These days, the way ‘WeWork’, not where we work is so important

10 August 2018

The world over, most major corporations are investing small fortunes in their technology transformation programmes, which is all very well, but if they can’t attract and retain the right talent what happens next? Whilst we focus on implementing new technologies and the undoubted benefits they deliver, we must not underestimate the profound impact of the human and cultural shifts we are all experiencing and what this means to every business owner.

In just a few short years, new technologies and social change has transformed everything, affecting every aspect of our professional and personal lives. This change in attitude has meant that every business, whether large or small, is having to overhaul traditional working practices and transform the physical environment to ensure the facilities they provide truly supports the new life/work balance everyone craves. Attracting new talent and then keeping them motivated once you’ve got them is another item to add to the never ending ‘transform the business’ shopping list.

Although the excesses of the last millennium are pretty much consigned to history, these days working for a bank, entering the legal profession or becoming an accountant do not have quite the same kudos they once had. Many within the new workforce are wired differently, preferring to work in more socially aware organisations who openly embrace diversity and change. The mouthwatering opportunities presented by the media, entertainment or the new Fintech providers are enticing much sought after talent away from the blue chip companies that were once perceived to be the professions of choice. No longer prepared to take what is given to them, the new breed of employees are a demanding lot, with very high expectations of what they expect from their employers. The shift towards achieving a quality life/work balance is seen to be almost as important as earning a huge salary and having to work long unsociable hours often, to the detriment of home or family life.

WeWork is a great example of how a new world approach to business has not only completely reinvented a long established, traditional way of working, dragging it into the 21st century. At the same time it also spawned a new highly creative, digitally driven industry. This company turned the concept of a serviced office facility upside down. By eradicating isolated cubicles or solitary offices, they transformed an old fashioned, stifling workplace into an a open plan, cool happening place to be, designed to inspire creativity and encourage collaboration. People want to be there. The facilities they provide reflect the tastes and needs of their users: Fully mobile, always on. Healthy refreshments served in environmentally friendly containers with the odd dog or two shuffling around. What’s not to like? No matter where you are, it feels like there is always a WeWork. Drop in, sit down, connect and work, when, where and how you want to. It’s the way forward.

Without doubt transforming the working environment is high on the Board agenda. But still there are divided opinions on how best to address this, be it flexible working, pay and benefits, dress code or training and development programmes. And therein lies the dilemma, important decisions have to be made, but will force businesses to operate in a completely different way. The cost of change and the impact on the workforce will be significant and must not be underestimated.

There are a number of high profile examples where firms have been experimenting in order to improve the overall work experience. Many of the global financial institutions have implemented a one day a week working from home policy. What they discovered was surprising. The banks had expected everyone to welcome this, but unexpectedly in some cases the opposite was true. While the more mature workers embraced this opportunity, enjoying the flexibility, and in most cases productivity improved significantly. However the experience for some of the younger workers was not quite so positive. Many are living in rented or shared accommodation, with limited access to a home office facility and were unable to operate effectively when working remotely. They also missed the camaraderie the office provided and felt the opportunities to learn from their peers and colleagues had been severely curtailed.

So whether it’s enabling efficient home working or being in a cool office, providing a modern workplace is not just about upgrading legacy systems or installing new technology, there is so much more to it than that. ‘People first’ and instilling a positive culture should be the core of every change the business programme. Delivering a state of the art, flexible working facility and providing the latest tools and tech is only part of the story. Creating a highly productive working environment, underpinned by flexible, inspirational managers who encourage collaboration, empowering their people to stretch their imagination and not fear the consequences if things go wrong. This approach will enable each individual to achieve both personal and business development goals and could be the difference between success and ongoing mediocracy.

People first is the only way forward. Otherwise the talent will exit stage left, taking invaluable corporate memory with them as they go in search of a trendier, more socially acceptable working environment.