Workplace experience and effectiveness are two critical factors of the modern work environment. Are employees engaged through a positive and nurturing workplace experience, and is the work environment conducive for productivity, collaboration, and culture?
For the past 25 years much about the workplace experience has been in the spotlight – spearheaded by the tech industry in the mid 90’s and showcased by the extensive amenities of tech giants such as Google (1) and Facebook (2), or for those of us in healthcare the grandeur of the Epic campus outside Madison, WI (3). The tech startup mythos has been commercialized for public consumption by the likes of WeWork and other coworking spaces – corroborating the legend of the startup where kombucha flows freely and new ideas are generated over games of table tennis.
I remember my first visit to a Google campus in 2011, it was a hot summer day in New York and the temperature was 91 degrees but it felt like 110°. I was invited in from the stifling heat of the city to join some friends for lunch at Google’s Chelsea headquarters. Most of my career has been with large hospitals and health systems where the corporate office always seemed like an afterthought – making use of any available space and not investing much in conveniences like modern furniture. What I encountered at Google was unlike anything I’d seen before. Meeting rooms were designed with themes, such as an Upper West Side apartment complete with a couch made from a vintage clawfoot tub along one side of the conference table. Quiet spaces and private phone rooms were hidden behind empty bookcases that swiveled to reveal their rooms. The actual library was a floor to ceiling touch screen where you could swipe through hundreds of titles then transmit your selections over Bluetooth to your device. And the food: fully stocked pantries, full-time chefs specialized in various worldly cuisines, every kind of beverage imaginable, and a self-serve dessert station made from a converted food truck – inside the cafeteria.
For a startup bootstrapping its way to success we’re searching for the sweet spot of amenities in the Venn diagram of (Corporate Blandness) and (Tech Indulgence), yet the overlapping circle is larger than expected. What I didn’t realize about the Google office back then was the incredible effort involved in creating an engaging work environment that makes team building, focus, reflection, inspiration, and fun a natural part of the daily work experience. With my hospital jobs it was about utilizing every nook and cranny to the fullest to create usable space within the confines of the budget. The epiphany for me came from research into workplace environments: “The amenities weren’t about escaping work – they’re about optimizing it…not just physically but in terms of the goals and work processes they support” (4).
Gensler’s 2019 US Workplace Survey helped further distill which amenities provide the highest value. Variety truly is the spice of life – 79% of survey respondents in workplaces with a variety of settings and amenities reported having a great work experience. But each workplace amenity has its own function and companies should choose the ones best suited for their workforce. The amenities with the highest scores for both effectiveness and experience were innovation hubs and maker spaces, essentially informal work spaces equipped with tools and resources where ideas and creativity have free reign. So popular are these spaces that even the US Embassy in Nepal opened a maker space in their innovation hub (5). Next on the list of highest value amenities were quiet/tech free zones, outdoor workspaces, focus rooms, and work cafés. Phone rooms and libraries landed somewhere in the middle. Low on the list for workplace effectiveness and experience were non-work task areas such as cafeterias and breakrooms/lounges which were rated by employees as having minimal value.
Our goal has been to make the most of a small space, facilitating a sense of togetherness and collaboration while not infringing on anyone’s ability to focus and concentrate. Most of the time we work side-by-side at a long conference table where conversation, good humor, and ideas flow freely. The number of white boards are multiplying, becoming the preferred tool for ideation and brainstorming, plan design, and work task breakdowns. If we need a quiet space to work through specific tasks we move back to our cubes, put on headphones, work from one of several coffee shops nearby, reserve the very in-demand conference room, or take a call on the patio overlooking a beautiful lake. When space in the office is at capacity, taking meetings with clients or vendors at their locations, bonding over coffee or lunch, renting an off-site meeting room, or simply working from home provides variety and choice in where and how work is performed.
As we grow we must continue to make the right investments to utilize space in ways that define our environment and build our culture. While we can’t have every amenity we’ll continue striving to provide the right space at the right time to foster creativity, autonomy, and engagement in the work we do. Maybe nap pods (6) or George Costanza style sleeping desks (7) will be next on our list.
Glen Lawrence is the Chief Business Officer of DataDx. Glen has experience in healthcare working with hospitals, health systems, clinics, home health, property management, and joint ventures.
(1) Ignatius, Adi. “In Search Of The Real Google.” Time, Time Inc., 20 Feb. 2006, content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1158961,00.html.
(2) Toscano, Paul. “Inside Facebook Headquarters.” CNBC, CNBC, 9 July 2012, www.cnbc.com/2012/02/02/Inside-Facebook-Headquarters.html.
(3) Kelly, Kate. “Willy Wonka and the Medical Software Factory.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/business/epic-systems-campus-verona-wisconsin.html.
(6) Zimmerman, Kaytie. “It’s Time To Start Taking Naps At Work.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/kaytiezimmerman/2018/02/01/time-start-taking-naps-work/#3fb3f15b78b6.