The End of the Start: Rise of the Human Workplace

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Humanising workplaces is by no means a simple thing, BDG’s Andy Swann tells us in a fitting ‘swannsong’ for his Final Word residency.

Over the last few months, as I’ve written these pieces, the explorations and experiences we’ve covered have touched upon everything from the flexibility of work in terms of where, when and how we do it, responsibility and accountability for working, physical space design, personal wellness and much more.

All of this has run in parallel to the publication of my book, The Human Workplace, which itself explores the idea that the only thing any organisation really needs to have in place to succeed is the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. Because when people thrive, organisations thrive too.

It’s a shift where companies are becoming platforms for people and understanding that by ‘people’ we mean the entire community surrounding them – customers, workers and the communities they impact. Community management principles are coming to the fore in the way we design operations and environments – and user experience is driving everything

In a world where people increasingly have choice about how they work, where they work, who with and for, the requirement is to offer choice to enable them to find the best way to align with the organisation.

Importantly though, that then provides choice in how people work. Allowing everyone freedom to find their best way to work within the basic parameters of the business is effective in increasing morale, productivity and other ‘soft’ elements that can positively impact bottom line. The rethinking of workplaces and systems to meet this flexible, minimum viable workplace, can also create cost and operational savings, such as a reduction in real estate through more effective use of space.

There’s no denying that this change is here for good and that the pace of the evolution of work and workplaces will continue to increase dramatically, forever. It’s a great thing – the aspiration to be better is a noble one, but it’s important to keep people connected to the shift.

Behind our adoption of new things, we’re creatures of habit and behaviour. It’s not enough to tell us that something changing is good, we need to really understand why and be guided into adopting it as part of our personal narrative. Just providing new tech and workplaces is not enough, because all change impacts people and, unless that impact is framed correctly, it becomes a negative impact which prevents people, and the organisation, from thriving.

My role as Change Maker at BDG is to create people-focused transition programmes that take everyone on the journey to positive adoption of change, through helping them discover the best elements of their work, imagine how that work can happen in new and different contexts, then create the change. It’s immersive, creative and fun – exactly the things we need, as humans, to really understand. Change communication is essential, but just telling us is not enough!

In itself, this links back to enabling people to thrive. The recent Wellness Together research comprehensively linked wellbeing to productivity, innovation and profit in very interesting ways. It also demonstrated that wellbeing isn’t just about encouraging people to take more exercise, it’s about the whole spectrum of the experience in work and the workplace that impacts on individual and collective mental and physical wellness. This links right back around to the notion of a human workplace.

People thriving means people are well. It also means the organisational platform is working well and, as a consequence, the business performs well. Empirical research is now starting to build up this picture with real data.

Despite the prophecies of the machines coming to take our jobs, the future of work is human. There will always be jobs for people – just not the ones we don’t need (or often want). That in itself will bring challenges, but for now our focus must be on enabling people to be their best, because it’s in all of our interests to do so.

A final word on human workplaces; they are more open, honest and recognise that it’s ok to ask for help. On which note, I need yours! I’d love it if you took some time to read The Human Workplace – if you buy it from you can use ATHW20 for a discount and free shipping. Connecting with your own perspectives, thoughts and feedback is amazing as this conversation progresses. It’s also amazing when people take a moment to post a review on Amazon!

Andy Swann is a Human, an Over-Excited Work Explorer and Change Maker at BDG architecture + design. Andy’s book The Human Workplace will be published by Kogan Page in November 2017.