Editorial Roundtable: The People-First Workplace Should Borrow From Tradition

Editorial Roundtable: The People-First Workplace Should Borrow From Tradition

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX underline the old-fashioned ideas that deserve a place in the Future of Work

Bogar Alonso
  • 29 september 2016

PSFK’s Editorial Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.

In the crusade to attract, please, and retain consumers, companies have lost sight of their most precious capital: their employees. The PSFK Future of Work Report reveals that it’s high time for all companies—whether operating in a converted loft or from the top floor of a Midtown skyscraper—to adopt a people-first workplace. Or, as our report tells it, “corporations run the risk of fragmenting internally if they continue to separate employees from the high-value service they provide customers.”

Although many organizations have acknowledged the need to respond accordingly—some perhaps more enthusiastically than others—the matter remains: how do you go about adopting a people-first workplace? And perhaps more importantly, if somewhat paradoxically, how do you go about enforcing one?

Our Future of Work experts include:

Jacqueline Kurdziel | Head of Marketing & Communications of Managed By Q  – “the operating system for offices,” Q helps keep offices of all sizes and capacities running efficiently and smoothly. In addition to reimagining the workplace, Q has spearheaded its own Future of Work discussions.

Mike Del Ponte | Chief Hydration Officer of Soma – makers of smart and elegantly designed hydration products who value the personal development of their employees as much as they do the clarity of their water.

Devin Cole | Director of Business Development of Workbar – a flexible workplace company that caters to teams, entrepreneurs and mobile professionals.

Lisa Skye Hain | Co-Founder of Primary – the innovative, Bloomberg-recognized, and wellness-focused coworking community that is offering a body-first differentiation to WeWork.

Jonathan Hanwit | Co-Founder & CEO of thinkPARALLAX – a purpose-building creative agency that has received its fair share of accolades and attention for its employee empowerment and its PARALLAXploration initiative, a company-sponsored travel program that allows the thinkPARALLAX team to pursue personal and professional enrichment.

Itamar Goldminz | Head of People Operations at AltSchool – an educational startup comprised of a collaborative community of micro-schools that values its company mission as much as it does ensuring its employees receive frequent and transparent feedback and performance reviews.

(Below is the fourth part of a four-part editorial).


Where does tradition fit in? With all this talk about ‘the new ways of doing things,’ of treating workplaces like innovation hubs, of nurturing offices to become collaborative ecosystems, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s worked in the past for companies and workplaces? What ‘old ways of doing things’ still have a place waiting for them in the people-first workplace or in The Future of Work? And, how do companies ensure they can still see the forest for the company trees?

Devin Cole | Director of Business Development of Workbar

“Innovation can be taken too far, just like anything else. Companies need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Make a plan, understand what success looks like, measure success. Don’t open an innovation center or host a hack-a-thon because everyone else is doing it. If making sure that a project contributes to the company’s bottom line is old fashioned, then that’s one. Another old-fashioned idea that remains in fashion is that relationships matter. Making sure that employees have valuable and worthwhile relationships at work makes them more productive and brings value back to the company.”

Mike Del Ponte | Chief Hydration Officer of Soma

“At Soma, we have an extremely innovative people-first culture, but at the end of the day, we exist to fulfill our mission to hydrate the world, not just to have fun. I’ve seen other startups pitch themselves like an amusement park (games and free food!), rather than a business that is earning revenue to grow and make a difference. There are tried and true management practices that may need updating, but should not be completely thrown out, for example some hierarchy, performance-based reviews, and measurable goal planning like OKRs (objectives and key results).”

Lisa Skye Hain | Co-Founder of Primary

“Tradition fits in when it comes to organization, structure, and accountability. Even with the emphasis on collaboration in a people-first workplace, there should still be a clear hierarchy with specific people assigned to specific tasks. And people need to be held accountable for completing those tasks.”

Jonathan Hanwit | Co-Founder & CEO of thinkPARALLAX

“In today’s workforce, changes in processes and systems are to be expected if a company wants to be successful. Technology is changing things at an incredible pace. Companies that aren’t prepared to adapt and change shouldn’t expect to survive. However, certain things (such as culture and ethos) deserve to be sacred, as they define culture.

To that end, part of the question about the Future of Work has less to do with ‘where tradition fits in’ and more to do with how we protect the things that deserve to be protected.

It’s given that the Future of Work will skew office culture—as it inevitably impacts nearly everything. The secret lies in ensuring that it is used to adapt sacred company traditions. (ex: Where a company would have a walk or run break for lunch, now teams are wearing Fitbits and comparing and competing with their exercise efforts across the country.)

Clearly articulating company values and living those values out (starting with the new employee orientation all the way through an employee’s career) seems like a good starting place.”

Jacqueline Kurdziel | Head of Marketing & Communications of Managed By Q

“While what we’re doing is new for our industry, it’s not new for business, and we’re constantly evaluating exceptional companies to understand what they’ve done to achieve their success.

For example, just this year we rolled out the Operator Stock Option Program, which gives our full-time cleaning and maintenance staff the opportunity to purchase stock in Managed by Q.

While we were one of the first in the on-demand economy to offer a program like this, it was inspired by the Bean Stock program that Starbucks launched for its retail staff back in 1991.

One of our company advisors Zeynep Ton wrote a great book called the Good Jobs Strategy, which profiles people-first companies like Costco, Trader Joe’s and Quiktrip, who over the last 25-plus years have built great companies and great customer experiences by investing in their staff.

We’re constantly evaluating companies like these and others, across industries, to understand what has worked for them in building thriving businesses and workplaces. We then take those insights and assess how they might be applicable to our business in a way that aligns with our core values of being a great employer and making the world work better.”

Itamar Goldminz | Head of People Operations at AltSchool

“While the solutions might be different, many of the problems that they were meant to solve remain relevant today. Replacing the solutions of the past with chaos (‘no managers!’, ‘flat organization,’ ‘no performance management’) is hardly a recipe for success. To replace old ways with new ways we need to first understand the problems that the old ways were trying to solve, and formulate a hypothesis about an alternative way to solve that problem. It’s also worth keeping in mind, that it’s often the case where the structures or solutions themselves are not necessarily good or bad. A benevolent hierarchy is better than a tyrannical one, but may also be better than a ‘popularity contest’ democracy (as opposed to a meritocratic one).

The tricky part in organizational change is that organizations are complex systems. Which means that connection between cause (change) and effect (outcome) is not deterministic, and making several changes in parallel may have a different result than making them in sequence. I don’t have any good advice on this front other than being aware of that dynamic.”

Download PSFK’s Future of Work report to gain insight into the policies and tools that leading organizations are adopting to attract and cultivate tomorrow’s leaders today. Take advantage of the full findingssummary presentation, workplace visions and exclusive articles to get your company up to speed on the transformational workplace strategies that are driving innovation in business.


Note: If you would like to participate in a coming PSFK Editorial Roundtable, please contact us here.

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