Beyond the Demand: The New Worker, The New Work, The New Product

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By Marc Bellamy

The workplace is changing.  But that’s nothing new.  The workplace has been in a state of change ever since there has been a place where people meet, together, to do work.  There is always a new, and better way.  A way that, at the time, seems like the answer to all the woes of the current way.  So what makes today any different from previous moments of critical change? 

At PDR, we believe in an InsideOut philosophy.  Coming from an Architect, that could be applied at the most obvious level; starting with the inside of a building before determining what the outside should look like.  Or it can be applied at the organizational level; looking inside the business before designing the physical workplace solution.  Or, most introspectively, looking inside people before creating the place they will inhabit for 70% of their waking hours.  It’s this last inward peek that is most critical because People are also changing.  And when people change it has a direct impact on performance and the product necessary to support this performance.  Through this article, we will explore what is necessary to support the changing workplace culture where the lines between work and life are not just blurred, but may not exist at all.

People

The worker is changing.  We are in the midst of the widest spectrum of generations ever included in a single workforce.  In the past, managing workers time and physical output was the measure of whether or not that worker was meeting the demands of the market.  Decades of this mindset are shedding because workers have changed, some in part because of the impact the Digital Natives are bringing to the workforce. 

By 2025, 55% of the workforce will be Generation Z and Millennials.  Also by 2025, today's 8th graders will enter the workforce.  Today’s 8th grader has, effectively, no work habits in common with today’s 50 year old executive.  The digital world and its inherent connectivity has formed the young, Digital Native, in a completely different environment than any generation before today.  Since their first days in Kindergarten, this new breed of worker has worked on group projects.  And their group, or network, is only limited by their imagination or initiative. 

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As these new workers progress in school, their network will include peers from around the world who are working on the same problems.  Armed with access to the internet, social networking platforms and technology as a “first language”, there are no limits. Eighth grade students, are studying high school subjects, while high school students are earning college credit.  Once in college, the future worker is already armed with a world-wide network of resources with which they can openly share their work progress, roadblocks and breakthroughs.  They use technology to minimize repetitive or predictable tasks so they can focus on the important, problem solving tasks.  When these new workers enter the workplace, they will bring their network and technology with them.  Groups like Google, Tesla and ExxonMobil are on the forefront of creating workplaces that enable the seamless transfer of today's 8th grader into their workplace.  These new workers will continue to search out opportunities to have control over their work and to team up with the people who will help them be most successful, irrespective of what logo is on their business card.  Which brings us to how these new workers are changing the actual work that is happening in the workplace.

 

Work

So how is work changing in a world where my coworkers are also my Instagram and Snapchat friends?  The biggest shift we are seeing is from Task to Purpose.  Tasks are boring.  Most likely, "there’s an app for that” boring task.  If not, the new worker will write one and share it with his network. Purpose on the other hand, is a higher calling and requires true knowledge work.  Creativity.  Collaboration.  Partnering. This shift requires that everything is a project and teams, not individuals, make it happen.  Project based teams are the new norm. They come together to solve a problem or deliver a product, then they are connected or choose their next project. This is how organizations are tapping into the new worker.  As employee – or freelancer. In 2025, 40% of the workforce will be freelancers.  Entrepreneurs who are ultra-educated, ultra-connected, constantly learning and ready to team.  The typical career path is beginning to change as the work changes.  In the distant past, a successful career meant company loyalty, a corner office, and a great pension plan.  Today, the new worker will measure success, not by position in a company, but by the results their team can generate.  Careers are becoming project based bodies of work.  Success is derived from the purpose behind the projects that the new worker has selected.  Success is also shared among their network as a family, which for these new workers, goes all the way back to the earliest days of kindergarten.  These feelings of family, collegiality and purpose are at the core of the new worker.  Institutions who ignore these new ways of working will quickly lose relevance.  So how should we, as the people who provide and design workplaces, accommodate these new workers?

Product: Warehouse to Hub

It is no longer enough to provide a warehouse for work and workers.  The new worker expects their work environment to create a sense of collegiality.  To motivate their fellow workers to congregate.  To inspire them to have breakthrough ideas.  Coworking is a real estate product that is seeing a revolution in recent years.  Early in its inception, coworking was a solution for small, usually upstart, companies to get simple real estate with a small financial commitment.  For years, this was the tenant mix at these locations.  However, as the coworking tenants became successful and “graduated” to more traditional real estate solutions, they noticed that something was missing.  The feeling of being a part of a larger group and being visible to fellow workers is a key part of the day-to-day in a work environment.  Areas like atriums, social stairs, coffee bars and connectors where you can recognize someone walking towards you, will enable these human collisions to happen.  Sitting next to someone from a different field or department can create sparks of innovation and creativity.  When that creative friction is removed, workers became less engaged, and less innovative.  This is why we’re seeing a return to the density, energy and urban vibe in new work environments.  Large, Fortune 100 companies, are placing groups in these facilities in order to spur innovation and create the collegiality that can be lost in traditional real estate scenarios. 

At PDR, we have also seen whole campuses created to invoke the energy, collegiality and innovation-sparking-collisions that has fueled the new worker for their entire lives.  The commercial real estate market is starting to realize the benefits of these next generation campuses and are integrating some of these program elements into existing real estate. 

While these injections of energy are successful, we believe the more interesting evolution will be in the real estate as a service category.  This blends elements of coworking with elements of traditional real estate platforms.  What if, a traditional high rise building had one floor of conference rooms, coffee bars, exercise space and lounge area all shared by a small group of tenants?  What if the real estate provider was also the operator of the amenity space and the tenants paid for the service as part of their lease?  The tenants receive the benefit of not being required to build duplicate, expensive amenity space that is underutilized, and they also receive the benefit of innovation causing collisions with fellow colleagues.  The real estate provider receives an increased rent as compensation for providing the service and they get tenants that are loyal to their unique offering.  This is just one way of addressing the issue of changing work and workers. 

Ultimately, what organizations need are Workplaces that are platforms or marketplaces for innovation and knowledge exchange.  Places that create communities of workers. Places that attract, support, and inspire.  At scale, organizations are consolidating on corporate campuses to bring the brightest minds together to solve the world’s biggest problems.  Organizations that are not large enough to support a campus concept are flocking to spaces that can create their own innovation generating energy.  The work and the worker have changed.  The workplace is changing to meet the new worker.  As real estate professionals, real estate product providers and as designers we must respond with solutions that continue to evolve the work, worker and workplace.