Guest column

Tech companies need flexible and personalized workplaces to stay competitive, according to this Houston interior design expert

From amenities to flexibility, here's what tech companies need to prioritize in a working environment to stay competitive. Courtesy of HOK

Nowhere is the rapid pace of change more apparent than in the tech sector. Fierce competition for talent, an evolving regulatory environment, and mounting privacy and data security challenges confront both well-established tech leaders and startups, forcing them to continuously adapt and innovate.

Companies that succeed in this hyper-competitive market have two things in common: workforces and workspaces that can pivot to address new demands and business models. In a recent report titled HOK Forward: Tech Workplace Takes Center Stage, HOK explored the impact tech industry challenges are having on the office space and examined design solutions that can make these spaces more responsive and successful.

The report found that workplace flexibility is key when it comes to spurring innovation and collaboration. So too is personalization. Each company's ideal environment should reflect its culture, work style, mobility profiles, and business goals and be continually re-evaluated as the organization grows.

Five workplace trends that are gaining popularity in the tech sector include:

  • Activity-Based Workplaces (ABW) – This office concept encourages movement and empower people to select the right space for the job at hand. ABW environments are typically designed to serve four major work functions: solo work, collaboration, learning, and socializing and rejuvenation. These spaces work nicely for organizations that are market-oriented in organizational structure.
  • Neighborhood-based Choice Environments (NCE) – A variation of the ABW model, these spaces create a neighborhood or home for teams to operate out of while still allowing people to have access to a variety of work settings. These spaces are ideal for organizations that are team-based and mobile, but seek to build community.
  • Agile Environments – Scrum spaces where project-based teams from different business groups or departments can gather to collaborate on special projects. These spaces are helpful for team-based organizations that desire belonging and community, as they are highly interactive and collaborative.
  • Maker Environments for Mobile Occupants (MEMO) – These spaces are emerging in sectors where rapid development is key. They encourage experimentation and group work in entrepreneurial environments with flat organizational structures.
  • Immersive Environments – These spaces pull the best lessons learned from ABW, NCE, agile environments and MEMO and tailor them to meet the specific needs of a company to create custom spaces.

These creative approaches meld the needs of an evolving workforce with the needs of the organization. But attracting talent extends far beyond the work styles accommodated. So, how can tomorrow's tech workplace attract and retain top talent?

Amenities play a critical role. Amenity offerings should be diverse and speak to the culture of an organization. Nap pods, wellness rooms, medical clinics and maker spaces are benefits gaining popularity in the tech industry and beyond. These amenities speak to a workforce that values convenience, works hard and finds inspiration in unique ways.

Smart workplaces are gaining popularity in the technology sector. Complete with multiple sensors that track office use—such as how often a space is used and the peak times of activity within a communal space—this advanced technology can help building owners and operators optimize a space and better understand which kinds of environments are in demand.

In addition to leveraging data, tech workplaces are on the cusp of merging the digital realm with physical space. This move towards seamless technology that anticipates behavior and needs and creates immersive experiences has the potential to transform the work experience. At the center of this evolution should be a commitment to engaging, equipping, and empowering individuals to excel, which requires developing flexible, technology-infused space solutions that accommodate a growing diversity of work styles, preferences and personalities.

The tech industry's increased focus on the human experience—from amenities to immersive technology—can be applied to workplaces in other sectors. While the next big technological advancement isn't set in stone, one thing is certain: Companies that wish to remain competitive and responsive in the future will need workplaces with the flexibility and personalization that allow their people to gather, connect, innovate, and simply be their best.

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Amy English is the director of interiors for HOK.

The music industry has adapted to the digital age — so should financial securities. Getty Images

One of my favorite movies growing up was Empire Records. It was the mid-1990s, and the closest we got to Instagram feeds was who had the best mixtapes. If you're not familiar with Empire Records (or what a mixtape is), I recommend watching the movie, but you don't have to worry too much about mixtapes any more.

Since Empire Records was released in 1995, the way we purchase and consume music has fundamentally changed. The physical music store was displaced by iTunes, and then the music industry evolved even further into a streaming economy. It took 24 years, but music evolved and it now operates in a fundamentally different way. Digitization of music was initially viewed as an existential threat to the industry, but in the end, music was digitized globally and the music industry very much survived.

The music industry has evolved and adapted to the digital age. The same happened across countless other industries, including financial services. Today we can invest in publicly traded stocks through a mobile app for free. However, a critical segment of capital markets has not evolved yet. The private securities space.

Transactions in private securities are still done on paper (no, DocuSign does not count as securities digitization.) Administrative costs are kept high due to the amount of paper that is processed and pushed through this system. As long as the foundation of private securities is paper, there is no amount of administrative technology out there to create an efficient market.

Public markets took the plunge into digital long before music did, and digitization of public markets enabled exponential growth globally. Trading volume, access to capital, and liquidity have all increased, and a large part of that can be attributed to the efficient and transparent nature of most public exchanges.

Efficient markets rely on price transparency and information equality. Currently, the private securities markets do not offer either of these characteristics. This is nothing new to people in the alternatives space, but how to reach these lofty goals, to create liquidity and reduce costs, is what I am excited about.

The reduction of cost does not relate only to commissions. There are administrative costs associated with private securities. Information distribution is slow and unilateral, forcing investors to depend on antiquated systems in order to track their investments. Nearly all of these costs are absorbed by the investor, and most efforts to date have not helped address the core issue, analog private security transactions.

Digitization of private securities is fundamentally different than tokenization. Tokenized securities are considered bearer securities. A digitized security, on the other hand, maintains its original status as a registered security, as long as its digitization is implemented in a manner that fits current regulatory requirements. Until recently, that had not been possible in a scalable way. Blockchain changed all of that.

Initial attempts at utilizing blockchain for private markets applied tokenization. Essentially, this configuration took securities that had clearly defined ownership records, anonymized them and put them on a public blockchain such as Ethereum. While there are some benefits to this approach, it also opened doors to significant fraud and securities regulation violations. Tokenization may provide liquidity, but the long-term risk far outweighs the value of liquidity for any prudent investor.

Blockchain does provide a framework that supports compliant digitization of private investments, it's simply not tokenization. The solution lies in using private permissioned blockchains that allow an appropriate degree of technical security while also ensuring transparency and accountability.

Blockchain enables us to maintain a statement of record that is both compliant, and scalable. Across the financial services industry, and across most other industries, blockchain is being deployed to help solve problems that were previously unmanageable. The blockchain is even helping farmers track their crops through IBM's blockchain. iownit has integrated blockchain at the core of our technology, proving that compliant digitization of private securities is possible and scalable.

The United States has a free market economy, so in the end, winners are determined by the market. It is our belief that the digitization of private securities is the responsible way to help this industry evolve. If you're still skeptical, just look at how the public securities markets have evolved since the '70s when electronic stock trading was enabled and the first digital public security trade was placed. Now try and imagine how private security markets will look in four years.

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Yosef Levenstein is the head of marketing at iownit, a Houston-based financial technology firm that is democratizing how investors and private companies transact.