Welcome to the emerging technology blog series by Peter Crush, Festival of Work Editor-at-large and HR Journalist of the Year 2018.
In the second ‘2 minute read’ in the series we speak to Andy Swann, author of The Human Workplace. Andy argues that the future of work is still very much about people, but he cautions HR leaders against one very human trait – getting carried away with creating workplaces that are all style over substance.
Make your people happy and the profits will follow
In your recently published book, you say the workplace will only become more important as a place of congregation. That’s got to be good?
Absolutely. There’s a lot of puff around shrinking workplaces, but the fact is humans and workplaces are intrinsically bound together and they will be long into the future – but only if the importance of the relationship between the two is properly understood. Currently, too many people think a workplace is an office. It’s not. Workplaces will only be relevant if they become places that allow staff to have abstract thoughts, easy collaboration or foster mini-communities. New emphasis needs to be placed on what it is that makes people ‘thrive’ – because workplaces and people need each other. When people thrive, organisations thrive – and that’s probably the best way of looking at it. But the people part comes first. Get personal contentment right and profits take care of themselves.
Are you suggesting workplaces need to be exciting places, to enthuse staff?
Actually no, that’s the very trap too many employers have fallen into. Remember ten years ago when Google had a slide in the office, so everyone thought they needed a slide? That’s where workplace designers and HR professionals got carried away. Workplaces need to create an intense experience, but not that kind of experience. CEOs (or HR directors) often forget to ask the basic question – what are we all here to do, and what type of work do people need to do to achieve this? Workplace design should always work backwards from that, based on how they can help staff work better. It’s as simple as that, but it’s not often followed.
Should we get back to basics in workplace design?
There’s tons of research out there about good design – good light, good air, a sense of space. People can look this up for themselves. But what I’m really talking about is creating an environment, a mindset that people get into when they’re doing work. Environment is both physical – giving people the space and facilities to connect – but also perceived. There’s no point having a beautifully designed workplace but with stupid rules like no eating at your desk or having clear desk policies. That’s when you’re more bothered about trying to keep your workplace like a museum. This type of enforced containment doesn’t work.
What’s your idea of the perfect workplace?
I’m still looking for it. But it’s definitely one where ‘experience’ is the name of the game. It’s only when work is thought of as an experience in the whole that you start to see how anywhere, even the home, can be suitable as an extension of a brand’s HQ. Because working well is all about staff being given the right tools so they can still experience the ‘workplace’ from wherever they do their activity of ‘work’. What I’m saying is that workplace culture can extend to a home, or a café if the right focus on the experience of working for that brand is considered.
Is experience really that important?
It’s not just important; it’s everything. I actually think the CEO should be re-branded the chief experience officer. Experience is the tangible feeling that having a focus on helping staff be their best creates. It needs to be front of mind in all HR decisions. But while staff need their workplace to provide an experience they can’t get anywhere else, rule 101 is still to think about it in a way that feeds into contentment and productivity first. I say design for how people want to do their work first, not aesthetics. That’s old hat now.
About the Festival of Work:
The CIPD’s Festival of Work (12-13 June 2019, Olympia London, www.festivalofwork.com) promises to be a landmark event for both people professionals and business leaders. By focusing on the most innovative strategies in management, technology and learning, the festival will help you, and 7,000 of your colleagues, to harness the latest transformations and drive a human future of work. With 7,000+ attendees, 130+ inspiring speakers, filled with inspirational live experiences and challenging ideas, it’s the ultimate celebration of people in the workplace.
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