What does 'experience' mean in the workplace?

A positive workplace experience for employees can enable their creativity. Last autumn's CoreNet Global Summit in California explored the role that corporate real estate can play in fostering supportive business environments

Author: Jo Sutherland

07 March 2020

Orange County, California, home to Disneyland and sunny skies, is a fitting location for an event focusing on the human experience. At the CoreNet Global Summit on corporate real estate, the keynote address by Duncan Wardle (see photo, above) creativity consultant and former head of innovation and creativity for the entertainment giant – implored the thousand-strong crowd to explore their playful, curious and childlike sides.

'The biggest barriers to innovation are ourselves and the thinking we get trapped in' he said. He encouraged delegates to ask 'Why?' more frequently, and 'What if...?' We must be brave and open to new ways of thinking, he stressed, which means letting the inner child out from time to time.

Between the background Disney music and the larger-than-life characters who were speaking, nobody would dispute that the summit energised the crowd. Before looking at the summit's main messages, however, why is there now so much fuss in corporate real estate about the human experience in the workplace?

In a session on learning as the new working, the audience got a glance at the workplace and education through the ages. Industry 4.0 is the current buzzword a term that marks a new way of working. The Third Industrial Revolution was triggered by the humble computer, and now were on the cusp of a fourth: machine learning and artificial intelligence. With repetitive and predictable tasks being done by robots, humans will have more time to do what they do best - connecting with others and exploring new ideas.

Industry 4.0 demands that everybody has a little more fun. People can only be creative if they dont take themselves too seriously, and employees can only relax into this way of being if their employers offer workplace experiences that are immersive, meaningful and intuitive by design.

In a session looking at the evolution of the TV and movie industry ,workplace experience was positioned as more than just something thats nice to have; in fact, its becoming imperative for a company's survival. The atmosphere has to attract and inspire the community, enabling creatives to be creative.

With the proliferation of media brands comes a more vicious war for talent between Hollywood and the Silicon Valley start-ups. Stacy Green and Craig Schwartz from Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed that production companies have been known to poach employees from competitors such as Netflix and Amazon, offering two or three times their salaries – but the experience that companies such as Sony provide is another essential part of the package.

Human experience has given real-estate leaders an opportunity to transform both their profession and the organisations they represent. But this requires a bold change in the way that the sector measures success. CoreNet Luminary and Leesman's head of insights Dr Peggie Rothe graced the Anaheim Convention Center stage with her colleague Racha Kamal, the Leesman advanced practitioner lead, to explore this in more detail.

They suggested that employee experience is no gimmick – it is the answer to unlocking even greater value in corporate real estate. By switching focus to this new key performance indicator, real-estate leaders can reinvigorate workplaces as catalysts for competitive advantage. 'Don't dial down cost - dial up experience to maximise corporate real-estate assets, employee engagement and organisational performance,' Rothe said.

"The atmosphere has to attract and inspire the community enabling creatives to be creative"

The digital workplace panel, which featured leaders from JLL, Avanade, Accenture Labs and Microsoft, explored business, workforce and workplace transformation. The greatest source of competitive advantage for 30 per cent of organisations in 2020 will be digitally savvy talent, and that talent will demand an immersive workplace experience. We need to optimise the corporate real-estate portfolio so it offers more value but also create an experiential workplace blueprint for this human-to-machine world of ours. This is the era of smart experience, the panel agreed, moving towards a transhumanism where tech and humans become one: in equal measure frightening and illuminating.

Workforces are now increasingly migratory, with workers also more mobile in their organisations. By the same token, the idea of a job for life is dying out. Simply put, employees tend to move around and real-estate leaders need to understand how to operate in light of this paradigm. The workforce wants to trust their employers, and this should be reciprocated. Trusted relationships trigger chemical responses in the brain – the hormone oxytocin makes people feel empowered and loyal, inspiring a sense of belonging. Cultures that promote trust are empowering, transparent and inclusive, and organisations that create excellent experiences for employees bring culture, processes, tech and the physical workplace together.

Dr Whitney Gray led a session on the intersection between health and the built environment. She suggested design teams think about control in terms of how the space can empower employees to choose the work zones that suit their needs. Providing adaptive environments that consider stimuli management is key,such as acoustic landscapes that either shut off noise or contribute to an organisation's energy, depending on what employees are doing. Sound blocking, sound absorption and activity zoning are all worthy causes, Dr Gray argued.

Managing acoustic and visual stimuli in the workplace can contribute to reducing burn-out suggests recent research from global well-being company Delos. We spend 90,000 hours at work over the course of our lifetime, and 90 per cent of our lives indoors, so its highly important that the physical environment helps people recover during the working day. 'We cant solve it all through design,' explained Dr Gray, 'but we can give people the power to control their environment.'

One thing that united speakers at the summit was that, while work used to be a place you had to go to, now its a place you should want to go to. The importance of the experience is overtaking the need to reduce or manage costs, and this new focus has changed the physical use of space. Various speakers argued that you should apply a data – and insight-driven approach to transforming your workplace experience, being clear about how you will enhance business performance; alongside this you should also engage with key groups across the business and adopt a multidisciplinary approach to the workplace.

The employee experience discourse isnt only good for individuals, it has a positive business impact too. Let's listen to the advice of Walt Disney: 'The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.' Let's keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things. Let's be curious because, as Disney says it is curiosity that keeps leading us down new paths. Together we will find a better way of living, working and injecting more fun into all our worlds.

Related competencies include: Corporate real estate

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