How the Best Place of Work Became A State of Mind

Guest post from Jonas Altman:

Matt
Mullenweg’s company had a plush office at Pier 38 in San Francisco’s
Embarcadero. It was only a five-minute walk from his apartment, but his
preference, like many in the company, was to work from home.

More
than three years ago they shut their office and the company continues to
flourish. If ever there was living that giving workers flexibility and control
over their life works – it’s WordPress. Mullenweg the founder of Automattic
(the parent company) explains, ‘In the future, [companies] will either be
distributed or be taken over by companies that are – because the smartest
people in the world are going to want to work this way.’    

Indeed,
one of the biggest obstacles to getting great work done may still be the
physical office. Many of these dire places rob inhabitants of their focus (and
soul for that matter), through a constant stream of distractions. In some ways,
COVID waved a magic wand, enabling many employees to change their work
environments overnight.

A Far-Out Vision

When
it comes to engagement, creativity, and productivity – there’s an intricate
tango to strike between people and place. A far-out vision for achieving this
harmony in work is that of architecture professor David Dewane. His Eudaimonia Machine has the lofty goal of
helping workers reach their full potential.

Featuring
a series of five distinct rooms, each is dedicated to a specific mode of work:
the gallery for inspiration, the salon for conversation, the library for
research, the office for light work, and my personal favorite, the chamber for
deep work. There are no hallways so you move through each room, sequentially
edging towards your most concentrated work. All that’s missing, it seems, is a
dedicated space to recharge, which may just entail decamping from the office altogether
for some fresh air.

Some
companies hire architects, interior designers, workplace strategists,
psychologists, and even mathematicians to design the perfect office for their
particular needs. But for many, work is something you feel empowered to do, not
necessarily somewhere you need to be.

The
precise destination of work tomorrow, whether geographic or virtual, will be an
arbitrary concern. Because great work can, and will, continue to happen
anywhere. It happens in those temporal places that cater best to the
technological, creative, and intellectual needs of the individual and team.

The Magic Number

One
reason why midsize family businesses have flourished throughout history is
because they’re nimble, with typically less than 150 employees. There are
strong bonds and good communication between workers. It’s these businesses that
account for a whopping 60% of global employment. Military units are often
capped at this magic number of 150 because when lives are on the line, it’s
helpful if everyone knows each other’s name.

That’s
not to say that you can’t grow bigger and still maintain a great culture.
Squarespace, a technology company with nearly 1,000 employees, has been voted
New York’s best place to work countless times.

While
their Manhattan office may be static, how they work is anything but. They live
their values by respecting, inspiring, and challenging workers and encouraging
them to be their most creative–wherever that may happen to be. Many workers
make the journey to the office because they say it’s a place where they love to
work and ‘hang out.’

A State of Mind

That
special something businesses are looking for–fostering the right energy–comes
from people. And since humans, like businesses, evolve over time, the
healthiest work environments change in concert with their occupants and the
general state of the world.

‘There
are companies that are finding new ways to work, that allow people to set their
own hours, have more flexibility, live wherever they want in the world and
they’re going to attract the best people,’ declares Mullenweg. He should know,
the unassuming billionaire’s company has less than1,200 employees yet
astonishingly powers 37% of all sites on the web.          

For
way too many, there’s a disconnect between the company culture that managers
first set then strive to realize, and the culture they experience every day
when they come into work. Creating a great place to work means truly
understanding the ongoing interplay of worker bees within a complex system.
When there isn’t a clear goal or a shared language, it’s near impossible for a
culture to gel. And when workers don’t have the tools and support they need,
eventually they’ll up and leave.

We
can view work for what it’s becoming; an experimental practice to evolve. It
now occupies a psychological space as much as a physical one. Turns out, the
best place to work isn’t a place after all; it’s a state of mind.

JONAS
ALTMAN
is the author SHAPERS:
Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future
(Wiley, Sept 2020). He is a speaker, writer, and entrepreneur on a
mission to make the world of work more human. As the founder of award-winning
design practice Social Fabric, he creates learning experiences to elevate and
grow leaders at the world’s boldest organizations.