Creating the workplace as brand experience
In the cliff notes for the white paper How to Create Loyalty Beyond Reason, Jonathon Midenhall (Airbnb) and Neill Barrie (TBWA)’s check list for what makes an iconic brand includes the assertion that it must contribute – rather than reflect – culture. I love this, and especially in terms of the workplace, which for me, with very few exceptions, fails to do anything of the sort. On the contrary, it is the site – physical and cultural – of the disconnect that Barrie notes ‘between the worlds of business and brand.’
This is a massive own goal. The disconnect that Barrie speaks of is one that fails to see the workplace as a brand experience. It’s a failure that comes in many forms, but chief among them is the assumption that a shiny new environment is all a given company needs by way of galvanising the workforce, increasing productivity, attracting and keeping talent, and making brand advocates out of us all. In short, it’s a failure that misunderstands the significance of the properly activated workplace. It’s a disconnect, to borrow once again from Barrie, that ‘means a lot of companies are leaving value on the table.’
Not everyone, of course. The forces behind the inexorable rise of the co-working space are complex and multi-layered, but beyond the effects of economic uncertainty, of the enabling powers of technology, and of the growing predilection among traditional corporates for flexible workplaces offering leases of between one and three years, there is clearly a thirst for the concierge-type hosted workplace that these providers specialise in. A space that is much more than the sum of its physical parts, however beautifully designed, it’s a place of work, a culture, a curated or programmed space, a place that invites movement, idea-making and, ultimately, collaboration. It’s an ecosystem, a whole world. It’s the workplace as the brand experienced.
To How to Create Loyalty Beyond Reason’s point with regards to contributing to culture, the very best of this new type of workplace do exactly this, and few do it better than Second Home. Visit the first of its workspaces, in east London, or even its website, and it is immediately apparent that here everything – hardware and software – is in service of the activated space, be that it’s curated offer or a design that is all about a belief, as co-founder Rohan Silva says, ‘that good things happen when people and companies collide.’ Possessing a set of services, amenities and cultural programmes that wouldn’t look or feel out of place in a private members club, Second Home is as much home to the likes of a Ernst & Young as it is a Kickstarter, and claims to grow businesses ten times faster than anywhere else.
If flexible co-working space providers are the most obvious pioneers of a concierge-type hosted workplace, then they’re not alone. Both Airbnb and Nike are past masters at creating workplaces that are experienced more as the brand than they are anything else. Each understands the workplace as a living advert for what is in effect the brand as personality, its employees – like the companies in the very best of co-working spaces – treated like customers. Each makes provision for a culture and for facilities that are taken (by employees) as equally or more important than one’s salary. And each champions fluidity, nimbleness and independence in the name of a connectivity that is the engine of creativity. Combining the attractions of a first-rate working environment with the kind of experience that plays not just to its overheads concerns but also their need to attract and retain employees, such a workplace is the great enabler of brand loyalty.
In sum, what the new type that is Second Home, AirBnB and Nike more than ably demonstrates is that the workplace should and ought to communicate the brand as the most fantastic of experiences. Working here is more than work. It is a lifestyle choice. It is being part and parcel of a family, one whose very largeness is tempered by the fact that it is organised about an easily recognised and felt belief. It is the brand as experience, at work, and one so good as to be all things to all needs, the formula for which is blindingly simple: great environment + great experience = great workplace = great employee attractiveness, retention and advocacy = exponential growth. Here be the value that Barrie speaks of.
Image credit: SecondHome, Hollywood