Use your workspace to define your “why”
Laying out a higher purpose has never been more important in building a great company. Here’s how your workspace can help you articulate what your organization stands for.
By Sara Merriman, Director, Life Science and University Partnerships, Brandywine Realty Trust
Also seen in the Philadelphia Business Journal.
What’s the difference between a good company and a truly great one? According to consulting firm Deloitte, organizations that frame their purpose as something beyond making money — existing to solve human problems and benefit communities — show higher market-share gains and grow three times faster than their competitors.
A corporation’s purpose gets expressed in many ways, from the products it sells to the principles that guide its decisions. But leaders are recognizing that the physical workplace is connected to purpose, too. Here are five ways your workspace should align with your why.
1. Your space unleashes human potential.
Helping team members grow, develop skills and become the people they aspire to be is the best way to attract and retain great talent — and get the best results from that talent. While COVID has forced many workers to operate remotely, great companies know — because research shows — that in-person human connection remains vital.
Start with mental well-being. A 2020 study found that virtual interactions were no substitute for in-person human contact when it came to happiness and satisfaction. The results reinforce what Business Anthropologist Martha Bird said, in an article published on MIT Sloan Management Review: “People need people. Advances in digital tools as intermediaries for enabling connection are not enough.”
The physical workplace is also essential in helping build “social capital” — the benefits people get from who they know. At work, those benefits include everything from information flow to mentorship to creativity to simply getting help when you’re stuck on a project. “One of the biggest and most worrisome changes we saw … was the significant impact that a year of full-time remote work had on organizational connections,” Harvard Business Review reported in March 2021.
2. Your space prioritizes worker wellness.
COVID has made companies more cognizant than ever of safeguarding employee health. But a focus on worker wellness predates the pandemic and goes beyond protecting people from a virus.
A 2021 study from Harvard’s School of Public Health found that air quality within an office can have a significant effect on employees’ cognitive function, including the ability to focus. “Our study adds to the emerging evidence that air pollution has an impact on our brain,” said Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, who led the research.
3. Your space embraces flexibility.
One reason purpose-driven companies outperform other organizations is that they see the world more expansively. Rather than focusing myopically on markets, existing products and short-term ROI, they ask how they can make progress on the larger problems that define their purpose.
But being able to capitalize on those insights requires nimbleness in everything from how an organization is structured to how physical workspaces are configured. As Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said in an announcement to staff, “The future of work is flexibility.”
For its new office in Austin, financial giant JPMorgan Chase chose a space at a new building, 405 Colorado, that will help it reimagine both its employee and customer experiences. “We want to spend time with our clients,” Andy Brock, head of private banking in Central Texas for JP Morgan Chase said to the Austin Business Journal. “The conversations we have are quite intimate, and this building does two things: one, [it gives us] an opportunity to engage with clients in a completely different way. At the same time, [the new space will be] really important for our employees.”
4. Your space helps protect the planet.
Sustainability is one area where employees, managers and shareholders are increasingly aligned. Fortune 500 found that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have sustainability goals—with more than 75% of Fortune 100 companies now having at least one commitment.
Such statistics illustrate why leading real estate and development companies like Brandywine Realty Trust have embraced sustainability initiatives. Brandywine optimizes energy usage across its portfolio, not only reducing operating and utility costs but reducing greenhouse gases and lessening environmental impact.
5. Your space connects you to your neighbors.
In 2019, the Business Roundtable announced its embrace of stakeholder capitalism, the view that corporations have a duty not only to shareholders, but to employees, customers, suppliers and communities.
An organization’s physical space plays a significant role in cultivating those community connections. In developing its properties, for example, Brandywine Realty Trust seeks to be additive to the neighborhoods it serves, creating public amenity spaces; supporting small and minority-owned businesses; and providing capital for critical neighborhood needs. The company’s Schuylkill Yards innovation community — a $3.5 billion, multi-year project being built in conjunction with Drexel University — boasts a $16.4 million neighborhood engagement program, as well as the creation of 1.3 acres of public space in West Philadelphia.