Powerful new ways to meet the needs of employees
(This article originally appeared in CREW Atlanta).
Picture a Monday morning. The elevator has just opened onto the floor where your employees work. Are they excited to step off that elevator? As they file out, are they able to find focused, shared, or team-oriented environments to work in? Do your spaces enhance or detract from the culture you’re trying to create?
Today, we have access to an overwhelming amount of information on how we should work—more than ever before. Simply knowing who to listen to and how to actually apply this knowledge can be a challenge.
Luckily, there’s a proven approach that will help you effectively filter and apply research: start with your people. You don’t need to be an ethnographer to notice how people work. Your employees might not be able to accurately describe what they want from a workspace, but observing their behavior will always reveal what really matters to them.
Once you understand your people, you can approach findings and trends with a new lens. For every piece of content, you can ask a direct question: “would this meet the needs of my employees?” When you actually know your people’s needs, you can cut to the core of what you’ve read and evaluate if it applies.
With the foundation of this human-centered approach, let’s walk through some powerful new ways to meet the needs of employees and future-proof your workplace.
Individuals need choices
To do our best work, we have things we all need from our workplaces. Depending on our role responsibilities, and personality, we make choices about how and where we try to meet those needs.
For example, across all generations of workers, people are gravitating toward unassigned communal working spaces. Pam Light, Senior Vice President at HOK in Los Angeles, describes this trend: “Clients ask me, ‘what’s this space over here you planned with nobody’s name on it?’ I respond with, ‘that is where the most work will get done.’ We purposely plan in 40% and sometimes up to 60% of communal space, because the research and our experience shows how important it is to productivity and overall culture.”
Take a close look at how your organization works. Do your people have ancillary spaces to work alongside others? Are they trying to meet this need in another way? Planning communal spaces in addition to primary workstations gives people the option to work in the ways that best suit them at different points in their day.
Homefulness and wellbeing
At heart, everyone needs to feel secure, comfortable, and valued. In the office, we can model the way that your home can meet these needs.
When employees feel that work has elements of home, a place where they feel comfortable and well, the difference will be reflected in the lives of employees and the bottom line. Workplaces that provide a sense of home help employees achieve greater wellbeing—increasing productivity and ensuring the longevity of a space.
One crucial way to focus on wellbeing is providing opportunities for movement. Extended periods of sedentary working, whether standing or sitting, can be detrimental to mental and physical health. Instead, you can empower and inspire employees by creating different spaces that they can choose to move through during their day.
There are thousands upon thousands of shared workspaces today. Co-working, co-living lifestyles are informing new spaces and changing the way we work.
New waves of lease agreements and space impermanence are driving more workplace iterations. Similarly, team-based organizational theories like those proposed by General Stanley McChrystal (in Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World) are taking root all over the world—flattening organizational charts and denouncing current hierarchical structures.
These shifts translate into considerations like carefully balancing dedicated personal space with shared space and companies leaving a percentage of their space unfinished for “what’s next” in the coming 2-3 years. Meanwhile, furniture is taking the form of architecture to create functional “rooms within a room”—keeping floor plans flexible and putting agility at the core of the space.
A final thought
Brian Graham, interior and industrial designer, recently shared this thought on the role of design in creating a space:
I think the key is that you still need a designer who synthesizes everything together. It’s not unlike an orchestra—you have all these musicians with these disparate instruments and at some point somebody has to grab the baton and wield it into a symphony and make the music. Designers are more challenged today than ever before and they’ve never been more essential to every aspect of a business.
If you design this way, from a perspective informed by the needs of the people you’re designing for, you can create workspaces with options that are destinations—not dead ends, habitats that capture a sense of home and inspire wellbeing, and environments that foster the agility of your organization.