The Office Structure of the Future...A Member's Club

AdminTue, 04/24/2012 - 13:25
“I want to make the workplace somewhere that you positively want to be; somewhere that grows your experience of life and grows your creativity rather than sucks it out of you. A workplace that achieves that is the future.” -- Sir John Hegarty, BBH
A few weeks back, I read the most recent issue of Think Quarterly on creativity. Think is an online quarterly publication from Google, and I highly recommend you take the time to read it. It is in no way a Google product brochure. As the title suggests, the sole purpose of the publication is to make you think, so most issues include interviews and thought provoking editorial pieces by extremely intelligent folks that you may not already be familiar with.
In the latest issue, there is an interview with Sir John Hegarty of BBH, a London-based advertising agency best known for its slogan "When the world zigs...We zag!", which they popularized as a campaign slogan for Levi's but is also the BBH company motto. Hegarty has a 40-year advertising career that includes work with most of the world's most well known brands, but like his trademark checked suits suggest, he is a progressive thinker that is as cutting edge as any executive in the industry. The article is called The Creativity Club. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to read that a lot of what he is thinking about right now is in line with something that has been troubling me.
I have found myself over the last couple of months reevaluating our department and office structure (not for any other reason than looking at ways to improve what we do and how we work). Much of it stems from recent presentations on the Millenial generation and its future impact on the workplace. Most of the talking points focus on short-term changes associated with things like paid time off, office decor/environment and incentives/motivation, but the section that looks at demographic data associated with this generation, that will make up most of the workforce in a couple years, has really made me think about the long-term implications.
The current model of the office environment must change.
I believe that the most successful companies in the world are those that have pioneered some sort of fundamental innovation. Their success has hinged on that innovative productive, but that idea was only born because the company operated in an environment that fostered creative thinking. Creativity and innovation are ingrained in the culture, and often the office itself. Think of the offices of companies like Google and Wieden+Kennedy. Their offices are more of a loose, casual think-tank where talented people just happen to assemble in order to drive products and ideas forward. I mean, when was the last time you held a concert at your office? Do you have a basketball court or bicycles for your employees to use whenever they want?
You're not so proud of that company-provided snack room anymore are you? Or maybe your're rolling your eyes thinking these are just distractions for your employees that will reduce productivity. But when was the last time you had employees at your office at 8pm during the week because they wanted to be there?
As Hegerty puts it,
"Increasingly, we’re looking at a world where ideas are fundamentally important, one in which creativity is going to be central to the future of our economy. The question is: How do you engender that? How do you actually increase creative activity? I look at the environment. If you go back 30, 40, 50 years and look at the office, it was a very austere place – desks were in formal lines and you had to work until a bell sounded. Gradually, we loosened that up because we want people to be freer, we want employees to think more, and we want them to enjoy what they’re doing. We brought in potted plants and furniture designers. Today, we have coffee bars where people can mingle and exchange thoughts and ideas."
These 'distractions' have a purpose, and it will be those companies that embrace them that continue to have success 10 years from now. Happy employees stick around. They are the ones you invest in and ultimately get shining careers, and work, out of. But many companies are already starting to embrace these ideas. It is nothing new.
The place where we work has to evolve, but what about the way work?
As co-working spaces and remote and contract employees become more prevalent, we must start asking ourselves whether our employees really need to be in the office from 8am to 5pm. Technology has reached a point where the remote employee can now be as productive as the cubicle worker. The communication obstacle has been solved. This has also enabled the contract worker to become more integrated into our organizations. We are no longer restricted to the talent pool located geographically around us. We can tap into a global resource pool of the most-talented people. We do not have to compromise anymore.
"But there has been another fundamental shift: Many people don’t want to work at one job all the time. They want to work for three or four months of the year, take a couple of months off and go somewhere, look at something, read something, do something – enrich their lives in some way...Our traditional, formal way of employing people runs counter to the way they want to work. But I don’t want to lose talented people at BBH simply because we can’t accommodate their creative impulses. As both working life and the office itself become less structured, I see an alternative vision: The office as a members’ club. The club is run by a core of senior executives who organize it. Rather than a traditional employee, you’re a member, available to work on projects. As you only get paid when you work, if you want to go to Tibet for three months to study that’s okay – there’ll be another project waiting when you return.
I want to loosen up the process and make the workplace somewhere that you positively want to be; somewhere that is stimulating and invigorating, where you meet different people and encounter different ideas; somewhere that grows your experience of life and grows your creativity rather than sucks it out of you. A workplace that achieves that is the future."
- Sir John Hegarty, BBH
I 100% agree and have discussed a similar idea with local company presidents/CEOs a few times before reading the article. At first they are hesitant, but by the end of the conversation most are scratching their head. They see the value, but struggle with how we make the leap from where we are today. I personally don't think it will be a choice we, as managers, get to make.
Our employees and the workforce will drive the change.
As the economy recovers, people will start taking more risks. We will see more people move to consulting roles. There will be some groups of these workers that band together to create small companies, but many will work for themselves as a company of one. Companies will put out RFQs for project-based work and we'll hire those folks that meet our requirements and budgets. As Hegarty sees it,
"Of course, you can’t operate without process. The trouble in large companies is that process takes over as you struggle to make the machine work. But in a club, the permanent members – the senior executives – are the ones who operate the process and make it work. Those people are dedicated to it, freeing up the other members to come and go as they please. In turn, those members have to be given flexibility and have to be allowed to fail. As long as you’ve done all the things that you should do, if something fails, we’ll accept that. It’s going to happen. It must happen if you’re going to be constantly pushing the edges of the envelope."
Where do you stand?
Do you agree? Disagree? Do you believe this is the direction we are headed? What steps are you taking to be ready for this evolution?