From walking trails to fire pits to designated “library spaces” for focused work, a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article highlighted a range of elements that may become commonplace in the offices of the future.
“Keeping workers happy at the office is one of the most important facets of retaining talent, recruiters and management experts say,” wrote Chip Cutter and Rachel Feintzeig in the WSJ. “More companies are taking employee complaints seriously, often spending millions on gleaming offices that incorporate their ideas, and no detail seems too small in some employers’ quest to please.”
The recruiters and management experts are right. As the war for talent grows increasingly competitive, it is essential for CEOs, Chief People Officers, and other leaders to identify the office components that will help them attract and retain top team members, both today and for years to come. Here are three trends that will feature prominently in the workspaces of tomorrow’s most dynamic businesses.
1. Smart Customization
Fewer than two-thirds (59%) of employees, according to O.C. Tanner’s 2020 Global Culture Report, believe their leaders value them. This is a direct route to disengagement (which affects two-thirds of U.S. workers) and attrition. In fact, in one survey, “not feeling valued” was tied with “not being paid enough” as the main reasons why employees wanted to quit their jobs. To boost engagement and retention, therefore, it is vital to make employees feel valued — a goal that can be aided by thoughtful work space design.
In the future, for example, WeWork’s Andy Heath believes that offices will be much more customized toward individual tastes and requirements. “An office will track my location and adjust preferences to suit me,” he said. “After lunch, the temperature where I am sat might drop by a degree and the blinds may go up slightly to wake me up, creating my optimum work environment.”
A version of this is already occurring at McDonald’s new headquarters in Chicago, where it launched an app through which employees can get directions, book meeting rooms, and even adjust the temperature of their seating area. “Paying attention to workplace details… shows employees that we value their work experience,” said Scott Phillips, the company’s director of corporate real estate. “This paves the way for more satisfied employees and improves their performance across the board.” After enacting these measures, the company reportedly saw dramatic increases in both workplace satisfaction (76%) and talent acquisition (22%).
2. A Window to Nature
According to a poll conducted by Future Workplace, the number-one desire of North American employees is not a cafeteria, fitness center or on-site childcare; it is, simply, “access to natural light and views of the outdoors.” Nearly three-quarters of those polled said that such access improves their work satisfaction (73%) and work performance (70%) — and more than half (54%) said it increases their organizational commitment. Other studies have shown similar results, with one revealing that call center workers were 6%–12% faster when they had better views of the outdoors.
Statistics such as these are driving the boom in “biophilic design,” which integrates natural light and elements, such as wood and rock, alongside outdoor views and access. “As the workplace has evolved,” Chris Alldred, a design director, explained to European CEO, “principles of biophilic design have begun to gain prominence as the resultant benefits, including reductions in staff stress levels and consequently absenteeism, have become difficult to ignore.”
Examples abound. Amazon has The Spheres, which are home to more than 40,000 plants from 30 countries. Microsoft has three tree houses on its 500-acre campus. Clif Bar has a $90 million, 300,000-square-foot bakery wherein biophilic design was integrated from the outset; an abundance of windows, skylights, plants, and patios complement its mountain views. “It was really important to us that our Twin Falls bakery embodied our company values,” CEO Kevin Cleary said in a statement. “We wanted it to be a healthy, welcoming place for people to work — a workplace that sustains our people, the community and the planet.”
3. Diversity of Spaces
In a survey conducted by Clutch, 78% of employees agreed that “physical environments” influence where individuals choose to work. As remote work becomes more widespread, and commuting to an office becomes less of a necessity, this influence will likely only grow. “We don’t have to go to work to work,” Despina Katsikakis, head of occupier business performance at Cushman & Wakefield, told the Financial Times. “This means our whole perception of the office as a building needs to shift to the office being a network of physical and virtual places that supports me to do my best work.”
Part of enabling employees to do their best work will involve creating a diversity of spaces that are accessible and appealing to all. Offices of the future will neither be entirely open nor entirely closed; they will will be varied, offering areas for both creativity and focus, and reconfigurable, adapting to fluctuations in needs. As architect Eliot Postma said in a Raconteur article about future-oriented office design: “It was previously thought that full collaboration was best. But there are introverts and extroverts, and offices need to accommodate both.”
This was certainly the mindset of software giant Adobe when it redesigned its San Jose headquarters in 2016. Its 162,600-square-foot facilities now include a meeting space with bleacher seating, “living rooms,” an outdoor patio, conference rooms, phone booths and several cafes. “We’ve created a variety of community areas and alternative work spaces that give our employees the ability to choose where and how to work,” Jonathan Francom, Adobe’s vice president of global workplace solutions, told Business Insider, thus providing “the opportunity to meet up and collaborate in new ways.”
As we enter a new era of work — one defined by agility and flexibility, collaboration and innovation — business leaders must realize that office spaces have a role to play in an organization’s success. “The notion that the creation of the workplace environment is solely a real estate concern is an outdated concept,” Jeanne C. Meister, a partner at Future Workplace, wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “Today, employers recognize that the workplace environment is now part of the overall employee experience equation and a key lever to attract, engage and retain top talent.”
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