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How to Find Your Place in an Increasingly Displaced Workspace When selected and managed deliberately, "place" can become a powerful tool for organizational success.

By Sam Rockwell

Key Takeaways

  • Place came to the center of our organizational consciousness, perhaps never as much as when COVID-19 shuttered businesses and forever changed life and work as we knew it.
  • Having a "place" is so central to our humanity and our organizations.
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As Tom Irons predicted in the documentary Rewilding Kernwood, I was aghast. For over 90 minutes, I watched as he and his partner Jean Aspen dismantled, nail by nail and log by log, the stunning homestead they had taken years to build together by hand in the remote Alaska wilderness. When they were done, and the last of the logs from their cabin had been released into the river, their tenure of 28 years had vanished without a trace.

It was difficult to watch this dismantling because "place" is so central to our humanity and our organizations. Place gives us an anchor for our identity — both individually and collectively. Without these observable manifestations, who we are can only be implied abstractly through language. Place gives us a touch point, a place to gather, and a place to remind ourselves of who we are and how we show up and operate in the world.

Place came to the center of our organizational consciousness, perhaps never as much as when COVID-19 shuttered businesses and forever changed life and work as we knew it. Recall your own pre-pandemic experience of getting to work, being in your workspace, interacting with your coworkers, and engaging in your organization's routines and rituals: The places in which these occurred created bodily experiences, emotions, and thoughts that affected our ideas about ourselves, our organizations, and our relationships within and to it.

Related: Getting The Most Value Out Of Your Brand Identity Design

Organizations with a strong sense of place

In my consulting work with the IMF, it was apparent that they understood the importance of place as they sought to create a hybrid workplace mindfully. Rather than react to pandemic-era mandates, they wanted to make this experience meaningful for all employees and use this as an opportunity to deepen their identification with the organization, no matter where they were located.

I decided to talk with other leaders to understand the importance of place in organizations. Bettina Mihai, Organization Effectiveness Consultant, explained that place — in the form of local community — is the heart and soul of H&R Block. H&R Block expresses this in various forms, from their purpose (to provide help and inspire confidence in clients and communities everywhere) to their community impact platform.

Sandra Kiely, granddaughter of businessman and philanthropist Charles Gates, Sr., also stressed the importance of place to the Gates family. Kiely explained that her grandmother had built the original family estate that continues to serve as a gathering place for the now four generations that have grown up within the Gates Family Foundation. Her will was clear: the home is never to be sold — and, if it ever is, it must be taken apart piece by piece.

What Irons, Aspen, and Kiely's grandmother seemed to understand is that place houses the spirit, soul, and being of our organizations — as a result, these places must be protected. Irons even further explained that allowing our organizational places to fall into disrepair or be overtaken by those who would not comprehend and honor its soul would be "immoral."

Related: To Make Your Mark, First Find Your Place

Creating place in your organization

Because place is so important for socializing new members and carrying out the rituals that reinforce an organization's purpose, values and being, I often ask leaders about their organization's relation to place during my work with them. We begin with the assessment:

  • What are the places that embody your organization's identity and bring employees together?
  • What do you need to do to protect better and leverage those places?

When organizations lack such places, I ask leaders to consider what they would gain by creating them. For those who had these places and lost them — for example, due to the move to hybrid or virtual workspaces — we begin by reflecting on what they lost when they lost their organizational places.

I then invite organizations that realize the need to strengthen their sense of place to carry out several steps:

  1. Begin with who you are: Before selecting a place, it is critical to consider the organization's identity. This involves identifying the core, distinctive, and enduring characteristics that set it apart from other organizations.
  2. Reflect on the physical manifestations of identity. With identity uncovered, consider the physical features that best align with it. Irons and Aspen are steadfast conservationists; therefore, building materials for their Alaskan homestead had to be nontoxic and naturally occurring (such as moss) whenever possible.
  3. Select or create identity-congruent places. Next, select or create a place that reflects the organization's identity and related features. This could concern a physical place within the organization (e.g., a deliberately curated lobby) or outside it (e.g., the location for an annual conference). For the Gates family, these places included the family home and its ranches, where the family continues to gather each year.
  4. Galvanize identity through place-based rituals, language, and imagery. Next, reinforce the organization's sense of identity, oneness, and purpose through narratives and rituals surrounding and occurring related to the selected place. For example, in the master's program I graduated from, a coastal condominium community south of California's Bay Area has hosted several sessions for every class since the program's inception. There, countless "walks and talks," "personal development labs," "group formations," and other experiences forged the lifelong friendships and lasting transformations that have become synonymous with the program. It is hard to imagine the same transformations possible in a hotel conference room.

Leverage the power of place

When selected and managed deliberately, place can become a powerful tool for organizational success. Reflect on your organizational "places" and consider how you can better leverage these to deepen employees' sense of oneness and purpose.

Sam Rockwell

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO at Rockwell&Co

Sam Rockwell is a consultant, coach, and author specializing in helping medium to large businesses across sectors, industries, and the globe dramatically scale their results and profits by using the lens of identity to optimize their strategies, leadership development, and team performance.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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