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Bye, Bye Boring Workplace?

LinkedIn has a new office. It’s just opened up in San Francisco, and according to our colleague, Matt Rosoff and Business Insider, it’s "unlike anything else we've ever seen". This is, quite simply, a trending workplace. There is news galore every time LinkedIn moves to new offices or opens up in a new territory. This move in particular has captured the imagination and many people are enjoying the photos from an inside tour. Is this the end of the traditional workplace as we know it? Not yet, but Infocus and of interest to HR and business leaders around the globe right now is the LinkedIn employee experience.

LinkedIn would like you to see something; very much so as the physical infrastructure and design of the newly leased LinkedIn skyscraper has been well documented; the games, the fun rooms, the quirky stuff, the roof-top sun deck, the vast open lobby, the silent disco, the avatars, the themed walls based on San Fran, the interactive staff walls, the lending library, the wellness centre, the gym, and the giant backgammon board. LinkedIn, it looks great and very cool. Congratulations.

That’s really not the end of the story, but more the beginning. The real area of fascination is the intention behind creating this type of work environment. Whilst a growing number are readily embracing and even redefining their contribution to organisations under employee experience as THE channel to really get things going within business and the economy, there are a lot of people only just starting to understand its true potential. Not LinkedIn though. If employee experience sent a connection request, LinkedIn happily accepted. Is your organisation accepting or simply hitting the "I Don't Know" button?

Put simply, employee experience is the view that everything is connectedwithin an organisation and everything has meaning within the workplace. The role of HR then within organisations is to ensure that the sum total of all these meaningful events, practices or processes come together to bring home exceptional, winning performance. As you can see from LinkedIn the design and physical infrastructure of the workplace means a lot to the talent they want to attract, the talent they want to retain, and the strong connection it wants to maintain with its customers. When citing great employers and workplaces, it is sometimes this physical infrastructure component that captures the headlines, and for very good reason.

In fact, I and many others would say that considering the physical infrastructure and design of the workplace is employee experience thinking par excellence. The workplace by design; not just to promote, but to facilitate connection (literally in the case of LinkedIn) within the employee and customer experience. Why? Because it makes absolute business sense to do so; this ‘user-design and customer experience’ thinking on the inside. It’s no wonder that this type of approach is being actively demanded by founders and CEO’s as part of their mission.

I think I know your answer, but would you like your staff to be fully in tune with your customer experience? If like most business leaders, your answer is yes, then employee experience may be the tonic to your engagement and subsequent performance challenges. Employee experience is business leadership, not just a HR thing. Is it just about happy and satisfied staff? Well, no. Absolutely not.

Workplace happiness does not get things done and nor does engagement, but they do massively help. Of more real impact is a view across the employee experience that guides and cultivates respect for all elements that impact on, connect and align staff to the organisation. This is the evolving role of HR to facilitate as a true leader within business, and where better to start than the people you wish to share a mission with.

"I've reached a point in my career where I want to be surrounded by people who not only share a vision, but a genuine commitment to upholding their company's culture and value." Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Employee experience is about doing exceptional business through and with your people. Want the best talent? An authentic employee experience will have people queuing up to join you and although great benefits may be another eye-catching aspect of the employee experience at LinkedIn it would be futile if all this wasn’t underpinned by values and role modelling by senior leaders. You know better than I the importance of the front door. Who you recruit is pivotal as Jeff Weiner sets out below:

Profit will remain an indicator of success; it’s not everything. It’s an indicator. It is this level of meaning, purpose and commitment that is, quite frankly, driven through the employee experience and workplaces such as LinkedIn light the way for others to follow at a much deeper level than just physical infrastructure but what if you’re not a global giant of a company and benefit from all the resources that brings into play? What if you can’t afford to move your people into a super-cool skyscraper?

To answer these questions is to truly and fundamentally understand employee experience as an approach. I recall a time I visited a company with gleaming new offices following a substantial investment. It took me all of 5 minutes to realize that something was missing at its core, it didn’t feel like it looked, and a few conversations later, I really understood what was going wrong. It was a beautiful shell of a workplace, but lacked a soul. The soul comes from people, and this was not a people-centred workplace. Physical infrastructure is part of, but not all of, the employee experience. Without a well-developed foundation, you could be building a new house on quick sand.

This is why I’m such an advocate of employee experience thinking. It brings everything into play and the new generation of business leader has emerged to lead this powerful vision. We’re not just talking about those charismatic leader types either. It is no accident that Jeff Weiner has an approval rating of 98% and he appears to consistently model the behaviours he wants to see throughout LinkedIn. This is demonstrated daily in the way he uses his own platform publicly and leads the key people around him such as the Chief Communications role.

"Employees are our most passionate evangelists, and they are ideally placed to explain why their company is the best place to work." Jeff Weiner

In fact, Jeff is the biggest advocate of them all constantly sharing, trusting his teamwith key information and engaging with staff in-person and via his own digital platform. Therein lies a few engagement lessons. Leading in an employee-centred way is much more about how people lead and connect people to the organisation throughout the entire business operation. In calm waters, being employee-centred may be easier, but a crisis really does test this approach. Jeff’s response to the single day drop of 43% in LinkedIn’s stock price was to keep employee experience at the core of his thinking; Weiner requested that his annual $14 million stock package went to employees. Was this strategic talent management, a goodwill gesture or simply a morale booster for staff? In any case, actions speak louder than words.

Yet employee experience has to be context-driven and tech companies provide great viewing especially as intense competition for talent is part of daily life and not just from traditional rivals. Case in point is Google. The employee experience is changing over there too as employees (and companies) switch-on to the fact that people really can work from anywhere and at any time. Google though is looking at this, not based on the overtures of current rivals to poach staff, but actually to ensure current Googlers' don’t become its competitors in the future. So in order to retain key talent who are getting urges to develop the next big thing outside of Google, they have created ‘Area 120’ as an in-company start-up incubator. Nicely done and brought about through a laser-like focus on the employee experience.

Come on, isn’t this employee experience approach straightforward? It’s just common sense, right? Not so, as focusing on the employee experience, certainly within the HR function, would be the ‘norm’ by now. Connecting staff to a vision, articulating, acting and making decisions based on deep values are critical factors in organisational life; the fundamental truths within a business, constantly and consciously communicated through everything. We see this at LinkedIn in the way the organisation reinforces key messages in a subtle, nudge-like manner and also in the way it clearly sets out what exactly is important to LinkedIn and you can imagine this runs through their people infrastructure and it definitely runs through the employer branding.

In the end, the truly great organisations are not just profitable, they are meaningful.

We live in a digital, data-informed, and brand conscious world. LinkedIn didn’t just open up a new office. They shared a lifestyle choice, or more specifically, an employee experience choice. LinkedIn seemingly utilized this as part of a connected strategy both inside and out. It broadcast the brand of LinkedIn through the employee experience via an article from Business Insider, which secured millions of views from potential (and current) customers, fans, and talented staff. In many ways, the employee experience approach is at the core of business success. It can be applied within all workplaces.

It’s just that some workplaces, at the moment, are more connected than others.


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