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Current Trends in Employee Work Environments

Companies are redesigning their facilities to reflect how each generation of employees works, with the result being greater collaboration and improved productivity.

Directory 2016
With four generations currently in the work environment — traditionalists, baby-boomers, Gen X, and millennials — never have designers of these environments been forced to look at so many different variables to create an effective workplace that meets the needs of every potential end-user. Each of these four generations of stakeholders has different ideas on what is important in order to accomplish its work.

How do designers create spaces that are successful for each of these variables? By rethinking the way people work in a space and how they interact with each other, we can start to develop new ways for the generations to work together.
Workplaces are moving away from an overabundance of traditional conference rooms and toward flexible ‘think tank’ spaces that bear names like idea room or collaboration space.
Workplaces are moving away from an overabundance of traditional conference rooms and toward flexible ‘think tank’ spaces that bear names like idea room or collaboration space.
Knowledge-Based Work Environments
Hierarchical organizational structures are becoming less and less appropriate. Such environments are likely to be inefficient, inflexible, and costly. As the majority of work carried out in facilities moves away from hierarchical organizational structures and toward a knowledge transaction, we shift focus from tangible assets to human capital and intangible assets such as R&D, marketing, HR, and innovation management.

Work is becoming increasingly knowledge-based because the speed and volume of work required cannot reasonably be accommodated in traditional, sequentially managed work applications. This has implications for the workplace. Work environments are designed to support knowledge transfer and connect communities of people and independent workers. Technology will play an even greater role, supporting mobility and virtual working, while the individual office building becomes just one part of an organization’s overall working platform.

Communication — Improving Performance
Think of an office not as real estate but as a communication tool. Strategy, features, and value become more important than cost and efficiency. Technology is becoming the cheapest component of work and people the most expensive. Human beings are social, needing contacts to provide a sense of purpose and worth. Face-to-face interactions are by far the most important activity in an office. Chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization, improve performance.

We’ve learned that spaces can be designed to produce specific performance outcomes — productivity in one space and increased innovation in another, or both in the same space but at different times. By referencing company strategic goals such as total sales or number of new-product launches, we can demonstrate a workspace’s effect on the bottom line and then design that space to improve it. This will lead to profound changes in how we build our future workspaces.

Educational Work Environments
Given the choice, people will choose workspaces that support their digital style while giving them access to new knowledge, exposing them to different kinds of expertise, and accelerating their learning. Three key elements of successful communication are exploration (interacting with people in many other social groups), engagement (interacting with people within your social group), and energy (interacting with more people overall). Spaces can be designed to favor exploration or engagement or energy to achieve certain outcomes. The challenge is balancing a facilities requirement for both communication and concentration, and devising spaces that can respond to and encourage the highly complex process of social interaction at work.

Managers might be tempted to simply build big social spaces and expect great results, but it’s not that simple. Business strategies provide business priorities, and office design concepts based on these priorities can have a dynamic impact on performance. One must have an understanding of what facilities are trying to achieve (higher productivity? more creativity?) before changing a space.

Creating spaces that can be flexible for both collaboration and focus allows for less real estate to be utilized. If certain amenities and adaptive technology are located close to areas of collaboration, it allows these spaces to shift in use. Variety in location, as well as amenities, provides users with a choice in ways to collaborate and what they need to interact with others. After all, the true value of a collaboration space is in the connections between humans. The space itself should serve as a conduit for these conversations.

Think of an office not as real estate but as a communication tool. Strategy, features, and value become more important than cost and efficiency. Contemporary Office Environments
Office space is not just an amortized asset but also a strategic tool for growth. Office utilization may peak at 42 percent on any given day. By past logic, the best way to manage cost per square foot is to remove “wasted” square feet. But experience reveals that investments in redesigning space for interactions over efficiency can increase communication and collaboration, resulting in increased business performance.

New space standards and planning principles reduce the number of enclosed offices, increase open office areas, and accommodate easy reconfiguration for evolving workplace needs. Typical floors have interior offices and meeting rooms with glass fronts, providing access to daylight for all occupants.

Recruiting & Retaining the Best of the Best
Staff turnover is costly. Replacing a mid-level manager costs an estimated 50 percent of salary. Employee well-being isn’t simply about work environments with better ergonomics or more comfort. Today’s workplace can and should be a place where people actually leave healthier. This has become challenging as knowledge work has evolved.

Thanks to new technology and a global marketplace, work is more project-based, much faster paced, and often a 24/7 endeavor. High stress levels are prevalent and associated with knowledge work today. We communicate and collaborate constantly. It’s hard to unplug.

Well-being actually involves many aspects of organizational culture, from making sure people understand what their job is and have sense of purpose, to providing the right space, tools, and resources to be successful. Research shows that successful organizations support their employees with a holistic approach to mental, physical, and emotional well-being. It lowers absenteeism and results in fewer medical claims providing substantial cost savings. It will also pay off in terms of organizational performance; well-being is now woven into the culture of organizations through multiple activities led by both management and employees.

LEED — Doing What’s Right for Employees and the Planet
LEED strategies also play an important part in employee wellness. Sustainable attributes, such as harvesting natural light, play a key role in today’s interior design space planning efforts. Additional measures that balance a company’s environmental footprint include low-flow plumbing fixtures, occupancy sensors, and high-efficiency light sources, all of which reduce a company’s power consumption. Sustainable design features include an emphasis on durable, environmentally friendly furniture and finishes.

Current strategies in office design support an organization’s mission of understanding and predicting changes in the earth’s environment. Current trends reduce office impact on the environment as well as physically embodying man’s relationship to nature. Conscientious clients and employees are known to seek out and support corporate policies promoting sustainable strategies targeting net-zero energy use. These policies help to define the corporate culture and, in turn, the corporate brand.

Design is literally breaking down the walls to traditional office space by incorporating more glass and transparent materials into conference or meeting spaces. Letting in more light into
areas meant for thought and action helps employees concentrate and stay alert.
Design is literally breaking down the walls to traditional office space by incorporating more glass and transparent materials into conference or meeting spaces. Letting in more light into areas meant for thought and action helps employees concentrate and stay alert.
Corporate Branding — More Important Now than Ever Before
Technology has not only slashed the costs of the production of goods, but also expanded the scope for innovation, leading to an explosion in the choices open to consumers. Value increasingly lies not in the product itself but in innovation, design, marketing, responsiveness, and after-sales support. Today, due to the effects of globalization and improvements in manufacturing, it has become harder for firms to differentiate their offerings on these terms alone.

Companies now must have a corporate brand. When a large proportion of the value of a company depends on branding, it becomes necessary to take every opportunity to communicate messages about values. This is what not only attracts and retains loyal customers but loyal employees as well. Interior design can communicate this global branding through showcasing corporate identity and culture.

A company’s brand and culture can be found throughout a facility, whether through the color of the walls or the style of furniture. Through design, we can apply subtle elements that might not scream company branding but, when combined, all of these small touch-points create a cohesive environment that is all about the brand.

Future Work Environments
Office buildings are no longer the sole locations for knowledge work. In fact, it has been suggested that two thirds of knowledge work now happens outside the office. Consequently, no matter how precisely we design office space to create opportunities for communication, the design is incomplete if it doesn’t take into account digital work and collaboration that is independent of space and time.

The office of the future will most likely include highly networked, shared, multipurpose spaces that redefine boundaries between companies and improve everyone’s performance. This will require new design and management principles. It will also transform HR, IT, and facilities management from support functions to facilitators. But if companies can change their spaces to reflect how people work, performance improvement will follow.

Every generation is affected by the evolving workplace. While each generation has different needs and opinions of what matters, each generation can agree that workplace design and functionality is an important factor.

Employers are dealing with an increasingly hard task of implementing workplace innovations that meet the needs of all four generations while still maintaining an effective and profitable workplace. With employees likely being the largest investment by business owners, many are willing to incorporate changes to maintain morale and provide a workplace that helps develop an innovative and engaged group of employees. These innovations can also bridge the gap between generations by creating an environment that allows workers to share experiences and concepts to develop ideas.
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