SERENDIPITY IN QUARANTINE PART 4: If you think your space runs itself, think again.

The workplace is not a facility, it is a show.  So why is it that we often focus on the design of the space so much more than the design of the experience? 

The workplace is a backdrop for events to unfold. 

No one shows up to Disneyland to wander around an empty lot of buildings. We come to immerse ourselves in worlds, re-live well loved stories, encounter characters, watch the parades, hustle to our favorite rides, and to find good grub. That experience is not by chance, it is designed by imagineers and run by a production team day to day who use actors, events and architecture to ‘activate’ the setting.  Disneyland was designed for the “infovore” in all of us– the part of your brain that is on the prowl for new information and fresh experiences.  And designing for the “infovore” requires a team to expertly deliver discovery and energy, filling up guests with great memories every day.  I think the workplace deserves the same.  The facilities we care so much about should really be just a backdrop for both planned and spontaneous interactions–a highly curated show. In development and deployment of the experience, we should take on methods used by the likes of Disney: borrowing from immersive theater, service design, user experience to underpin the workplace purpose.   

The Experts are running the show. 

Managing the workplace experience is someone’s full time job, not in addition to the job they already have.  As part of my work I have toured hundreds of client’s workplaces and I often ask for clarity on who manages the space day to day– Who makes it feel welcoming? And often I get a mumble of responses from “our facilities team does X, our receptionist does Y and one very dedicated executive assistant in accounting does Z, even though it’s not really her job”. This tells me that no one person is really in charge of the experience and the business sees the workplace as a box to be maintained, not a customer service interface between employees and the organization. How people are cared for at work not only helps people be effective at work, it is a tool to create brand loyalty and brand evangelism. But often the expertise  is swept aside as a ‘nice to have’ both within start-ups and corporate culture.  

But things are changing.  As we continue to blend retail, hospitality, and the workplace together, there is growing recognition that we can learn from thoughtful customer service design.  ‘People first’ experiences are what makes one brand successful over another.  Long standing examples of good customer service strength overtime as competition fails and falls.  Zappos sees themselves as a customer service company, not a shoe company. Apple store employee empathy training,  Nordstrom takes responsibility for customer issues, even if they don’t sell the item.  

A workplace does not run itself.  As we think about how to return employees to the office post pandemic- and the purpose that a work experience brings beyond working from home, we need to think about the customer journey and their motivations and what will pull people in and keep them engaged.  Making a magnetic, productive and energizing workday for employees should be someone’s full time job, hired for expert skills in hospitality, customer service and event planning and prioritized as a must have, not a nice to have.

You Don’t Need a Receptionist. You Need a Community Director. 

In the past the workplace has required a receptionist or an office manager who, broadly speaking, is a first line defense of customer service- responsible for incoming calls, hosting guests, booking rooms, facility support, and administrative support for executives.  This is a traditional mindset to care for a workplace experience that prioritizes executive and guest needs first and separate from employee needs. The transformational mindset cares for the workplace community in total, from cleaning crew to CEO.  The best rethink and recast of this role comes from my former employer WeWork: who, according to me, has developed the strongest concept of the Workplace Community Management Team.  
My point is not to spill the secret sauce of community management for the 800+ WeWork co-working locations around the world (I was always a superfan, but definitely an expert in this part of WeWork’s business). But for large enterprise companies considering their post-pandemic return to work plan, I do want to evangelise aspects of immersive design and community care as part of their revised workplace strategy. Here is how I would cast an expert for this community care role:

The Community Director is like a Cruise Director for the workplace. 

They are responsible for:

  • Connecting people in the community to each other through personal introductions and organized events. They are charged with creating an inclusive and warm experience where everyone feels recognized and valued.  They support peer to peer events and moments that focus on building trust and camaraderie amongst employees. 
  • The vibe of the space and the feeling of energy, comfort and empowerment when you come to work.  And they are the team that oversees spaces, technology and tools to empower employees to get their work done effectively. 
  • Anticipate needs and be a helping hand. They are a safety net (I forgot markers for my brainstorm session, let me grab some from your office supply closet) and a friendly nudge to be your best self (take 5 minutes out of your day and show up to the ‘mother’s day’ flower bouquet making event).  They will go above and beyond to help you get what you need when you are at your most stressed, frustrated self. 


Employee onboarding to workplace

Guest orientation to workplace

Facilities ticketing & response time

Promotes upcoming events and workplace changes/ updates

Manage event budget, calendar and design

Food & beverage, mailroom, physical security and cleaning crew liaison

Vendor delivery oversight

Daily DJ (music in lounges, cafe kitchens, bathrooms)

Space or technology mis-use/ behavior liaison

‘Boots on Ground’ research feedback

Maintains space quality standards

Experience In:

Hospitality & customer service

Communication design

Change management

Event & program planning

Production design

Improv, conflict resolution 

Hiring Ratio: For every 150 memberships/ 1 Community Director

As we consider how to best come back to the workplace in person, now is the chance to rethink what will pull people in. Consider your community care and customer service plan for your own employees and start planning today for tomorrow’s more supportive and vibrant work experience.