Not too long ago, nobody thought much about workplace experience. Most companies didn’t even know what it meant beyond the physical components of a space. You had a desk, a chair, four high cubicle walls, and a breakroom with coffee service. That was the experience. But workplace experience encompasses everything in the physical office space, from the office layout and decor, as well as the attitudes toward differing work styles and any supporting technology.
Luckily, companies are wising up. As workplace technology frees us from traditional workspaces, what employees think and feel about where and how they work are coming into the spotlight. And it turns out we really care about the environment in which we spend most of our waking hours. In fact, it’s the thing that we weigh most heavily when evaluating whether to take, keep, or leave a job.
A study by Quora Consulting showed that 75 percent of employees who leave jobs within two years do so because they’re unhappy with either the management or badly-designed workplace experience. Millennials, in particular, place a high value on making the best of their time at work. They expect workplace technology and design that allows them to work where they feel most productive and comfortable. That means anything from a breakdown of walls to foster creativity and minimize hierarchies to quiet personal space for reflection and deep work.
Beyond the ping-pong table: what goes into creating a meaningful workplace experience?
So how can companies design positive workplaces that meet the needs of so many workstyles and generations? The answer is easier than you think: just ask. We’re so busy measuring customer feedback to keep customers happy, but we haven’t been thinking of employees as customers who need satisfaction, too. If we consider employees stakeholders in the success of an organization, chances are good they’ll be better invested in their roles.
Consulting with a cyborg anthropologist will also give you insight into how technology informs the workplace experience. These scientists study how humans interact with technology and can make recommendations for how to create a cyber-friendly workspace.
Here are a few tips to help drive the conversation around workplace experience:
It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing things the way they’ve always been done. Sometimes the reasons for doing things the old way no longer make sense. Are employees gathering in conference rooms for shared lunches and creative jam sessions? Maybe they’d be happier in an open hangout with comfy, living room furniture that encourages interaction. Are they ignoring the coffee maker and soda machine and making Starbucks runs or bringing in kombucha from home? That may be something to look into.
Little changes like these go a long way toward acknowledging and honoring employees’ needs.
It’s well beyond time to stop thinking of employees as machines. People have individual needs, and it’s in a company’s best interest to provide an environment that allows them to be at their best. Some people thrive in open, collaborative spaces. Others need a calm and quiet place to focus. Employees might work better on a couch or comfortable chair, or they might do better in small "neighborhoods" with like-minded co-workers.
Most office buildings can create multiple environments with what they already have. It just takes asking employees what they’d want and incorporating some thoughtful design.
This one isn’t so obvious, but it’s incredibly important. Employees are, after all, human beings first, and humans can’t thrive in sterile, artificial environments. But somehow, that’s how the majority of offices have been designed for generations.
To inspire employees and maximize creativity, workplace designers like Stephen Beacham recommend paying attention to biophilia—elements, colors, and textures from nature that can transform an office. Add plants, warm wood and stone finishes, ambient light, and colors drawn from earth and sea. These elements work to calm and comfort human beings in their natural habitat. Look at the workplace technology you have now and ask employees if they think it matches the requirements of the environment. Services like Slack and Workplaces by Facebook let employees check in with one another without disturbing anyone’s flow. Digital visitor management brings guests in and out of the building efficiently with minimum effort. Video conferencing gives workers "face time" with anyone, anywhere in the world. Toll-free dial-ins from a mobile device to meetings take away the anxiety of being stuck in traffic and running late.
Technology has yet to figure out a way to keep people from needing cardigans in the office in the summertime. But we humans can make revolutionary changes to the entire office environment—from floor to ceiling, and reaching across every screen and mobile device in the company. Human evolution is happening every day, and updating our workplaces helps companies remain competitive by keeping up with the changing tides.
Ready to uplevel your workplace experience? Register for our webinar featuring Knotel’s Workplace Anthropologist, Erin Hersey, for people-powered tips to build functional, flexible spaces that respond to the demands of the modern workplace.