The Art of Gathering, a Placemaking Perspective


Have you read Priya Parkers book, The Art of Gathering?  If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you do, it’s a good read!

In her book Priya shares:

“gatherings in our lives are often vague & unproductive”

And I would argue that our workplaces are in fact a place where we gather, rather than places we “go to” to “work”, and if we want people to come to the workplace, we need to be offering them an experience.  It needs to be a purposeful, and productive contribution to their lives.

In today’s episode I’m expanding on the framework that I shared with you in Eps. 139, It’s not about RTO mandates, it’s about Fostering Community, to dive deeper into the final layer of the framework, Placemaking.

 Because the art of placemaking is a complex task, that requires its own framework to fully optimise the creation of a place that builds community.  Plus, I share with you some tangible examples of how place has been used for centuries as a central hub, an anchor, a container for holding and creating community.

If you’re ready to learn more about creating your community in your workplace, you can either;

  1. Grab a copy of my book “The Next Workplace”
  2. Join me in the “Workplace Dynamics Blueprint | The Program” Waitlist now OPEN!
  3. Or book a complimentary discovery call with me to chat more!


Until next time,

Mel x


TRANSCRIPT - The Art of Gathering, a Placemaking Perspective

Mel: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Work Life by Design. Now, today I want to take a another little dive into our theme for this season, which is all around fostering the creation of communities. And today I want to talk about the art of gathering with a bit of a placemaking perspective. So we know that places are.

Spaces and places and destinations where people come together, and we want to make those gatherings a little bit more purposeful. Now, you might be familiar with the work of Priya Parker and her book, The Art of Gathering. Now, in her book, she says that gatherings in our lives are often vague and unproductive,

now I would argue that our workplaces are actually places for us to gather rather than places that we need to go to, to actually work. These are places where we want to come together. We want to create social connection. That is that essence of gathering. They are no longer places where we just go to actually work.

So if we want people to actually come to our workplaces, then we need to be offering more of an experience. in episode 139, it's not about return to the office mandates. It's about fostering community. I shared with you a framework on how I have been starting to think about building communities in workplaces that I get [00:02:00] to work with. And the first foundation of that was thinking about. Purpose, the values and the vision of the organization.

What are we here to do? What's important to us? Where are we going? That is that foundational layer that we need to be understanding in order for us to build these next building blocks on top of it. The next one was around having social contracts. What is it that we do here? How do we interact? What are the rules of play?

How do we engage? What does it look like for us to be coming together and working together in this organization? The next one was routines and rituals. What does it look like on a day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year basis in terms of how we actually come together, how we connect and how we engage as a business.

And the final tier to that framework was around placemaking. And that's what I wanna dive into a little bit more because there is so much more to uncover and unpack when it comes to placemaking. Firstly, it is what I do. That's what I get paid to do. It's what I help support clients to do. It's what I'm passionate about.

It's that art of placemaking, but I also believe that it has a very important role to play. In fostering the creation of our communities, our places are the container that facilitates, it enables, and it holds these communities within it. So we need to really unpack what it is that we need to be doing in these spaces, in these places, so that we can create them more effectively and more responsively to the activities that we actually want to be performing in these places.

So if we want to think about the framework that I think applies to placemaking, it's a little bit similar to the building community one, but with a few other elements. Firstly, that foundational pillar is very, very similar. We need to understand the purpose of the organization, but we need to be taking it a little bit of a step further.

We need to understand what is the purpose of our place? What is the role it is actually facilitating? Why are we wanting people to come here [00:04:00] together? What activities, tasks, , meetings, whatever it is that we want them to be doing. What is it that they're going to be doing in this space? So we need to be thinking about that as our first foundational level.

The next one is around brand. Now, brand is really important because it's not about the logo or the PMS colors. So we Brand is about the experience that we want people to have when they do business with us. How do we want them to feel? So we're going to dive into that because it's really important. If we want to understand how to create a place that connects with people, we need to be very consciously thinking about how do we want them to feel when they are here?

Now, the next layer of this is around behaviors. We need to understand and we need to be consciously thinking about what are the behaviors that we want to see people engaging in, in our place. What do we want them to be doing? How do we want them to be acting? How do we want them to be behaving? Because when we understand that behavior, then we can start to influence it.

And that brings me to our final pillar in this framework, it's around The spatial tools, and then I'm going to dig into spatial tools a little bit more in detail, but think about that in terms of what are the types of spaces that we are giving people to engage in the behaviors that we want them to engage in, to feel the way that we want them to feel, to use the space purposefully in the way that we wanted them to use it.

You can see how these things are all very interconnected and we need to understand why do we want people to come to the office? And then lastly, what are we going to give them to help them behave and engage and communicate and work in the way that we want them to work that is going to enable our business to achieve its outcomes, to achieve its purpose, to achieve its vision, its values, its goals.

These are the building blocks to building an effective place for people together.

So if we think about place as an anchor point, it is a [00:06:00] central destination. It's a place that we want people to come to. We want them to gather here and we want them to engage in a particular set of activities. Now, this is not a new concept. If we start thinking back and we look back over centuries, It's been true for our First Nations people.

They've always had a place that they have given cultural significance that they travel to, and often they can travel long, long distances to arrive there to engage in ceremony, to engage in ritual. These places have meaning. They had a purpose and they were spaces that people would travel to, to participate.

The same is true for religion. If we think about our churches or pilgrimages, these places were of cultural and symbolic significance to the values of those that gathered there. They were engaging in something that was of value to them. It contributed to their lives. And so then they would go to these places to be among others who believed in similar things that they believed.

This is that law of attraction. We're bringing more and more people together that believe what we believe, but our place was this anchor point. It was this destination that we go to, to find these communities, to be able to engage and In these similar behaviors, these routines and rituals, these social contracts that we all had, because we had a common purpose.

We have a common set of values and our place was somewhere that we used to create that cohesiveness and that container to engage in these activities.

But what we actually want to take a look at here is, how are these places actually facilitating these gatherings? What were those spatial tools that enabled these gatherings to occur purposefully? So in my book, The Next Workplace, I actually talk about the art of placemaking. And I refer to it as forming spaces that generate experiences and create fond memories.

They're environments that establish a connection and make you want to experience more. [00:08:00] So these are places that we feel connected to, engaged in, and we actually visibly want to actually participate and engage in these spaces. Now whilst this term placemaking has actually received quite a bit of air time of late, it is not a new concept.

So if we go back to the 1960s, there's a gentleman called William H. White. He was an American sociologist. And he had this crazy idea that we should be designing our cities for people and not just for cars and shopping centers. Now, today, the company that White inspired is called Projects for Public Spaces, and they work really closely with people to create communities with placemaking activities adhering to this motto.

That it takes a place to create a community, and a community to create a place. And I couldn't agree more. Without communities, our places are just devoid of humanity. They're empty spaces, they're buildings with no heart and with no soul. Our places, however, require carefully curated design and then activation to actually foster these centers of community.

So we can build a building, but if we don't then activate it, we don't have a sense of how we want people to gather here, how we want people to come together, then we are creating nothing more than a shell. There is nothing happening in that. It takes a community to create a community. a place and a place to create a community.

These two things are intertwined and so heavily interconnected. So if we think about this in talking about the planning of our workplaces, there's a couple of ways that we need to approach this. And if we think about this in terms of that carefully curated design, there are three ways that I believe and that I use in the work that I do to help create this sense of place and this art of gathering.

And they are firstly through flow, thinking about the way that we want people to move through a space, move through a [00:10:00] building, the way that we want them to interact, what we want them to feel, what we want them to experience. This is how we actually can start to guide and influence the routines and rituals of how people experience these places.

By the way that we think about, well, what is the first thing that they're going to do when they enter the building? The second, the third, the fourth? All the way through their day, and then how they exit that building as well. All of these little touch points are thinking about the flow of someone's experience through place, and how we can then reinforce routine and ritual that we've predetermined, because this is what we do as an organization to build community.

Into the way that we can design the space. The second way that we do this is through zoning. We need to think about what are the tasks and activities that we want people to be engaging in and how do we co locate those to encourage similar and like minded activities in one space? How do we think about noisy spaces that are encouraging collaboration, connectivity, communication?

But then also supporting people who need to be doing more concentrated, quiet, individualized styles of work. We need to be very mindful in the way that we assemble our flow of space to consciously guide people to behave in a way that is appropriate in the various aspects of our space. So this is through zoning.

And then the third way that we do this is through the spaces themselves. So we need to think about what is the type of furniture that we are putting in each of these particular zones, because the way that we use space and we use furniture, we can influence people's posture, which influences the different types of work [00:12:00] modalities that they're going to be doing.

It can also influence the type of physical energy that we are going to bring to an activity. So if you think about a high backed lounge chair, That's got a beautiful textural soft fabric. It's designed to cocoon you as an individual. So the type of physical energy that I am going to bring to an activity that I'm doing, sitting in that high back lounge chair is one where it's very individualized.

It's very focused. It's quite relaxed. I feel safe. I feel secure. I feel cocooned in this environment. And I'm going to exhale and sit in that space and work out. Individually, because it's very clear that this space is only made for one, but if we want people to collaborate, then creating spaces with, you know, large stand up tables with multiple barstools.

This is communicating to me that I need to be active in this space. It is a space that is designed for multiple people. It might be facilitated with whiteboards. So now we've got active collaboration tools there that it's encouraging communication. So you can see conversely how just by changing the furniture and the tools in those spaces, we are distinguishing the type of activity and behavior.

That we want our people to be exhibiting and engaging in, in those various spaces. Now, all of this needs to be linked back to that brand though. How do we want people to feel when they're working this space? What is the purpose of this space? Why are we wanting them to gather here? How do we want them to engage, communicate, facilitate these conversations together?

And we need to be having that bigger overarching question answered. What is the purpose that our workplace is fulfilling? It isn't the place any longer that we need to go to, to sit on a chair in front of a computer from nine to five to do our work Monday to Friday. It has a very, very different need for us in our workplace communities now.

And each organization has a very different [00:14:00] why. So starting to think about what the why is in your workplace will start to shift how you then create your space and how your people will then engage in it. Now, we need to then think about how we're going to be activating these spaces. Cause as I said, this is just a vessel.

We've created this beautiful space that we now know responds to all of the needs of the organization. We then need to activate it. And this is where those social contracts and those routines and rituals start to come into play. Now I spoke to this a lot more in episode 139, so jump back and tune into that one if you haven't.

But what it's about is really understanding what am I here to do? What's the expectation of me while I'm here? What is the way that we operate? What is those patterns of behavior? When do we meet? How do we meet? And thinking about how, when we do all of those things, we're connecting to the hearts, the bodies, and the minds of our people.

What is that emotional connection that we're wanting people to engage in? What is that sensory journey that we want people to take on when they move through a space? And how do we want them to bring their collective genius together through the connection of their minds in this space? Because what we're doing as an organization, as a department, as a team, all of these things matter to fostering community as a whole.

Each of these are little touch points. What are the rhythms that we are creating to encourage these patterns of repeatable behaviors that then in turn, encourage our people to have a sense of comfort, a sense of stability, a sense of predictability about their work life, which we know. Creates a much more easeful way of working, which enables us to be more creative and more innovative.

All of these things underpin our opportunities within our workplaces. Now I want to revert back and give you an example of this in practice, and I'm going to think back to the religion example again. Because if you think about people who are [00:16:00] going to church, they're going there because it's contributing to their lives.

It's a way that they are able to connect with their faith and with things that are much bigger than them. It gives them that meaning. It gives them that sense of purpose. They get to connect and they get to build relationships with others that share their beliefs and their values. There's a set of expected practices and behaviors that they engage in and they participate in.

These are those social contracts that we've been talking about. And lastly, there's a set agenda for how they gather. There is a repeatable formula for how they gather, and that's starting to think about their routines and rituals. Now that is the fostering of the community from those basic principles.

But then if we overlay that, we need to think about how this is actually facilitated by place. Thanks. And if we look at the design of our churches, these are not done by accident. They are very, very deliberate. They are large, open, long, stately spaces with high ceilings. These high ceilings invoke those feelings of possibility, of endless opportunity.

The sky is the limit. It makes people feel abundant. And when we think about this, that's why it's called the cathedral effect. If we have high ceilings in our spaces, it gives people that feeling of possibility. And these same principles can all be applied to our workplaces. So firstly, it's about purpose. Why are we gathering? What value are these places contributing to the lives of those that we're asking to come and gather with us? Secondly, it's about brand. How do we want people to feel when they gather with us?

What connection and what emotion do we want to invoke? Thirdly, it's about behaviors. In what ways do we [00:18:00] want them to gather? What practices, what behaviors do we want them to be partaking in? And finally, It's about the spatial tools, what spatial tools do we need to be providing to enable our people to purposefully gather, to encourage them to participate in the practices, the activities, the behaviors that we want them to do when they are in these places.

What is going to move our organizations forward? How do we enable that through the places that we create? So if we are taking this really human centered approach to creating our workplaces, rather than trying to figure out how many desks we need and, How many more meeting rooms we're going to need, we're going to be far more likely to create places where people want to be.

And this in turn is going to be fostering the creation of that community, those places where people connect. And if we embrace the Project for Public Space's motto, it takes a place to create a community and a community to create a place. So I want you to think about that. How is your workplace creating that sense of community?

How is it becoming that central destination that's encouraging people and they're, it's magnetizing them. They want to come in and they want to be part of it. So if you're starting to think about How you could learn more to do what you need to do in your workplace. You can grab a copy of my book, The Next Workplace, or you can come and join us in the next Workplace Dynamics Blueprint program.

The doors are going to be opening for that very shortly. So building on the book and the resources that are in there, you This is where I take you deep into how we actually apply all of that science and that knowledge to unpack and unlock the data that exists in your workstation. So you can start to create an environment that inspires the human potential of your people.

So the doors of that one are opening very soon. So you can jump over and join the wait list there. I've got some great bonuses coming up for [00:20:00] those that are joining me off the wait list. So the link will be there in the show notes for that one. Or if you're just at the point where you're like, I just need help.

We just need to get on with this. Book a call with me. There's a link in the show notes. I'm more than happy to have a chat, see what we can do to help you out and support you on this really exciting, but extremely important journey. Most organizations only get this opportunity once in every 10 years at the re signing of a lease.

Make sure you make it count because it can transform everything about your organization and your culture. So that's it for this week. Thanks so much for joining me. Like I said, any of those resources are going to be down there in the show notes. Drop me a line, join the wait list, grab a copy of the book.

But until next week, I look forward to chatting with you then.

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