‘If 9-5 Had Never Been Invented’; Are Office Innovations Enough to Draw People Back in?

“Ultimately, I don’t believe that CEOs can dictate how people work. The market will. The employees will. Flexibility will be the most important benefit after compensation,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a recent interview. With dogs and cornhole and yoga and nature walks, the modern office is being retooled. Will that make a difference?

“In essence, we need to stop designing work around location and start designing work around human behavior,” Alexia Cambon, a research director of the human resources practice at research firm Gartner, wrote in The Guardian last year. “Employees will work better, stay at their organization longer and keep healthier if they are placed at the center of work design—trust me, we have the data that proves it.

“This is what we should be asking ourselves: if 9-5 had never been invented; if ‘office’ were a foreign term; if the concept of a meeting sounded like gibberish—in short, if today were day one of the history of work—how would you design how you work?”

That’s an interesting question. Here are some answers:

The first three are from an article in The Washington Post by Danielle Abril titled What Your Future Office Could Look Like — If You Even Need to Be There.

I’ll take 2 creams and a 2 pm Zoom meeting please. Twilio, a communication tools company based in San Francisco, envisions the idea of company-owned coffee shops. “The reason you would go in is the same reason you might say, ‘I’m going to go to a coffee shop today because I just need a change of scenery,’” Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson told the Post.

Breathe out and meet us by the hydrangea. Salesforce’s Trailblazer Ranch, located in the Redwoods of Scotts Valley, Calif., has been set up as a retreat and off-site space for employees offering guided nature walks, garden tours, group cooking classes, and yoga and meditation. “An essential part of our strategy is finding ways to empower our teams to come together and connect safely,” said Brent Hyder, Salesforce president and chief people officer.

Do you have a VP of real estate and workplace services? Google’s 1.1 million square feet Bay View campus based in Mountain View, Calif., sits on 42 acres and includes 240 short-term employee corporate housing units. (What’s the line from Hotel California? “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”) All desks have access to natural daylight and outside views with greenery scattered throughout. Automated window shades open and close throughout the day. “The process gave us the chance to rethink the very idea of an office,” said David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president of real estate and workplace services, said.

Leave it to beavering. “Workspaces aren’t about a cubicle farm full of desks with people beavering away on their computers anymore,” said Carolyn Trickett, head of business technology, property and asset management at global real estate services firm JLL, in an excellent report titled Workplaces Disrupted: The Office of the Future. “It’s not about having people in the office; it’s now about having people interacting in different ways, depending on the type of work that they’re doing.”

Approach it purpose-designed. The ideal, according to Maja Paleka, a founder and director of Juggle Strategies, is “to create a place that is purpose-designed, where people are very careful and purposeful about how this space is going to serve us, what it is going to deliver, and what it is designed for…” she says in the AESC report. “Sometimes where organizations fumble is when the initial motivation is about cost-cutting, real estate consolidation and things like that.”

Will pickleball courts be next? (Could take the place of a mailroom.) I recently read about Wallace, a 2-year-old border collie, chasing ping pong balls in the office all day, as his dog mom worked. (Yes, ping pong tables are front and center in that office.) Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office, including Google, Amazon and Uber. The CEO of the American Institute of Architects recently said this about the design of their new space: “When you’re going to brainstorm, instead of talking around the watercooler, you play some AIA-branded cornhole while you’re debating what we need to do.”

Should we add laundry machines? “Resimercial” is how Courtney Cotrupe, president of Partners + Napier, a creative agency, describes the build-out of their new space, in the AESC report. “Think about how you work at home: you might wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, start to do some emails in the kitchen, then maybe you grab your laptop and go to the dining room table, and maybe you get up and walk around while you have a conference call,” she said. “We really wanted to inspire that type of work, here.” She also left out the couch to nap on.

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