Advocates of the flexible, home-based work week could never have imagined that their cause would receive its most significant boost from a virus called COVID-19. All the same, those of us who can work from home are doing so, and so successfully as to question why we ever got up before the sun. However, as we well know, despite the surprise, companies need the workplace not just for eminently practical reasons, but also and crucially as a point of reference for the brand as personality, as a way of attracting and retaining talent, and as the shared purpose made real. Meaning, if the centralised real-world workplace of tomorrow is to compete with the home and its locale, then brands will need to create and curate an extraordinary alternative.
Enable everyone and everything like Salesforce
Dubbed by forward thinkers ‘the re-emergence’, that alternative begins with understanding and facilitating the worker journey. Truth is, none of us want to spend the rest of our lives on Zoom, however efficiently and effectively we’re managing to work at the moment. We want what we have discovered in lockdown and we want something much more. We want to work for a company like SalesForce, which more than most has understood the deep (productive) significance of the worker journey. Theirs is the highly curated, highly personalised omni-channel programme thus far granted the customer. It’s the programme that understands, imagines, measures and continually addresses the employee lifecycle – in as many different ways necessary. Here, Salesforce House – its famed workplace – is part and parcel of a programme of absolute enablement, one (physical) channel among the many.
A platform for our stories like Patagonia
For such an alternative workplace to be extraordinary, it needs to be a new kind of storyteller. This is the workplace that goes beyond the closed-source storytelling prowess of, say, an Apple. Apple Park is the physical manifestation of a brand whose story is one that pushes, sells and enforces (through design) the myth that it has created a world answerable – creatively, intellectually and materially – only to itself. Like many a legacy brand, it mistakes the story of the campus with that of the state, one which we are increasingly wise to: having experienced the freedom of home, we don’t want to be held accountable to workplaces as physical emanations of the Brand Story. Rather, we want a Patagonia, where Let My People Go Surfing is policy not myth, where childcare is a central tenet of the business, and where, consequently, 96% of us stay – nearly 100% if we are returning mothers. People like going to work at Patagonia because they are Patagonia. It’s the story of their lives.
Co-design the experience like Airbnb
Finally, if it’s going to challenge the lockdown-imposed status quo, if it’s going to be a genuine home away from home, then forget about the workplace as a machine for selling. We don’t want to work in a show-office almost as much as we don’t want to live in a show-home. Allow, instead, for design – initial and ongoing – to be led by us, your employees. Such an approach goes way beyond the office-scaped biophelic designs that increasingly mark workplaces keen to tick the nature-nurture box. Rather, it’s the approach of an Airbnb, which as well as allowing for the most porous of employee-wider community barriers, practices an unfixed, unfinished, always evolving workplace co-design ethos, provides each employee with an annual $2,000 office-improvement stipend, and positively encourages choice in terms of where in the workplace we decide to work.
Such a place – one led by a genuine empathy for our journey as a worker, that places us at the centre of its story, and that invites a real sense of ownership of place – is bigger than simply a fusion of workplace and the home. It’s a new type, one based on trust and on care, and that is inherently generous. It’s where brands (as in the case of a Nike’s trailblazing WHQ campus in Portland) stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their employees, stars, customers, the wider community – to such an extent that theirs is a contract that goes beyond the world of work. It’s where the experience of being ‘at work’ is a beautiful thing. It’s where we gather to feel involved, to feel that sense of belonging crucial – anthropologically speaking – to humans. It’s where we are inspired to create. It’s the brand as home from home – a place of common purpose.