The Workplace of the Future

Apr 16, 2001

There’s an interesting article elsewhere in this issue of The Zweig Letter about the workplace of the future. It sounds like a fantastic design that the architects, engineers, planners, and designers have cooked up to showcase their talents. But to tell the truth, I don’t think they can do it on their own. The workplace of the future is so much more than where walls are or aren’t, or what the lighting and communications network allows you to do. It’s all about the organization itself, what it stands for, and the values of the people who work there. When you talk about places to work, inevitably, the subject of pay and benefits comes up, too. A couple of weeks ago, we had some visitors in our office who were concerned about their firm’s rewards and benefits program. They had too many different compensation deals going on based on individual or group performance. They wanted to learn more about the socialistic bonus program we use here and how our free food for employees program works. But before we got into those things, I started asking some questions about information. And you know what I found out? No one beyond a handful of top people in this very large and very successful firm sees anything! This brings me back to the topic— the workplace of the future. If it’s not about facilities and it’s not about pay and benefits, what is it about? It’s kind of like Seinfeld. It’s about a lot of stuff that some people might think is nothing, but that in reality is everything. Most important, it’s about creating a place where people want to be, a place where people want to work. Whether it’s work, home, or a retail store, what kind of a place would you like to be spending your time at? If you are like most of us, you want to be somewhere where you are comfortable, where you can feel good about yourself, where you aren’t worried, fearful, or anxious, and where you can be all that you can be. This includes a lot of things that many A/E/C firms are simply ignoring, things that are really big deals when it comes time for any employee to make a decision to join or stay with a particular organization. For example, the people they work with have a great deal to do with how your employees feel about their workplace. Does each one have a boss who he or she can work for? Does each and every manager in your organization treat other people with respect? When it comes down to it, is each of these bosses an honest person? How about the other people there— do they have the right values? Are they good people? Do they really care about doing the right thing? The people factor is not a simple one, and it’s really hard to correct if it’s gone bad. It certainly starts with the principals at the top of the organization chart, however. Do your people feel like they are a part of a something special, a winning team? My experience is that the pay and benefits can be sub-par, but if you feel like you’re a part of a unique group that is doing something fantastic, you’ll suffer through that with no problem. Look at a lot of the best-known design firms. They often pay less than do firms with reputations based on doing more mundane projects. Look at colleges and universities. You’ll find that Harvard often pays less than “Downstate University” because there is status that goes along with working there. Do your people have to solve the same problems over and over again? If so, they will be frustrated, and that will drive them away from your workplace. Design and technical professionals hate disorganization and unnecessary procedures or meetings. Are you making a real effort to solve some of these recurring problems once and for all? Or are you ignoring them and dealing only with the veneer of your workplace? Are we having fun yet? If not, you probably don’t have the kind of workplace that will stand the test of time. It’s a big deal and can’t be ignored. If you have ever had the opportunity to work in a fun environment, you will know what I mean. It’s what keeps you there in spite of other problems. It’s a lot more than the cliched indoor putting green or razor scooters for everyone. The toys only go so far if the firm’s management is somber, overreacts to the slightest bad news, or can’t crack a smile and have a little fun in spite of things that don’t make them happy. Originally published 4/16/2001.

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