A Third City of Entrepreneurs: the workplace revolution of Los Angeles

As Los Angeles welcomes a new cohort of workers into its offices, the inaugural WORKTECH LA 19 explores the changing needs of employees from workplace design, leadership styles and technology infrastructure

Los Angeles has been attracting attention as the third largest start-up city in the United States and has even been coined Silicon Beach. In areas where start-ups are concentrated, there is a tendency work styles and office awareness to advance at a higher rate. This accelerated growth of new businesses led to the inaugural WORKTECH LA 19 conference hosted by Convene in Los Angeles in May. In this city blessed with perfect weather year-round, the pioneers of the workplace industry gathered to engage in active talks to make positive changes to the Los Angeles working environment.

The Relationship of Changing Needs

The event started with a talk by Chris Kelly, CEO of Convene. Now that competition for recruiting is intensifying, the relationship between employee and employer has changed. As a result, landlords are becoming stronger and more prominent service providers; Kelly states that this has led to major changes in the real estate industry. He said that the real estate industry is now required to provide more user-centred services for tenants and that Convene is a ‘hospitality company that happens to be in the real estate industry.’ Large companies are now actively using real estate as a strategic weapon to win the recruiting competition, and the impact this will have on the real estate and workplace industries will continue to be significant.

Managing Director of Workplace Strategy at Savills, Shannon Woodcock, also introduced the transition of employee needs for companies with the history of the workplace. Woodcock explained how the workplace has evolved from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, when minimum wage was guaranteed and 8-hour workday was enacted, to the birth of the designed office, to the current fitness, mental wellness, and medical health-focused mindset established. Just as WeWork has recently become the first big company to tell its employees what they can and can not eat, Woodcock pointed out that today’s companies are now committing more to the employee. Forecasts for next-generation trends include personal workplace technology, more user-friendly designs, flexibility and freedom in working styles, and societal justice, which employees of Generation Z value as important for companies.

Gen Z crave stories that have impactful meaning and as employees

It is important to use data to understand changing needs. Now that Gen Z is joining the workforce and the needs of employees are diversifying, the importance of granular data will be significant. Under the moderation of Ari Kepnes of Density, three panellists: Scott Anderson, Kieran Hannon, and Terry Raby discussed the problem of what to digitise and how to make that data available in the office. Not just for facility management, but also as a necessity to measure the employee experience. Data obtained through reporting and employee evaluations are used to evaluate the benefits and services provided by the office, and the evaluation of apps and technologies in the workplace that are said to be more user-friendly. For them, it is possible to use data for improvement as well. The speakers unanimously agreed for the need to continue to look at a broad perspective on where we can use data.

The Work-Life Jenga

As the percentage of millennials in the workforce increases year by year and Gen Z starts to enter the workforce, office management will shift focus to them as the main users. In the panel sessions of Yester Sabondzhyan (Manager of Workplace Analytics & Programming, Hulu) and Kate Dodd (Workplace Strategy Lead, Woods Bagot North America) it was stated that 75 per cent of the workforce will be Millennials by 2025, and 40 per cent of the employees at tech companies will be in their 30’s. For this cohort of generations, UX is very important; this doesn’t just encompass the design of the workplace, but also the usability of everything from apps to the work itself.

According to Woodcock, Gen Z crave stories that have impactful meaning and as employees, they will seek companies that uphold societal justice. As particular to the work style of this generation, they will amalgamate their private time and working time more than older generations. Concepts like Work-Life Balance or Work-Life Integration will shift to something more like Work-Life Jenga for more Millennials and Gen Z-ers as time passes.

Kelly Robinson, a workplace designer for SoundCloud, Airbnb and Headspace, discussed the meaningful impact workplace has on society. She explained that corporate offices, such as Apple Park and Pasona in Japan, are becoming more active in trying to raise awareness about greenery and food together with employees. Robinson explained that the kitchen in the office is also a place that has an important meaning as ‘a powerful place to rethink the way we think about nature’.

Digital-savvy Millennials force technology acceleration

Workplaces around the world are reborn every day to accommodate the influx of new generation workers and in order to support them, the technology also needs to reboot and update. Ungroup’s CEO & Founder Phillip Ross, explained that cameras and sensors are located everywhere in offices which can give insights into who is in the office, what each employee is doing, the environmental preferences of each employee, where employees are planning to go and what they might do next. This new era of technology in the workplace has formed a ‘Sentient Workplace’ – a workplace which ‘feels and responds automatically’ to everything.

Rahul Shira of Signify said that even with a single light, there could be a major evolution of technology. Using the world’s smartest building, The Edge, Shira explains that a lighting system exemplifies how lighting technology plays an important role in current office trends. Of course, the adequacy of illumination has an impact on employee performance, but also on the greenery and plant life now found in a majority of offices. Smart lighting strategies can also be a significant energy saving tool, as well as helping to adjust the natural circadian rhythms of employees.

Collaboration and Openness

While the needs of employees in the workplace are quite different, the overarching needs of any company are concentrated on collaboration and openness. Architect Clive Wilkinson, who designed Googleplex, and Primo Orpilla who worked for Uber, Slack and McDonald’s offices, explained that first and foremost office spaces are used for not only one purpose but multiple usages. For the collaboration space, a high degree of freedom which allows those working alone to coexist alongside different groups working is the key to producing a successful collaborative area. Such offices often encounter two conflicting issues: transparency and privacy. But fundamentally, it’s open as a co-creation space for all customers. After understanding that the five different generations that coexist in today’s workspace work differently, the two said it was important that the facility is made to support the freedom of work however they see fit.

Offices often encounter two conflicting issues: transparency and privacy

Rohan Silva, co-founder of coworking space Second Home, talked about a collaborative innovative workplace space which is widely available for social contribution. By providing a workspace to support start-ups’ innovative activities, Silva is trying to bolster the growth of tenant companies, increase employment, and reduce the issue of automation eliminating people’s jobs. After success in London, England, and Lisbon, Portugal, Second Home is opening a plant-filled workplace in East Hollywood, USA, and trying to create a collective society. There is great hope that the company’s efforts will contribute to the creation of start-up jobs in the United States.

This is not the only example of a collaboration space in Southern California. Roger TV’s office, designed by interior design company CHA: COL, incorporates wood grain furniture into the open space warehouse to create a simple and sophisticated office space. At the centre of the space is a symbol of this office, and an area called ‘The Pit’ where employees from different industries can work together and collaborate with others. Roger TV’s Creative Director, Terence Lee, in collaboration with CHA: COL’s co-founder, Apurva Pande, talked about how this design stimulates the creativity of the young employees who work there.

The mindful workplace

So much emphasis is placed on the design of the workplace to improve employee performance, but Robin Wooddall Klein of change management organisation, Root suggests that leaders also have a large part to play. In order to increase employee productivity and efficiency, it is necessary not only to provide a fulfilling workplace environment but also to improve awareness of constant learning and actively draw out the abilities and values of individuals.

As the demands of work and everyday life increase employees need to press the refresh button to perform to the best of their ability. Matthew Savarick of Headspace claims that ‘meditation has great potential’ to revitalise the mental capacity of employees. Not unlike athletes who use meditation to increase their concentration before a game, it is important to incorporate meditation into the corporate environment to increase the concentration of the modern worker. Meditation has been scientifically backed by experimental research from institutions like Oxford and Harvard. According to Savarick, of the 70,000 thoughts humans have, 87 per cent are negative. Meditation can help employee’s channel negative thoughts and adapt to a more positive, productive mindset.

WORKTECH LA 19 highlighted LA’s new status as the third city of entrepreneurs in the US. As the emerging generation of start-up companies bring with them a new wave of talent, the landscape of workplace design and culture is undergoing significant change.

Expert Interview

Shannon Woodcook, Savills

This article was written by Worker’s Resort- an online platform which looks into forward-thinking office space, the people who work there and corporate cultures. View the WORKTECH LA 19 review site here.
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