“What Am I Not Thinking Of?”

The #1 thing most companies forget when designing the workplace of the future

Hint: it ain’t the ping pong table.

When it comes to creating better workplace cultures and technologies, most companies have figured out that perks and cutting edge equipment can help employees work faster and smarter.

Ping pong tables, gourmet cafeterias, open floor-plans, state-of-the-art videoconferencing? All potentially good things to have, and all — in theory — will help your employees work faster and smarter.

And yet, if you’re in charge of your company’s culture and planning for future technological needs, you may have a nagging feeling that you’re missing…something.

“When organizations talk about future of work, what exactly are they talking about?” says work futurist Jacob Morgan. “To me, the most important aspect, the overriding premise, is the employee experience.”

That experience is comprised of three things: physical space, technology, and culture. You can’t have a future-oriented workplace by focusing only on space and technology. And if you do invest in culture, you must account for how it will evolve over time.

In other words, when you ask yourself “what am I not thinking of?” the answer may very well be this simple fact: people change.

Hint: it ain’t the gourmet food.

Helping Employees Grow

Organizations change slowly. People tend to change more quickly. And when people have a sense of agency, even within a slow-changing system, they tend to be happier. Which is why, experts say, executives should concentrate more on how employees develop over time — how their skills change, their roles develops, and how they integrate into an already-moving and complex machine.

“What we have seen across the board with our clients, from Fortune 500s to startups, is [focusing on the] recruitment process,” says Adriana Krasniansky, brand strategist and researcher for PSFK, a workplace innovation consultancy. “Companies focus a lot on finding that perfect fit, but it’s the development of that employee that is key.”

PSFK’s research found that roughly 80 percent of individuals did not have formal training about the workplace culture and environment. “That can hinder true potential,” Krasniansky says. “It’s about finding the holes in this broken system and truly developing talent, not just assuming they are the best from the start.”

Krasniansky’s co-worker, Scott Lachut, director of consulting at PSFK, takes development one step further into how employees advance.

“In general, I think companies need to do a better job of providing context around career advancement within their organizations to give their employees a better sense of what the possibilities are,” he says. “I think too often the path for advancement is thought of as a straight line, when in reality it should look more like a tree.”

For example, as an employee’s skills and interests evolve over the course of their career they might desire more lateral advances or flexibility in terms of their work, which is an attractive benefit.

Alongside this, a company can offer the resources and mentorship to let their employees be more self-directed.

“An easy takeaway we have seen is introducing an employee to every part of the company,” says Krasniansky. “It’s about seeing how all sides of the company works, and get a feel of how each side of the company becomes a part of a larger whole.” One of their clients, Tuft & Needle, a mattress company from Arizona, does just that. They require skill-sharing, where employees are educated in the nuances of other departments. “This creates a unified culture,” Krasniansky says. “That camaraderie is really important.”

General Electric, too, does something similar.

On August 4, Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, released a statement that GE would be abandoning employee reviews and rethinking their company culture and structure — all to take a look at employee experience.

“We have to embrace decentralization and use technology to help our people to stay connected and allow more automated decision-making so you can look at an app and see what’s going on inside the company,” Immelt wrote in his post.

That shift — especially at a venerable company like General Electric — may reveal how modern data analysis and instant communications create an expectation of more immediate feedback at every level.

“Companies need to have an open culture with feedback — emotional feedback, how projects are doing — and this needs to happen constantly,” Krasniansky says. “Annual reviews create intense generalizations. For companies to really move forward, they need to focus on the day-to-day employee experience — pinpointed reviews, action-orientated reviews.”

She put the emphasis on employee experience more bluntly: “When you create a healthier environment for the employee, you see a two-fold increase in potential.”