Note: this is the third in a series of four blog posts on transformations in the workplace environment. Click here to read article 1 of 4 first.

You’ve heard of them. The brightly-colored, snack-filled, sunny office campuses where volleyball and an open mic concert appear just as natural as a desk. Maybe you are sitting in one now. For many of the best and brightest talent, this is the vision of employment today. Work has become a lifestyle, and it’s not just for millennials.

… but does every company need to surpass silicon valley’s amenities in order to remain competitive in the hiring marketplace? Or, more specifically, can companies offer a ‘Google experience’ without a ‘Google budget’?

The answer is yes – by focusing on what employees really want: collaborative networks, meaningful productivity, and, of course, a bit of fun. We’re making a quick and value-driven way to achieve that.

1. The contemporary workplace

Water coolers, cubicles, floors divided by job type and role… these are no longer relevant when everyone has to do a little of everything, when collaboration is integral to a job, or when employees are free to allocate their time and physical location. Even more important is talent acquisition and retention: the best and brightest workers are making employment decisions for very different reasons today. The greatest motivators for talented employees are no longer benefit packages or even salary. People want to love where they work. They want to come in on the weekends. They want to duck out to the gym in the afternoon, and hold meetings over lunch. And if they can’t do that, they will find another place to work.

Workplace wellbeing and work/life blend is not just for ‘millennials’ – in fact, the trends are just as strong all the way across the working population. In Gensler’s broad longitudinal analysis, ages 18-77 and all industries are represented in the highest quartile of innovators.

Google has been a leader in offering amenities and investing in workplace wellbeing. The company acknowledges that work/life are now fully integrated and that workplaces can support effective interweaving, according to Real Estate Project Executive Adam Lutz. Other companies are following suit.

“We’re promoting human sustainability in the workplace,” added Nona Gross, workplace strategy executive at Siemens. “The goal is to create dynamic spaces that inspire and energize. It’s now about creating a sense of community.”

An effective workplace, however, is not only about collaboration, lunches and arcade games. The most vibrant and productive offices provide a balance of resources for different modes of work: focus, collaboration, learning and socializing. Collaboration is crucial to innovation – and it is the focus of recent attention – but in practice, research has found that focus work represents over 45% of time in the office for the best employees. The message is that a dynamic workplace must be aligned to work and life, for every job type and work style.(2)

2. Workplace anthropology

There is an entire field of “Workplace Anthropology”(3) that is emerging to understand how offices are used, and how they could be designed and operated better.

This is both data- and design-driven, and has revealed powerful insights. A recent study of over 2,000 employees across several office spaces, for example, found that productivity is “contagious.” Sitting next to someone who is twice as productive is associated with a 10% increase in your own productivity.(4)

“Employees in innovative workplaces, for example, collaborate 10% more and socialize 13% more often than the average office.”

In the recent study of productivity spillover, researchers estimated that a “strategic seating chart” could result in a $1 million profit increase.(7)

Workplace environment can just as easily go wrong. High performance employees are quickly dissatisfied with bad workplaces where they feel hindered or ineffective… and it is those same productive employees who can quickly find offers at another company. A comprehensive study published in Fortune found that talent retention is a critical issue for innovation-driven companies, and that workplace design is one of the four most common reasons for high-turnover rates (alongside routine tasks, managers who don’t listen, and disconnection from overall purpose). Notably absent is salary. Employees don’t leave because of low pay, they leave because they don’t like to be at work.(5)

3. Enabling the contemporary workplace

Not every company can invest millions into workplace design and amenities. Given the right data, however, a dynamic workplace can be achieved through intelligent use of resources and strategic interventions. Companies can use trends in employee’s spatial behavior to drive predictive analytics – in a recent example, streamlining food service to dramatically reduce waste.(6)

This is just one of the many elements of workplaces that can be transformed, without a new building, retrofit, or costly amenities. Digital systems allow knowledge work to be lean and innovative in ways that were never possible before. Research published in Harvard Business Review showed that a new set of ‘lean’ spatial strategies brought projects in 9% under budget and eliminated waste, through simple shifts like changing the location of a shared resource or aligning teams in different time zones.(8)

The message, in all of this, is that the workplace environment itself is a powerful driver of almost everything that happens inside of it. The office experience is ever more important in the digital era. There are new tools – digital-native tools – to create and manage the collaborative, productive and fun workplace.

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Works Cited