Engineering-Serendiptiy-Cummings-PhoteAs originialy seen in Atlanta Business Chronicle

Can great workplace culture and innovation happen at home?

Marissa Mayer’s now famous decision to pull Yahoo workers back to the office suggests that working at home has it challenges.

Many in the commercial real estate community understand that working remotely (at home or otherwise) can increase productivity and save money on real estate overhead. But Yahoo’s Mayer grasps that innovation, at least in part, is a function of bumping into a colleague. It is these interactions that lead to a “wow” moment or a “happy accident” and ultimately new ideas. This is also known as serendipity.

Now, an Atlanta uber-entrepreneur turned real estate mogul thanks to the success of his Atlanta Technology Village (ATV) asset is taking that concept to the next level. David Cummings not only wants to have a great culture designed for a millennial workforce in the ATV, he in fact wants to “engineer serendipity.”

Cummings determination is there is “gap in the market with people that wanted to have flexible office space with an instant community.”

He has focused on providing an integrated work place from start-up to year three or four of a company’s life. The ATV will create a college campus environment with all of the energy and enthusiasm in a corporate work place. Cummings calls this the “merging of corporate and campus.”

I listened to Cummings talk at a recent CoreNet Global Atlanta Chapter Education Day and I share here with you some of his thoughts from the discussion:

We need perspective. Work “is not just about leaning in” (checking email too much). We need to “lean back” and think strategically about the problems at hand. This will also foster innovation. One can certainly be too connected and tactical.

› The ATV has a number of “spec” (pre-built) suites on each floor, but is has one shared community center on each floor. This includes shared game rooms and kitchens. Cummings told the CoreNet Global audience consisting of senior real estate officials that ATV is purpose built so that those serendipitous conversations are more likely to occur.

ATV is not an incubator or a coworking space. Instead, Cummings calls it a commercial office building designed for tech and tech related companies between 1 and 30 employees. The building is about 100,000 square feet.

Cummings doesn’t lease space on a per square foot model. Instead, he charges for space on a per desk/person rate. Included in this rate is a “house mom” to enforce the rule. ATV also has a “cruise director” who is the community manager.

Cummings is not worried about servers, phone systems or fancy furniture. The one critical thing to him and his ATV denizens is the fastest bandwidth humanly possible. He told the audience “with everything moving to the cloud, the ability to have fast access is simply critical.”

So how do these 20 somethings get access to the digital holy land that is ATV? They don’t ask for a proposal from the landlord, but instead they have to interview for a slot and agree to the four guiding principles:

Be Nice

Pay It Forward

Think Big

Work Hard, Play Hard

Cummings’ view of the future of office? The physical environment has to be set for “autonomy, mastery and purpose.” “The office doesn’t matter anymore.” Companies “need to be able to do their work without being slowed down.

Purpose helps one understand the importance of their work. Mastery is the desire to continually get better. Autonomy is the freedom to innovate in a fun and inspiring environment.” He concluded his remarks by saying the “office will always exist, but it’s not required. It will become more informal and optional.”

I’m happy to see the renaissance of technology companies and start-ups in America. As Cummings shared in a recent blog:

“Several years ago we were playing the real estate roulette sublease game where every 18 – 24 months we’d go shopping around to find an affordable and flexible lease suitable for our startup. In the first seven years of my entrepreneurial journey, we were in five different offices (one of the reasons the Atlanta Tech Village was started).”

Now his mission at ATV is to “support and inspire entrepreneurs to achieve success through a community that promotes faster connections between talent, ideas and capital.” Corporate America is clearly changing how it uses real estate. As we do, bleeding edge leaders like Cummings are ones to watch as we all try to discern how to turn real estate from overhead into a competitive weapon for our companies.