Jon Lebkowsky: Thinking Ahead About the Workplace

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Jon Lebkowsky

Forward thinking about the competitive workplace

Earlier this week I attended a breakfast panel sponsored by Gensler (, an architecture, design, planning and consultation firm that focuses (among other things) on effective workplace environments, consulting for companies like Google, HP, Yahoo and Facebook. The title of the panel was “Designing your workplace for a competitive edge.”

Here’s my set of notes from the panel:

Evolving workplace:

Version 1.0: Move fast and break things. Emerging culture. Workplaces built for speed, transparency, flexibility.

Version 2.0: 8×8, 1:1. Cubic farms on vast floor plates. Cube dwellers. Butts in seats. Embedded hierarchy.

Version 3.0: (Now). Activity-based era. Changing work process. Mobile, remote work. “We” spaces, not “me” spaces. Support for collaboration. Drivers: faster pace, distributed teams, lean and mean. Changing work processes (from waterfall to agile). Closed to open. Get products to market faster. Multiple space times for multiple work modes. Coworking. Workers not tethered to one company.

Derek Woodgate, The Futures Lab: futurist perspective
Eden Bruckman, International Living Future Institute: sustainability perspective
David Bumgardner, HP: real estate acquisition and management perspective.

Bumgardner’s job is to maximize HP’s real estate portfolio. He has to consider how employees work and what kind of environment is conducive to productivity, at the same time maintaining standards across the global HP properties. He focuses on optimal use of all properties, noting that the workforce increasingly consists of mobile employees who require no office or desk. The need for consistent standards is so that wherever the mobile employee goes to an HP facility, the work environment is fairly consistent. Other factors: environmental sustainability, affordability.

A green and sustainable workplace environment can be a competitive edge: some of the most talented employees will factor environmental impact into their decisions about where to work.

Google is another company that focuses on sustainability. The focus is authentic, no greenwashing. Google wants to move beyond LEED, looking through the lens of the Living Building Challenge (

The build environment is an extension of who we are. We see increasing interest in building bio measurement and feedback into environments. China is looking closely at metrics in building 20 megacities.

Community will no longer be a matter of who’s aggregated in any place, but also how they share and manage resources.

Health and well-being is the new perq for employees; it’s no longer about having a corner office or other sings of hierarchy.

At Zappos, the number 1 priority is company culture, feeling that if you get that right, the rest will happen naturally. How does the built environment impact that culture?

The contemporary work environment needs spaces for energizing and spaces for discharging that energy.

Technology is moving fast, but the build environment is inherently slow.

HP created the Halo Room (, a set of global networked technology-mediated remote conferencing environments. As these kinds of environments proliferate, travel requirements will decrease. “You’re not going to see that people interaction go away. You’re going to see better ways to get it.”

Increasingly building sustainability into design standards, which may have to vary for different (non-U.S.) contexts. Striving for a zero effect (carbon neutral). Changing densities.

Currently workers don’t feel the same commitment from companies as before, and vice versa. Companies are reducing the numbers of employees and relying more on contractors. We’re creating a world of experts (consultants).

Future workers (currently under 25 years of age) are growing up with a different set of assumptions. Their world is a world of peer groups, not authoritarian hierarchies. It’s a world that’s saturated with technology, especially for communications. For the first time ever, we’re starting to see multiple generations of employees working together in the same office.

Phi Beta Iota:  Notice the butts in seats model, which is where the US and most governments are today.  OWS is already at the new model.  All this was known in the 1980’s, relearned in the 1990’s, and is now being relearned a third time, but the lack of integrity in senior management–an inability to listen and adapt–has retarded both democracy and capitalism.  See the list below for many new books, and the two books not on the old lists.  The earliest book to “get it” that we know of was by Robert Carkhuff, The exemplar: The exemplary performer in the age of productivity (Human Resource Development Press, 1984).

The Innovator’s Manifesto: Deliberate Disruption for Transformational Growth

The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)