Have You Embraced The Post-Pandemic Workplace?

The show, The Office aired for nine seasons on NBC from 2005 through 2013. It’s a bit ironic that The Office, was what is called a “mockumentary” sitcom.

The writers of the show had no idea of just how the concept of The Office would fit within our social evolutionary culture in 2021.

If you think about it, the concept of the individual office was birthed long before we lived in a connected digital, personal laptop, smart phone, Internet world.

There are many nights when I cannot sleep that I think about just how crazy workplace leadership had to be to think that the conventional offices could have built a world of interactive, cross pollenating teams.

There is no question that the office workplace went through a full scope re-engineering as walls came down and the communal gathering team workspace became hip.

When the Great Recession hit in 2009, many companies decided to move full speed on “revolutionizing” office space. In 2010, the leading-edge of Millennials was turning 30 and the trailing edge of Millennials had just gotten a driver’s license.

No one back in 2010 had any idea of what would happen 10 years later in 2020 that blew up the office business model.

It was back in 2010 that EXPERIENCE shifted from leasing an office suite to co-working space.

What stimulates this Blog post is an article that ran in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about WeWork and its next attempt to resurrect its initial, failed IPO.

I am writing this Blog as I sit in a Panera along with more than two dozen Zoomers and ‘Tweeners in their early 20s.

I checked out WeWork when it initially premiered in Atlanta and also visited their co-working space in Chicago, Houston and Charlotte.

WeWork is headquartered right in the heart of New York City on West 18th Street and operates co-working space at 850 locations globally from Kansas City to Lima to Cambridge to Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh City.

When I worked with Time-Warner in New York, I can assure you that my office was not as posh as the WeWork space you can have membership access to just around the corner from West 18th Street.

The WeWork space I toured in Atlanta was anchored with trendy space too.

Communal areas complete with espresso bars, mediation spaces and even fitness rooms complete with lockers.

Today, an Atlantan can secure monthly access to the communal space for $300 per month… that’s down from $500 per month back in the pre-Pandemic days.

Back then, you got that espresso on-the-house and today it appears that you pay for it by the cup.

On April 29, 2019, WeWork attempted to file its first IPO, but shortly after announcing the IPO, wind hit the financial portfolio of the cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann which turned into more than a center-circle circus show.

Earlier this week, WeWork, now owed by a SPAC — special purpose acquisition company — announced its going to try to stage an IPO again.

Seems that the phrase “a day late and a dollar short” just might be the tagline of that stage show.

I loved this line in the WSJ article… “WeWork is predicting a rapid recovery from the Pandemic downturn, which hit its businesses particularly hard because few people were using offices, much less shared space.”

Here is where the texting icon, “OMG” and “WTF” can be inserted.

While the Wall Street financial MBAs might think it has everything to do with the way the SPAC has re-scripted the accounting books that will make WeWork appear to be back on track.

And those headquartered on Wall Street just might still cling to a belief that those high rise offices will soon fill back up again in post-Pandemic times.

But those frat brothers might elect to get in their high-end SUV’s and drive over to nearest Panera and step inside where America’s business workforce is working today.

It has all to do with the storyline of The Office and how it has evolved into more of a true “documentary” than a “mockumentary.”

My desire to embrace the anthropology of the American Marketplace is what drives me to get out of bed each morning. I love to observe and engage with those dwelling in that Marketplace.

I am getting a kick out of watching the Zoomer’s and Tweeners at Panera as they individually claim a table — their office of ownership and control — and next get the Apple earplugs tuned into their digital spectrum of music.

COVID-19 might have functioned as a catalyst, but the American office workplace was already collapsing with Millennials and mobile, digital connectivity spreading like wildfire.

And the Zoomers entering the job market next will only accelerate the changes.

I will might even put a $100 bill on the table and bet that WeWork will not make it to its second attempted IPO.

WeWork’s monthly fee reduction from $500 per month to $300 per month will have limited impact.

The mindset of The Office has changed.

The Office is now part home, part business space and part Panera Bread Company… or the local indie coffee house or donut cafe since Starbucks is no longer a place where folks can camp out… at least inside the building.

Folks connect with others digitally more than in person. Meetings are held more via Zoom too.

Some of the newly hired Millennials even have difficulty understanding what a board room is… and probably once educated on its function text their friends about what they term a “bored room” … that is not a typo.

For blog readers, here are some major change agents at work…

(1) The local focus is way more at work right now than many believe… local brands, local resources and local connectivity. If you are a national brand, you may want to rethink how you convey your brand foundation and connection points. If you are a local brand, you have equity that you may not realize.

(2) As much as corporate structures and layers are no longer operationally smart… small groups and teams are hip. Titles mean nothing… but peer connectivity and team personal signatures drive operations and performance.

(3) Don’t rule out personal interaction… encouraged it. Just accept that the interaction will be as much digital as in person… and the digital interaction can be text or Zoom or a combination of both. Get your headset out of the office building context model… even if the office buildings come back, they are perceived way differently than they did pre-Pandemic… pre-digital world days.

(4) Getting out of the context of the “workplace” — wherever that may be physically or digitally and engaging with the marketplace at-large is critical. Many in management fail to understand this. Brands like Amazon and FedEx get it because their workforce actually work “in the field.” A possible catalyst to consider just might be the launch of “field trips” complete with “experiential assignments.”

(5) A sense of “co-ownership” and the integration of one’s “personal signature” means a lot to a post-Pandemic… even post-Millennial entry workforce. Today, working a job has to marry with how many see a career as “fulfilling a sense of personal mission” and “call.”

As I often conclude in my blogposts… Onward!

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.