Today’s post comes to us from board member Dr. Steffi Burkhart. The merits of flexible work options – in- and outside of the office – are still regularly debated. Steffi makes the point here there is no one size fits all solution for personal productivity. So, where do you go when you need to get work done?
Ask a Millennial “Where do you go when you need to get something done?” and, of the many answers you might receive, “to the office” is almost never one of them. Companies spend so much money on what we term “the office”, and try to entice employees to go there all the time, but there are more and more signs that people are not getting what they consider to be important work done in the office.
The transition from the industrial economy to the information economy has changed the scope of our work, but too often, where and how we work has hardly changed at all. Too easily, offices can be compared to factory buildings, where the production line syndrome reigns and employees act like robots.
When you consider the spatial aspect of these inappropriate professional pastures, a need for change becomes clear. Whereas decades ago maximizing output by optimizing floor layout in gridded boxes seemed to be the architectural answer to the buzzword “LEAN”, the focus today has shifted to a different type of asset: the employee. The new office design puts people first, rather than focusing solely on creating conditions for optimum output.
I believe in time we will move away completely from open-plan offices and strive instead to “cellularize” productive areas of varying sizes that can be continuously reconfigured. Whereas an office used to be an easily defined functional space with some nuances of personalization, today it is a mixture of necessary functional equipment, natural elements and cozy individualization. In the past, attempts were made to optimize the space for full collaboration, but today differences between introverted and extroverted Gen Y and Gen Z employees are also being taken into account.
Despite the need for quiet rooms, there are strong indications that the integration of a sense of community will become highly important for the future workplace. As technology encourages employees to work from a distance, this fragmentation of the workforce must be counteracted by a social occupational framework. As technology becomes more intelligent, designers must also focus on creating social spaces. People will always want social interaction, so we should give priority to spaces where they can come together.
We already see office design with rooms that have different ceiling heights, shading and lighting, air conditioning and temperatures – and employees are free to choose which room they want to work in and when. Employees need to feel in control of their environment and research has shown that people feel more comfortable when they have the opportunity to change their surroundings, even if they are actually worse off.
Work experience has a crucial influence on where people want to work and how engaged they are likely to feel there. Nevertheless, not all companies think strategically in this area. In the past, they often regarded their offices as a place where they could “park” their employees. On the contrary, offices should specifically promote the behavior that underlies innovation. Over time, these behaviors will shape the desired culture and create the kind of work experience that Gen Y and Z are looking for.