People, Place, Work.

By now you know the score: we’re moving through a significant economic shift; Business value increasingly accrues at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds; Our connected cars, intelligent homes, emerging crypto currencies together signal a raft of new market niches and commercial opportunities that were unheard-of a mere 5 years ago. The power behind economic performance is irrevocably linked to how well a company innovates and marshal’s data around its value chain versus its competitors. The prize is lucrative for those that get it right. And the number of organizations that are beginning to get it right is growing (Bosch, GE, DHL etc. See my previous post).

Those lumbering organizations once struggling with legacy business models, bloated cost structures and zombie workforces are, we think turning a corner. They’re getting “match fit” for the opportunities ahead. The metabolism for innovation is rising as agile ways of working, higher rates of collaborating, and partnering proliferate while the platform becomes the default organizing principle for work. I think the job is only half done however. Until organizations radically change form to follow function, then they risk a digital stall. I’m keen to know if there is a radical need to realign not only people but also the places where people go and get work done. After all, place is still a proxy for culture.

I am beginning to think that the relationship between the places where work gets done and the people that work there is starting to change. This is because the dynamics surrounding how we work—nomadic work cultures, the growth of the gig economy, and the rise of talent clusters in many smaller, regional cities—are changing the concept of place and space for an organization and triggering a profound set of questions about what constitutes the corporate norms of how and where we work. Leaders have to ask themselves not just how employees will work together but where they will work together? What skills and capabilities does your firm need and how and where will it locate them? I think there is something more profound happening and its shows the relentless march of technology into every aspect of our lives. Our cities where people traditionally work are starting to change their look and feel.

Check out how the world’s tech giants, dripping with money and power, are changing the dynamics in and around our largest cities. From California to London, Google, Facebook and Apple are employing the world’s best architects to build awe inspiring symbols of their immense wealth and global power. Your jaw will drop when you see Apple Park: it’s a circle of glass designed to foster creativity and innovation and its obsession with detail is mindboggling: Its (German manufactured) windows provide the largest panels of curved glass anywhere on the planet while the planned underground theatre is truly something to behold. Then go and explore Google’s newly announced plans for its London HQ in the once seedy Kings Cross. It’s being called a “land scraper” with 92,000 square meters complete with a running track installed on its roof. These symbols of wealth and power could well be the smartest office space on the planet. But how far will the interaction between people and the place they work evolve? Will it be the shiny new world of Buck Rogers or the ominous territory staked out by Black Mirror?

Expect the tension between employers and their employees to grow. The implicit contract of trust sitting between both sides skews as intelligence grows around buildings and the occupants that work within them. A recent news story backs this up—Three Square, a US technology company wants to microchip its employees. The chip is the size of a grain of rice and will be implanted underneath the skin between thumb and forefinger (a bit like the bead inserted behind the ear in the ever ominous Black Mirror). The chip is optional (for now) and uses the same NFC technology that’s found in our contactless cards. With the chip employees can pay for food and drink, open doors, log onto computers and use other corporate resources. It makes sense when you consider that Three Square writes software for vending machines. That said, is there a danger that our employees become bits and bytes that can be tracked and gamified across the company? Would that work for you in your place of work?

Last year’s Future of Talent described a new work platform enabling employers to better understand the productive behavioral patterns of their workforce. We wrote how Bank of America uses sensory data to better understand employee performance dynamics and learned that; call center performance increased when staff had “hang time” with others in their social circle during lunch breaks. It then deliberately overlapped these lunch breaks, leading to a 23% increase in performance. So if we were to extrapolate...who would you choose to have in your team? The rabid “Brexiteer” or a bleeding heart liberal? What if a clever algorithm could augment your teams or co-locate staff to ensure space at work is harmonious and productive. Or perhaps you think a little “grit” makes a pearl.

Whatever you think, the places where we work are being supercharged with technology but the truth is they act as cultural barometers for people and the companies that inhabit them. Our previous work offered insights on how to enable people and how to enable leaders. Now we’re going to explore how to enable place?

PS. If you think chipping people won’t happen here in Europe then think again. A Swedish rail company started offering it’s passengers options of using a chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket...and we’re getting used to handing over our bodies to make our lives frictionless! The UK’s TSB bank announced it would become the first bank in Europe to introduce iris recognition on its mobile banking app. This stuff is creeping up on us fast.