How a workplace should feel in the knowledge economy

The gig economy. Workplace culture. Technology-richness. Knowledge workers. Today’s business world is about much more than what is done—it’s about how and why.

People work to achieve a sense of meaningful fulfillment. A job is valuable because of the vast spectrum of human needs it helps to fulfill — from the resources to provide shelter and security to the self-value and self-actualization people feel when they do something meaningful.

Even when the granularity of what we do is precise and fine, we see responses to the question of how we work as macro-concepts — movements like the gig economy, culture, and technology shape a cohesive narrative of work that extends into the future.

At its simplest, the knowledge economy is the creation of value through the creation and dissemination of knowledge, rather than tangible goods. Think patents, not machines. Think software, not equipment.

So, what does the workplace look like in a world where we derive greater and greater value from businesses participating in this knowledge economy?

We see three central themes:

  • Innovation driven by inquiry
  • Global culture, local color
  • Synergies in experiential design

Innovation driven by inquiry.

We used to create products and then try to figure out ways to market them. Innovation is the modern response to that entrepreneurial spirit — exploration that recognizes needs & fills them.

At its best, innovation is scalable, with the capacity to meet people where they are and unveil new perspectives on tools and processes already at hand. Innovation is vibrantly and fiercely empirical — a canvas where inquiry, analysis, and design come together to paint the world anew.

How can workplaces harness the movement of innovation to drive value?

Fast iteration. Despite the pervasiveness of technology, we are coming up with ideas more slowly than we used to—and many believe the disruptions we do create are less impactful socially and economically than in previous generations. On the other side of the coin, the value of accelerating speed-to-market is sky-high. Many believe Amazon’s acquiring of Whole Foods is about the distribution network. The world, in today’s experience-driven, disruption economy, is experiencing monumental shifts — stimuli like increased global competition, ever-rising consumer expectations, and intensifying complexity are requiring companies and institutions to dedicate resources, tools, and delineated structures to driving innovation, and driving it fast. A 3-D printer is trendy, but a laser cutter offers product designers a quicker way to test the feasibility of many ideas in quick succession. Quick, iterative creation of knowledge is crucial in today’s market.

The fusion of business & technology. If companies are thinking of themselves more and more as the conduits between people and how they live, work, and play, then offices should be permeable spaces that offer the diffusion of ideas in and through, out and beyond. Technology has created a business culture more porous and collaborative than ever — the design of the workplace must elevate that by creating collision chambers for interaction amongst individuals and beyond the four walls of a building.

Advanced lifelong learning. We understand that fostering an exchange of thoughts and concepts is foundational to our collective and individual futures. Designing for spatial and intellectual connectivity, ideation, and experimentation propel us forward and allow us to consistently reconstruct our philosophies and revise our worldviews. Workplace design must promote spaces for these epiphanies and support the conversations and sourcing that infuse knowledge into the work environment. In parallel, workplace design can adapt the deep and growing body of knowledge about education-based learning spaces to its unique purpose.

Just as the confluence of biomes creates diverse, unique ecosystems, so too, does the confluence of work, life, learning, and play create new synergies.

Global culture. Local color.

Today’s companies often have their own standards for how a workplace should be designed, how employees should work together. At their best, these standards celebrate the sense of global community they create, all while expressing an entity’s mission, vision, character, and brand. Today’s workplaces must make and remake themselves frequently, adapting to the needs of a shifting business environment, clients, and knowledge workers.

But how do companies elevate local offices to global standards while cherishing the character of the local environs and employees?

Striking the right balance. Social media has created unique media spaces for the communication of brand to the client. Companies need to provide their clients and the world with the highest quality products, but also share world-changing ideas. The work environment must be a thoughtful and delicate blend of openness & security, collaboration & focus, visibility & discretion, thinking & doing.

An authentic sense of welcome. We see welcome spaces, lobbies, and atria as great opportunities for the sprinkling of local character. These spaces act as transitions from an articulated community to the delineated branded space of a company. Designing these spaces to offer authentic experiences can elevate brand while infusing an environment with a sense of authenticity.

Local & global collaboration. How, where, and why people come together need to be woven into the built environment. Crafting analogue spaces and huddle pods as well as multipurpose spaces and technology-rich meeting rooms that connect with the global workforce leads to a cascade of workplace environments that can be formed and reformed to meet the needs of today’s workforce.

Synergies in experiential design.

Just as the confluence of biomes creates diverse, unique ecosystems, so too, does the confluence of work, life, learning, and play create new synergies.

A workplace should not only be a space in which to experience, but should support the social and knowledge ecosystems that are experienced. Planning to provide moments for that experiential connection involves considering views and pathways that link interior and exterior spaces, link disciplines and departments, creating sensory environments in an explorable space. From a company’s signature game room to art installations, branded wayfinding to gardens, areas for conversation to areas for celebration, designing the workplace is about designing experiences that elevate the heart and mind.

How do you approach experiential design? We like to think of it as an opportunity to experiment with the intersections—the spaces between work, learning, life, and play. It is in those liminal spaces that great design happens and innovations form.

Activating engagement. The power of the dynamic world of today is the amount of engagement we experience daily. Building places for work that harness this goes beyond providing amenities to crafting place where people from all disciplines, backgrounds, and purposes bring their dreams to collide — co-working spaces for life, play, learning, and living.

Purpose-driven work. More than ever, we see evidence of companies aligning their purpose with society. Delivering exceptional work environments becomes about adapting to shifting company cultures, the gig economy and remote work, and workers’ sense of choice.

Interaction, gamification & media. From a bookshop to a coffee bar to augmented reality to workplace wellness programs, the power of commerce has blended workplace and experiential retail. Empowering your employees to feel like a customer makes them feel valued and encourages a sense of agency. Creating moments of interactivity — crafting media-based wellness programs that reward like games do and offering flexible spaces that reconfigure like legos for grownups — instills a sense of ownership over the work environment.

At the end of the day, the purpose of a workplace is to work together, better.

Whether we express that purpose formally, in our company’s and organization’s mission, vision, or brand, or we express it in the day-to-day enactment of values and collaborative experiences, the important thing is that work doesn’t lead the purpose. Purpose leads the work.

Understanding the synergies that can lead to greater and more diverse accomplishments, applying our skills and talents in new and valuable ways, and working across borders to achieve a collective purpose are all part of a workplace that will herald a future worth dreaming about.