host of factors. The attraction of people to vibrant cities and jobs within these fast-growing cities has been amazing. It has amplified what has been occurring over the past several years throughout the country. The Millennial movement, impacts of various technologies, increased diversity, rise of conceptual and knowledge work are felt throughout the country, but especially in these high growth centers. The built environment must shift to accommodate these broader workplace and cultural trends. Work is now more complex, collaborative, matrixed than ever before, and because we do most of our work in our minds rather than with physical tools and manual labor, we can do it anytime and anywhere. The what, how, why, when and where of work is being redefined.
When consulting with the senior leadership of a company, what aspects of corporate design do you study to create human-centric end-user experiences?
Business today is, in general, working with a 1950’s view of people. We are in the midst of a major redefinition of how we understand humans. To truly create a human-centric end-user experience, we begin by studying the entire system. The new research in the social sciences, neurosciences, etc., touches upon many aspects of corporate design. How we lead and manage, build teams, problem solve, emphasize in our culture, design our physical workspace, motivate, build the brand and identity of a business is changing.
Which factors — talent management, culture development, design, etc. — will be most pivotal to a successful end-user experience in the coming years?
Culture, when carefully defined, provides the framework, the guardrails so to speak, for our work together. As a result, it is crucial. It has become diluted and come to mean anything and everything. When more carefully defined and tied to business outcomes, it plays a powerful role in shaping the end-user experience. After that, talent management and then workplace design. Workplace design facilitates both culture and talent.
Have you found that these have changed?
What seems to have changed is that businesses are finally waking up to the fact that people are essential to their business outcomes. They tended to have a laissez-faire attitude towards people, using and deploying them with relative lack of strategy or thought. There are many outdated assumptions that led to this from the industrial revolution and twentieth century. We can be now more thoughtful and make intentional decisions based upon solid research and craft vibrant workplaces that are both good for people and fantastic for business.
How has the growth of cities and the competitive nature of the employment and real estate markets impacted the world of workplace design and end-user experiences in the corporate office world?
Cities have always provided the location where the great streams of energy, ideas, capital, diverse cultures and people collide. As organizations have had to compete for top talent, it has forced conservatively managed systems to adapt and change. It is not always clear that experiments achieve the promised outcomes. There remains a large body of research that could assist in the creation of much better end-user experience in the corporate office world that business leaders have not accessed, opting instead for popular fads or outdated ideas. Nevertheless, things are changing quickly and mostly for the better.
When working with clients, what do you find that their goals are with their spaces?
Clients are becoming much more discerning and informed about their workplace. We are all grappling with the same issues. The goals are related to these broader disruptive forces. The want functional, beautiful spaces that facilitate the culture and work styles of their workforce that presents their brand.
In 2018 and now in 2019, what does a successful office look like, and how do its end-users respond to the space?
Work is becoming more collaborative, teamwork is essential, people desire greater autonomy and flexibility, there is a breakdown of private versus public, so authenticity is valued. Hackable spaces, more zones providing different levels of sensory stimulation, democratization is valued and private spaces less related to hierarchy and more to need. This captures well the values and beliefs of the millennial population that is pushing us all to be more holistic, authentic in the way we work and live our lives.
Heading into 2019, what do you expect to see in terms of organizational design and the future of work?
We expect to see the trend of building out more human-centric workplaces to continue. User experience design has shaped our digital world and consumer products. We can now talk about designing a workplace, its leadership, management, culture, teaming, project management, systems and processes and the built environment that facilitates our work together. It is an exciting time.
How will this impact the commercial real estate industry?
The construction industry cannot escape the broader cultural forces impacting the general workforce. Talent attraction and retention are the most obvious issues that arise. However, the collaborative nature of their work, client needs and demands, innovation and creativity, and business model shifts can be enhanced through adjustments to how they lead and manage, structure teams and build out their physical environment.