The CEO of the UK’s leading workplace design and fit-out company says the workplace of the future must be built for the people who work there – and help them be the best they can be.
Just a generation ago, offices were places stuffed with cubicles and solitary work stations, where people were expected to stick to a strict nine to five routine. Technology is transforming when and how we work. The most forward-thinking workplaces are characterised by design that encourages collaboration, inspires innovation and facilitates a multi-generation workplace attracting the very best talent.
Well-designed offices that respond to evolving working methods and help people do their jobs better have become the calling card of successful organisations. Nowhere is this more visible than among the most recent entrants to the workforce: Millennials and Generation Z.
Millennials and their subsequent demographic cohort, Generation Z – those born since 2000 – crave belonging and their thirst to be part of a team is often more important than the brand identity or benefits of a salary package. According to British Land research, communal areas are a top priority for millennials – with 95% listing them as a key feature in their ideal office1. The concept of a fixed desk in the corner of an office, or navigating to the same place every day is alien to these two groups, which will soon make up the majority of the UK workforce.
An attractive work environment is a crucial weapon in the battle for talent and the pursuit of unlocking people’s potential. Take a look at the resources that pioneers like Google and Facebook are spending on physical spaces and you’ll see this is not a fleeting trend.
But you don’t need the budget of a Silicon Valley giant to build offices of the future. Whilst plans for Google’s future London workspace include a multi-use indoor sports pitch and rooftop garden, more subtle, affordable tweaks can be made to have teams work together and enjoy what they’re doing.
Open plan, open to opportunities
Take the open plan office. Introduced largely to save companies money, the removal of physical barriers ushered in a new era of cross-team collaboration. The open plan office breaks down outdated hierarchies and siloes, while encouraging team members to engage with different people and areas of work.
The office landscape has evolved even more over recent years. Occupancy levels in offices is at an all-time low, currently averaging under 55%2. Technology is enabling the distributed workforce, empowering employees to make informed decisions. A traditional office set up assumes the same tasks and interactions happen every day. However, just like in daily life, no two days are identical and this variety should be reflected in office design. Agile and activity-based working are terms heard a lot recently – but what does that mean and is it right for your business?
No one business is the same, and is as unique as the people employed. Agility within the four walls of an office means choice and the need to think and be prepared to work differently. Do we really need to book a meeting room for this gathering – could we walk and talk instead? Challenging the status quo on day-to-day activities and creating task-based environments to suit the needs of the project(s) and employee(s) opens the door to practical collaboration and innovation. Research reveals that 35 per cent of a team’s performance can be predicted by the number and quality of face-to-face interactions they have3.
Looking back 50 years, new joiners aspired to make it to the corner office with the private bathroom. However in 2017, in organisations such as my own, CEOs are hot desking – a far cry from getting your name engraved on the door. Why? Because today’s teams want to see their leaders in action, working as part of a team.
Cloud communications and sophisticated, portable are blurring where work ends and play begins. Over the last five years, we have seen more and more offices go down the Manhattan loft ‘defurb’ route. The trend brings aspects of the home into the office. Often characterised by exposed brickwork, sofas and wooden floors, it does wonders for creativity and encourages people to bring their whole selves to work.
While some workplace designs reflect changing aesthetic tastes, others use science to resolve long-standing professional challenges. You can now measure whether enough oxygen is present by installing CO2 indicators in meeting rooms. If the level drops below a certain amount, it notifies those present, allowing them to take action to prevent lethargy and irritation. A simple and effective way to banish boardroom blues.
Crowdsource for design ideas
It is important to crowdsource for ideas and feedback when it comes to creating an office environment that is right for your organisation. An effective space should reflect your company’s mission and values, whether you’re designing for thousands or arranging an area in a co-working space. Listen to what your people want and combine their responses with what the organisation needs.
While the imagination can easily wander, your future office does not need slides and ping pong tables. If you think it will boost morale and act as a magnet for new joiners, then go ahead, but don’t expect every member of the team to start sliding into the cafeteria.
Typically, an organisation’s biggest costs are its people and its property; and their relationship should not be downplayed. I’m often drawn back to Winston Churchill’s observation, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” The four walls around you make an impact on what you do every day, so ask your people what they want and develop the physical space around them.
Clive Lucking was one of the 2016 Faces of a Vibrant Economy.