The evolution of the office workplace since the turn of the millennium has progressed at break-neck speed. The creative and employee-friendly workplace reforms made famous by Google are now seen in hundreds of thousands of companies of all sizes and sectors. Just a few of these now notorious reforms included the installation of office putting greens and revolving bookcases in place of doors as well as the 150 feet from food rule that realised every worker’s dream; the outlaw of the instance where a worker is further than 150 feet away from food. Although, initially viewed as ground-breaking just a decade ago, such ideas are now commonplace in many organisations today. Considering the dramatic divergence in the ideals of these new offices from what the common director expects of the ‘traditional office’ many market leading firms were surprisingly fast to follow Google’s lead. Red Bull quickly adapted it’s UK headquarter reception to transform to a bar by night. Facebook took it a step further and altered their offices to include a built-in skate park and even a DJ booth, based on the suggestions of their very own employees. The fact that Facebook consulted their employees is a clue as to what factor is driving this revolution. The millennial employee is unlike any generation of worker prior. Not only do they have an extremely different idea of their ideal working environment but crucially, also have the necessary influence over their employers to ensure this is implemented. Never more so than now have the employees had so much power and they are using this power to transform workplaces to their liking.
The effect of start-ups on the movement
The transformation of the office workplace is far from being unique to the larger market-leading firms and is occurring in many of the smaller and often newer businesses also. However, traditional, more well-established firms have been slow to embrace such change. This is reflected by the statistic that only 25% of existing companies believe modern offices are important for staff retention. Could this statistic perhaps show how many of the more established firms in the market are missing a trick? The fact that one in five have left a job because of disliking the space they work in suggests maybe so. Perhaps the reason that so many of the companies that have got behind the implementation of ‘modern’ offices are start-ups is because the people with influence in these companies are of the new millennial generation. The directors and mangers of these companies being of this generation share similar ideals to those they manage, meaning the offices they set up will likely be more line with what their workers desire. If not, then they should in theory be more receptive to the demands of their employees. Another reason as to why start-ups are at the forefront of this workplace evolution is that these companies have the need to do all they can to attract employees. This generation’s workers are easier to attract out of employment than any other prior, spending on average just five years in each job. Yet the problem start-ups face is that there still exists a perception about the instability of their positions. This perception is largely based on the knowledge that 40% of new English businesses do not survive the third year of operation. In order to alleviate natural concerns about the perceived uncertainty surrounding their positions, start-ups are willing to offer the more employee-friendly offices with the perks this working generation desire. Facing rising competition for their workers the more established companies in the market are now beginning to think more about the appeal of their workplaces to the millennial worker, who are increasingly aware of the appeal of those available in rival companies. This shouldn’t be the only motivation for the employer however, as it is important to understand that these changes to the workplace are not solely beneficial to the employee. There are reasons that a ‘modern’ working environment can also greatly benefit the company itself.
Beneficial for employer and employee alike?
The most obvious way in which employee driven changes to the office workplace can be a positive for both employee and employer is through increased productivity. The quality of employee output will improve as a result of increased employee morale and crucially health. The stress levels of the millennial generation workforce are unprecedented. Certain reports into the mental health of the UK’s workforce cite as many as four in five workers feeling ‘burnt out’ at work. Moreover, the same reports state that 73% of these workers expect to become yet more stressed at work in the future. The key factor behind this feeling of stress at work appears to be excessive workloads, which 60% cite as the main causational factor. The importance of the ability of the worker to take a fifteen-minute break and relax in a comfortable environment to play a game of pool or enjoy a quality coffee in light of this concerning epidemic cannot be understated. This sort of downtime in a relaxed environment will not just help the employee unwind and recharge but also see the employer benefit from a healthier, happier and ultimately more productive worker. Even though there are likely many employers that will question how time spent away from working can aid productivity, it is hard for them to question how it will increase worker morale and happiness within their position. This should be of equal priority to an employer considering the previously touched upon problem of a decline in employee loyalty. ‘Jobs for life’ are extremely rare in the modern world and the main concern of candidates today is no longer just the wage rate. Indeed, the majority of candidates we deal with ask as much about the working environment and culture as they do about salary and benefits. Ensuring the happiness of your workforce has never been more paramount and one of the best ways to do this is creating the ideal environment for all employees. According to Fortune Magazine, it is the ‘hybrid office’ that provides the optimal working environment, and this makes sense when you think of the extremely varied demographic of modern workforces. Listening to the advice of every worker and providing for all is therefore potentially the best route to maximising the morale of your workforce.
A common reason that an employer declines to consider an employee orientated working environment is that they perceive the cost of this to be too great. However, there is an argument to be made that investment in the office workplace can be more cost-effective in the long term. The investment in a revamped office tailored to the needs of the employee is initially expensive but over the course of time, savings can be made due to an attractive working environment decreasing the expense of other benefits for new employees. A recent CBRE report found that as many as 71% of candidates are willing to give up other benefits for a well-designed and harmonious workplace. You will also hear many employers argue that more open spaces and instalments such as pool tables will cause distraction and reduce focus. Yet on the other hand by creating an open environment and an ambient office, workers will be more inclined to work overtime and spend more time in the office rather than leave at 5:30 without fail. The central philosophy at Google the so-called pioneers of the modern office revolution, is that “life at Google is not work at all”. The thinking behind such an idea is that comfort within your working environment is key to improving performance. An open office place will also encourage creativity and innovation. This environment which encourages the sharing of ideas and consultation of fellow colleagues can hugely improve the quality of the work produced. Studies have shown that workplaces that encourage collaborative working see as much as a 15% increase in productivity levels. Therefore, having reviewed the wealth of long-term benefits, looking further ahead past the initially large cost of a workplace reconstruction is perhaps something more should at least consider?
What does the future hold? An evolution that is far from over?
Although the movement towards the employee friendly workplace has been frantic thus far, is it fair to assume that this trend will continue? Many more companies than you would expect have embraced the more radical reforms of the workplace already (8% of companies have office pets and 3% even have sleeping pods in the office!) showing the full-fledged commitment of many to the employee-orientated office already. In addition, the early results of studies on those workplaces that have begun to incorporate these types of features being very positive on the impact for both employee and employer. This will only stand to make more firms seriously consider reform to tailor their workplace to suit the needs of their workers. As will of course, the public commitment of majorly successful market-leading firms such as Google, Facebook and Red Bull. Many directors and key decision makers it would seem are coming around to the movement and changing their approach to the workplace and their employee wellbeing. When asked of the most important factor in a productive working environment, Chris Wilcock (Europe, Middle East and Africa Talent Acquisition Leader at Canon Europe) answered, “where people…know they are valued and trusted to deliver our outcomes”. This is a response that I believe would not necessarily have been heard by many employers, especially on those of the scale of Canon, as little as ten-fifteen years ago. At present, the millennial worker is reshaping how companies think about their workplace and their employees. As more and more of this generation filter through, I see little reason to doubt that their influence in the workplace will only increase, to the benefit of both them and their employers.