Brenna Jewitt grew up in small town USA, a little way out from the capital of Massachusetts, Boston. So – naturally – we understand that the workplace strategist now living in Washington D.C. and working at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) will likely be ruffling a few of her colleagues’ feathers with her Red Sox cap and Patriots flag.
“Growing up, I had no idea what my career would be like in the years to come,” Brenna tells Urban Insider. Indeed workplace strategy is a relatively new concept and emerging profession in the US. Brenna liked design at school and followed this impulse to college and studied interior design.
“I most strongly gravitated towards the notion that architecture is such an impactful field, and if done correctly, it can have an immensely positive social impact,” says Brenna and then admitted to being “hooked” on the idea of making a difference. However, long before workplace strategy became a career option Brenna developed doubts about opportunities available to her to make a social impact as an interior designer. Sure, she could take pride in a career with a top firm and creating beautiful, high-end work but this part of architecture just wasn’t interesting to the Bostonian.
“I was interested in the average or below-average communities that could truly benefit from purpose-driven design, to better equip communities economically, socially, and/or sustainably. Unfortunately it took a lot of digging to find and be exposed to examples of the great firms committing to this type of design,” says Brenna.
“But they are out there and they’re growing!”
As a concept and when considering Brenna’s background as an interior designer, Urban Insider takes a punt that workplace strategy is somewhat of a hybrid of HR and design.
“Close!” says Brenna. But the essence of workplace strategy is a little more ephemeral than a simple melding of two standard professions. Brenna tells us that in order to truly understand the concept you’ve first got to consider the nature of work in 2018 (and beyond).
The parallel shifts of technological advancements, a new generation of workers, and our economic drivers are all combining to create a new definition of ‘work’. To respond to this transformation, Brenna says that workplace strategy as she practices it, looks at five main drivers: real estate, technology, the business/policies, design, and the culture/people.
The workplace strategy process outlined by Brenna consists of visioning, discovery, and needs analysis. She says that by keeping all of these key drivers in mind, organisations will ultimately gain a better understanding of where they are today and where they want to be in the future. Her job then becomes about making the right recommendations to ensure all these areas are aligned in an organisation so that moving forward – towards a common goal – is simple and straightforward.
“It’s all about the people,” though Brenna qualifies. “That’s where the discovery process of workplace strategy starts – with the people.
“Workplace Strategy is the discovery and implementation process with the intent to align an organisation’s goals with the technology, culture, urban setting, policy, and design that impacts the everyday.
“It aims to deliver an adaptable and progressive systems based on the needs and values of the people and practice, while improving retention, recruitment, business identity, and productivity based on measurable data,” says Brenna.
All in all, the workplace strategy aligns work actions with the work environment but it seems to strike us as even simpler than that. A good workplace strategy seems to be all about empathy.
Today’s workplaces are completely intergenerational. While baby-boomers once dominated, it’s estimated that by 2030, millennials will occupy three-fourths of the workforce and by that stage Gen Z will be coming on board too.
Effective workplace strategy must negotiate the different ways these generations work, liaise, communicate and identify says Brenna.
“Baby-boomers tend to identify themselves by the organisation they work for; what they do within that organization comes second to that.
“Millennials, on the other hand, identify themselves as what they do – a designer, engineer, researcher – who just so happens to work for the company they currently are at.
“This all translates into a wide range of recruiting and retention techniques and tools, which can be intertwined in the workplace environment,” she says.
As a workplaces strategist, Brenna has a particular interest in growing technology firms.
“I was part of a team that did strategy and design for an audio software company in the Boston area years back,” Brenna starts and then clarifies the company must remain nameless.
“Technology firms tend to have a wide range of individuals with drastically different working styles – from the engineers and R&D to the marketing and sales teams,” Brenna tells us.
“So accommodating choice of work setting and policy was a high priority. Their main focus was recruitment of highly sought after individuals from music and engineering schools in the area.”
Brenna says that Flexitime, 24 hour amenities, real estate proximity to higher education schools, and a range of strategically located private and open work settings were a few of the successful outcomes of this project.
Recruitment in competitive markets and the balance of meeting a variety of work style needs are among the challenges a workplace strategist will commonly encounter Brenna says.
Short of flying Brenna out to Australia, to share with us her in-depth knowledge on the radical but very necessary development of workplace strategy we wonder whether there’s anything employers / managers can implement themselves?
“Well first of all,” says Brenna with a brightness in her voice we can’t help but imagine as a simle, “I would jump on a plane to Australia tomorrow if I could!”
“Absolutely there are plenty of strategies and techniques that managers and employers can implement to advance their workplace. However, it all starts with discovering and understanding the needs of the people.
“Managers often have a distant perspective of the day to day productivity patterns of their employees, so the best way to overcome that is to get out of an office, experience the day to day activity, listen, and ask questions,” says Brenna before signing off.
“Being proactive about workplace, as opposed to reactive will greatly benefit the people and therefore, success of an organisation.”
Brenna Jewitt lives and works in Washington D.C. as an interior designer and workplace strategist at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM).