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Oi! Aviva! Be proud of your employer brand!

As part of Workplace Week I visited the Aviva Digital Garage in Hoxton Square, London to see how they are shaping the workplace of the future to drive digital innovation and attract and retain talent.

A few hundred metres from Old Street, aka ‘Silicon Roundabout’, it’s an area with a high number of technology start-ups and the home of the hipster. And I left feeling troubled. Does talent really follow the free diet coke and the nice coffee?

The building is very Hoxton; loads of exposed brick, ducting, pipes, unfinished plasterwork and unfinished paintwork. You get the picture. You could have been in any number of the cafes throughout east London. Although there were no small dogs. Which was a shame.

It was an interesting building – previously the White Cube gallery, and before that a garage (hence the name). It was unconventional. The Garage is comprised of two buildings joined together which meant lots of staircases leading to single rooms, or rooms as corridors.

The tour gave us insight into the perks and quirks of life at the building – the bike racks inside to avoid the Hoxton bike thieves, the great coffee machine, the lovely breakout areas next to the barbecues on the roof. And then we came to the main office bit.

And – guttingly – it was the same as any other corporate office space (of which I have seen many). Banks of desks, noisy, busy, buzzy. But without a single whisper of this being Aviva. Not a jot of yellow. Instead blackboards and chalk denoted who sat where, which was another surprise. I thought hot-desking was a mainstay of innovative workplaces – all that serendipitous collaboration…

We were told that the lack of Aviva branding was deliberate – because ‘talent’ doesn’t want to work for a big corporate. But, I can’t imagine that ‘talent’ is going to have the wool pulled over their eyes by some interesting furniture and weekly spinning classes.

I understand the intent. Aviva want to attract the best digital talent by making out that they are a pacy, digital agency-type organisation. But, this was all mouth and no trousers. When I asked, it transpired that people working at the Garage don’t have different ways of working. They work to the same processes, reward, recognition and remuneration as the rest of Aviva. The Garage is simply a building.

And I felt so disappointed in Aviva. To have such a lack of faith in your employee offer! The talent they need is the talent excited by the possibilities of working for a huge brand, with millions of customers, and access to good budgets and bums on seats. That talent doesn’t care about the free coffee. They care about getting great stuff done, about getting digital innovation to market. About having a huge market to play in. About being first.

You can’t be what you’re not. Aviva is a juggernaut of an organisation – and with that comes fantastic opportunities. Aviva has clearly decided it needs to ramp up digital innovation. But supporting that takes more than the built environment. It takes different ways of working, recruiting, and rewarding. It requires a change in expectations and pace and process. Built environment can support that – but it cannot create it.

My ask of Aviva? Be proud of who you are and what you offer to talented people – be yellow and proud! And while you’re at it work on developing and enabling the ways of working that the best talent wants. Don’t just build a pastiche of everything ‘tech start-up’ and hope they will come.

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