Workforce, not Workplace, Is the Key to Innovation and Success

A recent panel discussed the workplace lessons of 2020, one takeaway: It’s the people, not the place.
Rapt Studio The Schoolhouse 1

The Google Schoolhouse, 2020, Mountain View, CA, was designed by Rapt Studio to maximize workforce engagement. Courtesy Michael Lyon

“Change drives innovation. We must continually evolve into what a successful workplace looks like,” said Nicole Senior, director of workplace experience, Tinder. Change, innovation and human connection were topics of prominence in a December 17 Think Tank, hosted by Rapt Studio, and titled “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Workforce Lessons for 2021.”

An overriding theme was employee happiness after many difficult months of remote working. “We’re slowing down and focusing on mental health,” said Lisa Hennessey, chief people officer at Happy Money, which is on track to double its revenue in 2020. “How do we make people not feel isolated? How do we create moments of delight?”

“It’s not about workplace, it’s about workforce,” concurred David Galullo, CEO and chief creative officer, Rapt Studio. “If you start with the people, you may or may not need a workplace. Or, you may need different kinds of workplaces, but it has to come from the workforce.” In this spirit, he said: “The workplace is a vessel for meaningful connection, making people think they are part of something larger than themselves.”

Noora Raj Brown, senior vice president of communications at goop, founded by Gwyneth Paltrow, said that despite the high profile of the company’s founder, “culture can’t just start from the top. It has to be built from the middle and the bottom. Employees are responsible for culture.”

Beyond people, there is the sheer transformation of the very meaning of “office.” Moderator Avinash Rajagopal, editor in chief of Metropolis, called it “a physical-to-digital evolution while the nature of the organization itself is changing.” Galullo chimed in with a retail example.

“If you think about retailers that have both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce, they both must feel the same. With brick and mortar there are things you can’t get with digital, and vice versa. The in-store visit, and the digital must feel the same.” goop’s Brown put in a word for the tactile experience that has always distinguished in-person retailing. “If one of our buyers wants to show a piece of fabric to an editor, there’s nothing like ‘touch and feel.’”

Rapt Studio Goop

Goop Headquarters, 2020, Santa Monica, CA Courtesy Madeline Tolle

Returning to the people-centric theme, Galullo said: “Hopefully a year from now we will have a very different take on group health than we had a year ago. It’s not about putting plastic between people; it’s about building a place that is meaningful and brings people together.”

All panelists agreed that warm human interaction has been missing in the pandemic, and that they can’t wait to get back to it. Senior said: “I’m looking forward to hugging my colleague’s newborn.” goop’s Brown offered that she misses “the camaraderie of celebrating a win.” Finally Galullo pleaded for a more humanist pedagogy for architects.

“We need to be creating more well-rounded, more curious and more empathetic designers.”

The Think Tank discussions were held on December 3, 10, and 17. The conversations were presented in partnership with  Material Bank, Grohe, Versteel, Knoll Textiles, Etc.Loftwall, and GKD.  

You may also enjoy “Health-Care Centers and Universities Gear Up for COVID’s End

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: comments@metropolismag.com


Register here for Metropolis’s Think Tank Thursdays and hear what leading firms across North America are thinking and working on today.

Categories: Think Tank