What the Workplace Promises

There was an interesting article in the WSJ over the weekend about WeWork, and it’s impact on how we think about work. And while the article is interesting, it leads me to questions around office space, work environments, remote working, and the fact that people are social animals.

I’ve heard from plenty of people that traditional office space is dead, and that the future of work is remote. Technology is giving people the ability to do their jobs from their houses, from coffee shops, or the beach.

But plenty of people signed up for WeWork. Which begs the question, do people want to work remotely? Or do people just not want to work in a cubicle that their employer supplies?

The bottom line is that most people don’t want to spend their days holed up in their houses, toiling away, only interacting with others via slack or instant messenger. There is a need to get together in person, share small talk, and even feed off the energy of personal interactions. Random encounters, spitballing ideas, and discussing projects spontaneously creates the opportunities for discovery and engagement.

The challenge is around corporate America’s desire to control real estate costs. Employers want to maximize efficiencies, shrink the amount of square footage they are dedicating per person, and stay nimble when it comes to lease terms and locations.

It’s easy to measure metrics around square footage costs, space per employee, and lease flexibility. It’s much harder to measure employee satisfaction, productivity, or engagement. When challenged, how do real estate departments justify creating unconventional office space? It’s almost impossible.

Employers need to think more about how they provide work environments for their employees. Do they want to build our unique spaces and house their employees? Or do they want to outsource to a solution like WeWork?

Whatever solution they choose, it’s only one piece of a much larger discussion about how employers can provide an engaging work experience. Employers need to think about the commitments they are making to their employees, the values they want to reinforce, and the culture they are trying to create.

Do they want to signal that the most important thing is controlling costs? They can do that by taking inexpensive space and densifying the layout. Do they want to signal flexibility? A co-working solution is worth considering. What about stability and employee engagement? That’s going to require dedicated leased space and significant design investment.

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