Community, Mobility, and the City as Ultimate Workplace Amentity

On Thursday in San Francisco, we joined over 150 other workplace experts for WORKTECH 14 West Coast. Speakers touched on everything from the blurring of physical and virtual space to the city as the ultimate platform of innovation. Below, key takeaways from a few of our favorite presentations. And check back soon, as Unwired will be posting the slides and full video of the conference on their website. We’ll link to them here.

Image via Unwired.
Image via Unwired.

Creating community

Kristine Woolsey, a behavioral strategist and national director of +CULTURE, CarrierJohnson+CULTURE, gave an in depth look at the “hows” and “whys” of community, and showed examples of how it can be designed for in the workplace.

One of the coolest things she talked about was applying the idea of functional inefficiency. You’ve encountered it before in places like the grocery store: the milk’s in the back so that you have to walk past everything else to get to it.

“But it’s actually to your benefit,” said Woolsey. “Because when you walk back to the milk, you remember you need peanut butter.”

In the workplace, this translates to putting coffee in one place, not on every floor. Employees will probably whine about it at first, but, like the milk, it’s actually to their benefit: they’ll interact more with colleagues.

Woolsey added that there are four keys to community in the workplace:
  1. Membership
  2. Mutual dependency
  3. Reinforcement
  4. Shared experiences

As for how designers can apply this, Woolsey said that the real power is in designing experiences.

“Begin the process about worrying about the experience and behavior you need, and then think second about how objects and space can support that,” she said. “It’s not enough to be pretty.”

At Sony's HQ, employees and guests are greeted in the elevator lobby with this photo of top execs. "How humanizing is that?," said Kristi Woolsey. Snap by Natalie Grasso.
At Sony’s HQ, employees and guests are greeted in the elevator lobby with this photo of top execs. “How humanizing is that?,” said Kristi Woolsey. Snap by Natalie Grasso.

CRE:ATIVE: The art of leading a change management experience

Steve Monaco, the head of global real estate and workplace services for Motorola Mobility, talked about how he successfully delivered an innovative change management solution for the company’s new engineering flagship in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

“When you’re purchased by a company like Google, how do you become ‘Googly’?”, said Monaco. That was the question behind his whole process of shepherding Motorola Mobility from suburban Libertyville, Ill. to the heart of downtown Chicago.

When you’re purchased by a company like Google, how do you become ‘Googly’?

“The first thing we did was look at the mobile phones. UX is defined by a few inches. The real estate ‘touchscreen’ [and thus “UX”] is millions of square feet,” he said. “We focused on experiences. We have to make it personal.”

The takeaways from the change management process included transparency, a shared vision among all employees, and making the transition meaningful.

“It’s a two-way conversation,” he said. “As leaders of change management, you’ve got to keep your view wide. Look for opportunities.”

And if all else fails? Monaco quoted Willy Wonka: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men.”

What’s next in workplace strategy?

Primo Orpilla, principal and cofounder of Studio O+A, and Christopher Henderson, the senior director of workplace resources at Cisco, sat together for a panel called, “What’s Next in Workplace Strategy?” that drew some excellent audience questions, printed below.

Q: The challenge lately has been sound in open floor plans. How can I show [client] a path to conversational privacy?

Primo: “I think it’s a multigeneratinal thing. They way we try to address it is to offer variety. For open plan to work, you have to have variety: ancillary spaces.”

Q: You hear people say, “Oh, this was supposed to be a ‘collaboration zone,’ but people don’t use it.” People vote with their feet. Does the idea of “failing fast” apply to design?

Primo: “The legibility of design intent may not always be clear. We’ve got to help people know how to use it.”

Q: Do your workplace strategies extend into mobile work?

Chris: “People talk about amenities like free food. Our biggest amenity is being able to work anywhere. Fifty-three percent show up out of 23,000 employees [in San Diego]. Again, given the choice, people vote with their feet.”

The city as amenity

Salesforce slide
These numbers show the popularity of an urban coffee shop concept that Salesforce has implemented on the first floor of their Rincon Center office in San Francisco. Photo by Tierney Plumb.

In a hat tip to our host city, one of the final presentations of the day was given by Gervais Tompkin, a principal at Gensler, and Ford Fish, SVP real estate at Salesforce. They discussed Salesforce’s decision to move their global HQ to the heart of San Francisco rather than to a suburban campus. This move establishes them as a model for companies seeking to take advantage of innovative urban hubs as the ultimate amenity.

The best workplace is a place you’re happy to be. It’s flexible. It fits your lifestyle.

“We’ve made a conscious decision not to do a suburban campus: we want to be in the city,” said Fish. Soon, Salesforce will occupy over half of the currently-under-construction Salesforce Tower, as well as space at 350 Mission and 50 Fremont.

Will they miss the trappings associated with a sprawling campus in, say, Sunnyvale, in their new skyscraper on Mission Street?

“We’ll have the amenities all around us,” he said, and by all accounts, Salesforce’s employees are psyched to take advantage of everything S.F. has to offer. “The best workplace is a place you’re happy to be,” said Fish. “It’s flexible. It fits your lifestyle.”

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