The modern workplace as an immersive experience

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By David Karpook

Edition 4 – September 2014, Pages 15-17

Tags: facilities management • workplace strategy

For generations, the workplace has been thought of as something to be acquired, allocated, traded, upsold, utilized and disposed of. The facility management profession turned the workplace into a service offering, one that dealt in amenities, convenience, and the delivery of the provisions necessary for successful job performance.

Now, technology has moved the ball forward again and the workplace is being re-conceived in many sectors as an “experience,” akin to retail or hospitality.

We’re seeing this in sectors such as healthcare delivery, where pharmacies and department stores are establishing themselves as total healthcare providers, advisors and concierges; in specialized co-working spaces that cater to various niches of the workforce and highlight the particular attractions of their setting.

Spotlight on performance

“Work is theatre,” said B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in their book The Experience Economy. They
go on to explain: “The word drama derives from the Greek expression ‘drao’, meaning ‘to do.’

In all organizations, whether
or not managers generally
recognize it, the workers are 
playing, not in some game, but in what should be a well- conceived, correctly cast, and convincingly portrayed real-life drama of doing.

Indeed, understanding this crucial point brings whole new meaning to often-used business terms borrowed from or shared with the performing arts, such as production, performance, method, role, scenario, and a host of others.

If we see work as theatre in these terms, then that makes facility managers the stage managers, set designers and lighting technicians tasked with readying the performance space; and the newer, professional class of workplace strategists act as producers, directors, choreographers and scenarists, making sure that all of the varied components of the environment work in synchronicity to support a top-notch production.

“When a business calls its workplace a bare stage, it opens up opportunities to distinguish itself from the myriad humdrum makers of goods and providers of services that perform work without recognizing the true nature of their acts.”

— Pine and Gilmore, The Experience Economy

Often, that bare stage has been staffed by people who see their roles as background, as invisible service providers. Perhaps more businesses should take a cue from high-end hotels where a card may be left on your nightstand to let you know that your room was “expertly prepared by Hannah.”

The enemy of performance is indifference

Facilities management has engaged in the crafting of experiences for generations, but often in transforming negative experiences we didn’t create. The leaky roof, the smelly carpet, the dirty bathroom, the crowded and overheated conference room – these are the experiences that FM routinely is called on to transform. We do so by providing services: rapidly, unobtrusively and economically.

Because we meet those goals so well, we are often not credited with the transformative impact we have on our customers’ experiences. But we have opportunities to craft wholly positive experiences for our clients, and it is on these we must focus.

The paradigm of unobtrusive facilities service may inadvertently contribute to a culture of minimal performance. If the only expectation is that: ”I work quickly and quietly and get the hell out of there,” can I be expected to focus on more than the absolute minimum required to complete the job?

Facility and real estate management professionals ought not to be seen – or, more accurately, hidden — as merely providers of commoditized space and services, but should present themselves as key participants who enable the production to take place and garner applause.

To once again quote Pine and Gilmore: “All business, as well as the work that defines it, from executive suites to factory floors, demands the same kind of performance as that featured on Broadway and in ballparks.” It should be well-rehearsed, passionately delivered, reliable yet nuanced and surprising. And it should happen in venues carefully selected, designed and tuned to enhance and extract the maximum impact from the customers.

“Consider the sequence, progression, and duration of events. How are work activities arranged? What continuums exist in the organization of events? Where does work begin, reach dramatic climax, and have its

denouement? Finally, consider the rhythm and tempo of work, for these define the relationships between dramatic elements. What transitions present themselves and need to be managed? What building, diminution, contrast, and release enrich the scene’s energy level?”

                                                  – Pine and Gilmore

Context matters

“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” – Peter Brook,The Empty Space.

It is up to the production staff to see to it that in each setting the work plays to maximum effect.The luxuriousness of the venue may have little relationship to the quality of the production – rather, it informs and suggests how the staging should proceed. Experienced theatre professionals learn that certain kinds of actors, costumes and props and scenery work best in certain kinds of venues – and they use those uniqueness’s to enhance and extract the maximum impact.

We have the same kind of varied settings at play in the workplace today, and the same expanse of variations in workers, attire, equipment and furnishings. Smart workplace strategists will learn to foster the combinations and juggle
the variations that lead to maximum impact on the business. The product may or may not change, and even the work may remain largely the same, but the performance spaces may make a crucial difference in quality and quantity of production. Context matters.

Going for the gold

As in the theatre, stellar performance in the workplace
does not necessarily equate to spectacular costs. If fresh, high quality food delivery, opportunities to mix work with pastimes such as tness, or vibrant surroundings full of creative minds are what a particular set of customers crave, these are the things that should be emphasized. They are things that will make a particular workplace – and workplace experience – memorable.

Answers matter. But so do questions. In so many ways, you get what you ask for. If you are only looking at averages, you can’t expect your results to be more than a little above or below average. By asking for averages, you are indicating what is important to you. Look in addition at the outliers, the extreme cases. These represent the needs and desires of individuals and purpose-specific groups. Think about how you could accommodate them. Your decision may be that you can’t, but you may surprise yourself with effective and cost-effective options.

For example, maybe it doesn’t make sense for the real estate group to change the property for a set of meeting requirements that happen once or twice a year? But perhaps there is a co-working option down the road, or a reversible space owned and operated by your landlord, that could lead to a successful event and a satisfied customer.

Your customers may already be looking outside the organization for purpose-specific space when your business has none available. How much better would it be to enhance your own service offering to them by incorporating outside options into your space reservation system so
that they need shop in only one place?

Leverage your technology investment to make it easier 
to explore these options. Your property tracking doesn’t need to stop at the front door of your business. It can extend into your community and aid you in developing and exploring the options that your individual customers will find memorable.

And don’t forget that your 
real estate inventory can become someone else’s memorable experience.That half-vacant building that you have in an expensive city centre may be a drain on your real estate portfolio today, but if it could be made available to other businesses or individuals for meetings, events, or simply touchdown work spaces, it could in short order become a revenue generator. The city of Antwerp has recently done this with unused and underutilized space within its borders.

For workplace professionals, the move to the experience economy offers a means of remaining relevant in a world where options proliferate outside the traditional corporate boundaries. This can also help to raise both the value and recognition of their efforts far beyond the realm of finding an empty seat or cleaning up a nasty mess. W&P

Editor’s footnote:
The use of the theatre as an allegory for the work of facilities managers dates back at least to the work of Frank Duffy and it’s a great way of describing how FM’s create the setting in which the action takes place.

David Karpook

David Karpook is Strategic Business Consultant for Planon Corporation, a leading provider of technology solutions for facility management and real estate. A 25-year industry veteran, he has been a customer, vendor, system implementer, trainer, and strategist, managing workplace technology projects in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. A graduate architect with degrees from Harvard University and the University of Florida, he has also worked as a journalist for The New York Times and The Orlando Sentinel.
Linkedin: karpook/0/437/44


  • B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore: The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage
  • Peter Brook:The Empty Space (Penguin Modern Classics)


…if we see the workplace as theatre, then facility managers are the stage managers, set designers and lighting technicians tasked with readying the performance space..

…As in the theatre, stellar performance in the workplace does not necessarily equate to spectacular costs. If fresh, high quality food delivery, opportunities to mix work with pastimes such as fitness, or vibrant surroundings full of creative minds are what a particular set of customers crave, these are the things that should be emphasized. They are things that will make a particular workplace – and workplace experience – memorable…



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