Thoughts from Molly's notebook
Recently, I was fortunate to attend WorkSpaces, an event held in Palm Springs, California that brings together over 200 leaders in workplace culture, real estate, and office design. The way we work has undergone a seismic shift and this event created an opportunity to gain insights, ask questions, and connect with individuals who are helping to shape a better future of work.
As the Vice President of Workplace for OFS, a big part of my job is understanding and shaping workplace environments. I am consistently looking for ways that our work can support the everyday worker, empowering them to do their best work. To say I was excited and ready to learn (pencil and paper in hand), would be an understatement.
So, what did I take away?
The event's sessions highlighted the significance of flexibility, connectivity, and well-being in workplace design, which reinforced my commitment to placing people at the forefront of our efforts.
1. Culture and identity are sacred and lived daily, no matter where you are
Leaders at WorkSpaces identified how we can reflect and adjust based on our shifted understanding of culture and identity in the wake of the pandemic. For example, Rex Miller suggested building a structure of work that allows for warm-up, performance, and recovery, rather than a relentless cycle of meetings. This structure allows time for respite and gives our brains the ability to reset. When back-to-back meetings occur our beta waves - those associated with stress - increase over time and decrease our ability to focus and engage.
Darren Murph emphasized that the pandemic has deprioritized physical proximity, set work hours, and shifted our sense of self. Prior to the pandemic, many people closely identified their sense of self with their work. However, today, studies indicate that 80% of an individual's identity is derived from their social life, while only 20% comes from their work.
As we navigate the new post-pandemic world, we must rebuild our workplace cultures to reflect this new social identity stack and encourage empathy. By encouraging connection, space for recovery, and intentional feedback from our teams, we can rebuild workplace cultures that put people first.
2. Physical spaces foster connection, community, and culture
In Grant Christofely’s segment, he shared, "The workplace is a device for employee performance." This is a powerful reminder that the physical office plays a critical role in shaping employees' performance and productivity. In fact, Sheela Subramanian said in her segment, “Culture, connection, and productivity are the real reason the office is needed.”
The pandemic shifted priorities for the everyday worker. Suddenly, employees questioned “why” they commute when they could complete many tasks from the comfort of home. The office of the future must be shaped by connection and community, offering value that will draw employees to a physical space. In Darren Murph’s presentation at WorkSpaces, he shared that 85% of employees who spend time in-office come to spend time with colleagues.
For younger generations, an enticing workplace may start with mentorship and guidance, so we need to consider how to design spaces and cultures that support community for all employees. In this new era of work, the physical office is no longer just a place to do work, it's a strategic tool for purpose and connection that will drive organizational success.
3. The workplace of the future prioritizes flexibility
As an industry, we’ve been throwing around the word flexibility for the last decade. This isn’t a new concept. However, in a panel between Nellie Hayat of Density, Caroline Quick of Cloudflare, David Rotbard of Verizon, and Victor Sanchez of LinkedIn, one of the guests shared that “the days of ribbon-cutting are over. Going forward, spaces will always be shifting and adapting.”
This quote solidified a thought about the way that we construct our offices. In many cases, we call an office “designed for flexibility” without considering the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year shifts that will inevitably happen. The office of the future needs to be designed with all of these scopes in mind, and the research needs to start from within.
For instance, a Microsoft study discussed during the panel reports that 85% of leadership doesn’t think the hybrid is working, but 87% of employees say things are going well. What’s going on here?
These statistics highlight the deep disconnect between leadership teams and employees. A truly flexible workplace will balance feedback from employees and leadership alike, to project the day-to-day and future changes for an organization, but those things can’t happen without trust and transparency from top leadership down. When we get it right and build agile office environments, it will provide the adaptability needed to make an office investment last, while supporting changing needs across individuals and teams where everyone feels valued and supported.
4. My heart goes out to the managers
At the conference, I was inspired by the theme of empathy in the workplace and how it relates to the changing role of managers. Sheela Subramanian of Slack, one of the speakers at the event, highlighted how managers are experiencing high levels of burnout and stress, with a startling 43% reporting the feeling of being burnt out. Furthermore, managers are feeling 40% more stressed than their senior management counterparts.
This data is a wake-up call for organizations to shift support to middle managers. In recent years, the role of managers has transitioned from a more traditional top-down management style and instead to leadership through empathetic coaching. In many cases, this transition has not been explicitly communicated, nor have these managers been trained in a new leadership style. In fact, Rex Miller, in his segment, shared that only 18% of managers actually have the capacity to be empathetic coaches.
These discussions clearly highlight the importance of investing in training to support managers so they can build effective and connected teams with the guidance many so desperately need. It was inspiring to hear many leaders articulating this human-centered approach, recognizing that employee training, well-being, and engagement are essential for achieving organizational success.
To recap, the pandemic forced us to rethink much of the way we work, live, and operate. So, in the wake of this life-altering event, it's important to consider how the way we think, work, and relate as people has shifted.
If we want our workplaces to be successful and create pride and a sense of self, we have to rebuild our workplace cultures to support this new social, empathetic identity stack.
As Darren Murph stated, “Culture works when values create behaviors, not just posters on the wall.” This is our opportunity as organizations to turn those outward expressions into celebrations of our inward transitions and lead with our people as our top priority in everything we do.