Why we should redefine the workplace 

The dictionary defines 'workplace' as a person's place of employment. Sounds rather drab. The English language has over 171,000 words, and 'workplace' is one of my least favorites.

Reimagining the future of work, apparently, is a lot about re-naming things. We keep on reinventing job titles, Human Resources is now People Operations and there are myriad other new job titles flying around. Maybe you even have a new title?

While everyone is getting new job titles, we’ve completely overlooked the word that we all share in common. The workplace.

And nobody is calling the workplace anything but the WORKPLACE. Even with the new wave of coworking spaces, we still are calling it a place where people work. I guess the “co” makes it feel a bit more community-ish, but I’m not convinced. It’s a mere pivot. Where’s the work revolution everyone is talking about?

And even more so, you can create a workplace anywhere. The emphasis on work happening in a specific place is quickly going out of date. We need a new way of describing things because work has changed.

Just this week some of the places I have been doing work were my home, my office, on transit, and while waiting for a flight. Were these all workplaces? Not really, but I did get some work done.

But still, we call it the same thing - workplace.

If we are trying to create integration of our passion, our purpose and bring our full selves to our work everyday, then continuing to call it the same thing is not helping us move forward.

If we want to create an inspired, engaged and happy employee experience, we need a new word.

So, hey there workplace innovators, get out your creativity pens - let’s have some fun!

What would happen if we removed the emphasis on nouns and things? “Work” is a noun, so is “workplace,” they are inanimate things. The future of work is about experiences, which means action and verbs, and experiences give us feelings - the most human part of it all.

Let’s pause here a moment. Think about all the things you like to do. What do you do that makes you happy? Write out all the verbs that come to mind on a piece of paper.

Here’s what I came up with:

the future of work in words

Make sure you wrote down verbs - Circle the ones that are relevant to your career or role in your company.

focus on the future of work

Now, here’s the real magic. Add the word “place” at the end. Or alternatively, you can use “space” which is a nice word that makes me feel a sense of calm. What would you like to have more space for in your work?

Here’s a few I came up with:

  • Design Space
  • Collaborating Place
  • Learning Space

Voila! Future of work reimagined!

When we focus on the action and interactions we can have in a place - I get excited, inspired and curious!

What do you do in a Design Space? I create, explore, test, invent and build new things. And if you ask me, that sounds like a whole lot of work getting done. Hooray, management is happy! (And so am I).

Another layer to this, is when we rename the place, we can also rename the people. At cowork offices, people usually refer to others as “coworkers”, so if we are now calling it the “learning space” then we could refer to our colleagues as other “learners” or “co-learners.”

Do you have a great idea for how to reimagine the workplace by giving it a whole new name? Tweet your ideas to me @humansideoftech and together we can spark a new wave of inspiration for the place formerly known as ‘the workplace.’

Come mingle with other workplace innovators and people geeks this week at CultureWeekSF. What’s this all about? Check out the lineup of free meetups, free culture coaching, and more ways we are celebrating companies that put culture first as part of the first ever Culture Week!


Vanessa Shaw believes everyone, everywhere deserves to have a great place work. To create that she empowers people to become workplace innovators and culture leaders through community events, workshops and coaching. You can get involved by following Vanessa on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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