If your employees are stuck in assigned workspaces and can't control how they work, get ready to disassemble the cubicles.
By Wanda Thibodeaux
The idea that your environment makes a difference in how you think, act and feel is hardly new. For recent graduates, though, companies largely are missing the mark with their office designs and setups. That's according to research by Jonathan Webb, Vice President of Business Markets at KI, and Brett Shwery, Senior Vice President, Corporate Workplace Design & Delivery Director at AECOM. The pair assert that, if businesses really want to attract, retain and get the most out of recent graduates, companies ought to create spaces fashioned after colleges.
To learn more about where companies were getting cues about office design, Webb and Shwery conducted a formal, year-long research study with Fortune 100 companies. Key findings, as detailed in their white paper, include the following:
In short, students are used to spaces that promote anytime-anywhere work, choosing where and how they complete tasks. They seamlessly connect work, study, technology and social interaction, and they treat areas like lobbies and corridors like personal workspaces as desired. Companies, by contrast, still aren't taking a holistic approach to their office design, continuing to prioritize the personal workspace and dictating when workers have to do their jobs. They use third spaces like lobbies as transition areas where workers can escape from their designated workspace momentarily, not as an active hub workers can take real ownership of. Many companies marvel at the sheer amount of technology students use to multitask.
Webb notes that many modern workers (2 out of 3) suffer from disengagement. The problem might be particularly troublesome for new hires who are lost in transition. The more disengaged workers are, the higher the risk is that they will have lower job satisfaction, struggle to provide good yields and leave. He asserts that well-planned workspaces can be a factor in addressing this disengagement, thereby increasing employee morale, retention and productivity.
Understanding that companies don't have a real grasp of how students really work in collegiate environments, Shwery and Webb recommend the following basics to fix the disconnect they uncovered:
Because office design can be costly, and because it's natural to resist change to some degree, as you look into modifications, be prepared to take ownership of the process. "This type of change needs to come from the C-level of any organization," Webb says. "At the end of the day, they are the ones that are responsible for the overall success of the organization. And if they have questions about their existing workspace, just have them ask the young workers that already work there!"
Although Webb and Shwery's research applies well to millennials, they note that the design issue isn't merely a millennial one. Workers from all demographics are going back to school and forming expectations based on their time on campus. Keep this in mind as you survey your workforce and decide which colleges to view. And remember--even though there are basic principles or guidelines related to collegiate spaces, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Find a way to adhere to these concepts while still staying true to your individual company's vision, personality and voice and you'll have hit the jackpot.