While we’ve been getting on with the job of designing and developing buildings for people, we’ve ignored the fact that most people don’t actually care about their work – much less where they work, says creative director Craig Davis.

Davis, who has developed advertising campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands, launched iconic products and led cultural change programs, says people aren’t failing business, business is failing them.

“People are acutely aware that they’ve been reduced to a ‘resource’ – an ‘FTE,’” he noted, arguing that while dividing up humanity into units may work from a project management perspective, it has disastrous consequences for employee morale, mobilisation and motivation. When people are demotivated, no amount of natural light or views of the outdoors can improve productivity and performance.

“Before we become employees and FTEs, we are people with talents, sensibilities and skills that are relevant in the workplace. Companies wanting to get the best out of their people must ensure their values are aligned,” Davis said.

Davis points to the raft of research which finds employees are increasingly seeking employment that delivers the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit – with profit often the least important to them.

“Some surveys have found graduates will discount their first year salary by up to 30 per cent so that they can do something meaningful,” he stated.

So is everyone just having a mid-life crisis? Davis argues that this trend is affecting everyone from university graduates to hard-boiled executives.

“People are asking the big question: why should I get out of bed and apply myself to this organisation or this industry?” he said.

At the same time, organisations continue to fight in the “war for talent.”

“This old language of business is really inappropriate when you’re trying to inspire people who are looking for meaning. People want to build, create and leave a mark – not a stain,” Davis said.

“The notion of creating purpose is a simple thing to talk about and a really difficult thing to do. The purpose of most large and established companies is to amass profit – and over time they’ve become very good at it. Once they become publicly listed, they are all about shareholder value and delivering on investment.

“To correct their course – to become purpose-driven – is hard, but there are companies making really good progress on this.”

To ‘rehumanise’ the workplace, these organisations are reconnecting with human values.

“They are asking their people in a democratic way what matters to them,” Davis said. “What behaviours do they like, admire and respect? What is our purpose and what difference do we make? They are building up a picture of what’s important inside the organisation.”

Davis says what’s often most important to people is not the real estate, but the organisation’s purpose.

Does this mean the focus on activity-based offices, high indoor environment quality, collaborative huddles and creative spaces is a waste of time?

“The work environment is like the hardware and the culture is like the software,” Davis argues. “The hardware might be immaculately conceived and executed, but if the software is deficient in some way, it’s not going to be a happy outcome.”

In other words, the two parts – people within place – are entwined. Great people in a terrible place won’t achieve as much, and an amazing space with demotivated staff won’t reach its full potential.

Google, Moscow

Google, Moscow

“The challenge for the development industry is to build work environments around workplace values. How do you design a building that reflects a culture of generosity and gratitude, for example? What would that workplace look like?  Would employees understand the importance of that value within the organisation? This thinking will create more harmonious work environments – leading to better, more profitable companies.”

The secret is ensuring sustainable design and construction translates into sustainable operations, and that means more than having workers who switch off the lights when they leave and recycle their waste. It means creating a workplace culture and sense of community that enables people to use less, achieve more and truly leave their mark.