Personalization is the name of the game these days. Everyone is in search of individualized treatment and a plethora of options for everything — from the media they consume and the experiences they share down to the environments in which they work. Traditional, static offices are no longer a realistic option for growing companies that want to attract and retain a dynamic workforce. Workers demand more.
Cubical farms no longer bear fruit, and assigning a stationary desk to an employee doesn’t offer much in terms of inspiration. Open office concepts have business benefits, but the constant exposure of such a setup can turn many workers off.
The long-term solution, ultimately, is a flexible office environment that features open areas for collaboration, private spaces for introspection and flexible areas that can be converted to either. The answers have to be multiple choice.
Nothing stays the same, especially in business.
It was inevitable that workspaces would change because, well, evolution. Offices regularly go through transformations as companies and the people who work for them grow and change. That’s why we no longer aspire to have Industrial-Age sweatshops or rows of 1980s-style cubicles.
Here’s the challenge, though: What will employees expect in the next decade? Not the workplace of their parents, that’s for sure. The companies that stay ahead of the curve will win. The companies that don’t won’t.
Pinpointing exactly how to prepare for the coming changes isn’t an exact science, but we know several key factors that are at play.
One is the decentralization of workers and growth of the gig economy. People aren’t going to stop working from wherever they are — whether from home, while traveling or in the lobby of their gym. People prefer adaptable environments, so in order to draw them back in — at least partially — their company’s office should be flexible, too.
At my company, our goal is to offer a better way to keep up with workplace evolution. When we saw people turning sour toward fully open floor plans, we started exploring movable walls and sound-dampening solutions. The goal is to always look to tomorrow. After all, everybody is under a “grow or die” mantra. Why should leaders lose steam because their offices can’t keep up?
If your business is pushing for the same objectives, start planning now. The following strategies will help you stay on target as you reimagine your workspace to meet the needs of employees who aren’t on your payroll — or maybe even in the workforce yet:
1. Prioritize flexibility and speed.
Want to grow fast? Look for simple, yet scalable, options. Instead of cobbling together random or highly customized pieces of furniture every time your team grows, purchase simple, quality, multiuse items with more longevity. That way, employees can adjust on the fly to fulfill their teams’ needs.
Don’t expect to nail it your first time around. You might find that your team craves more collaborative spaces. Or maybe they really want more spots where they can hide out and focus. You want your team to learn from what works and what doesn’t and to have a space that ebbs and flows with their needs.
If workers need a place to concentrate in near silence, bring in privacy booths or pods to give them a way to get the seclusion they deserve. When they want to collaborate, present them all the space and marker boards they need in order to make brainstorming sessions come together. Don’t make your people work hard just to have an efficient meeting or an effective solo session. Offer them choices bursting with both aesthetic and functional appeal.
2. Build a culture of transparency.
One of the keys to a dynamic workspace is a lack of secrets. Executives aren’t walled off from the rest of the staff, and meetings don’t take place behind closed wooden doors. Conference rooms with clear walls put everyone at ease and encourage more open dialogue among employees. Same with C-suite offices without doors.
In addition to executives making themselves available in the physical sense, they should also be ready to answer to their business practices publicly. Online review sites and 360-degree peer reviews have changed the playing field. Now, leaders have to not only take charge, but also own the experience.
We all owe one another discernment and genuineness. Similarly, we must be ready to stick up for our decisions, sometimes on an international stage. That’s a scary premise, but a necessity in an economy in which a CEO’s feet can and will be held to the fire.
3. Assist with work-life integration.
The parameters of work will continue to bend and shift as younger employees enter the workforce. Being planted in the same physical workspace from 9 to 5, five days per week might be an antiquated notion sooner than later. To maintain the benefits that come from in-person collaboration and communication, employers must create a place where their people want to come to work each day.
Consider adding perks that encourage a better sense of work-life balance, such as an on-site gym, free dry-cleaning pickup, a well-stocked coffee bar, etc. These kinds of amenities reduce the friction points that otherwise deter employees from spending their precious out-of-office hours doing the things they love. By showing that you care, workers will be more likely to show up.
Work will never remain stagnant. It can’t. The sooner we all prepare ourselves for what lies around the next bend, the easier it will be to make the most of the opportunities ahead. Being flexible is a good first step toward that goal.