They say the only constant is change. As we head closer towards 2020, a year that has a definite futuristic ring to it, companies whose offices are designed for the previous century’s workforce are more likely to feel the effects of a changing world than their peers who are evolving with the interior times. So says Grant Johnson of Conduit Interior.
In an effort to keep staff motivated, and the wheels of commerce turning, Johnson highlights how the design of an office can impact employee engagement as much as competitive salaries can.
New generation, new design
The term millennials is no doubt having a moment. Yet behind all its trendy terminology lies a generation that is changing the world as we know it. With a heightened sense of independence and sense of self, the early 20s employee expects their employer to understand, and gear for, their need for flexibility, mobility and accessibility. Given they are the backbone of many a start-up and next tech giant, creating a business environment that optimises interaction, social activity and sharing is essential. For corporates with long-standing legacy structures and layouts this is particularly true and is an area that they’d be wise to invest in, as much as new technologies and business processes.
“Millennials are hard-wired for connectivity and interaction and want to work in a space that mirrors that,” says Johnson. “Offices that encourage cross-communication and banish silos, as well as offer communal gathering hotspots that breed shared experiences and ‘water-cooler’ communities are necessities among those born after 1982, and companies that are slow adopters of open-everything are feeling the pinch in both performance and retention,” he says.
He continues to say that young people believe they have countless options available to them – be that true or perceived. Regardless of the facts, they may aspire to start their own online venture, take a position at a competitor that allows remote work or consider taking a year off to dabble their feet in volunteerism or go on an overseas adventure. “Whatever their aspiration, if their current workspace isn’t affording them a sense of freedom – to think, engage or create – it will certainly impact their long-term loyalty,” says Johnson.
Every epoch is characterised by an overriding theme: the 1920s mobilised man into machine through industrialisation, the 1950s saw the workforce expand as more women went to work while the 1990s introduced the internet and opened-up unchartered virtual land. Post 2010, the world as we know it has changed irreversibly thanks in part to the recent global Recession as well as an enhancement of digitisation where order has been challenged and online barriers broken down.
“Millennials want to feel that they are a part of something that is going places. Office interiors that remain in the dark ages and don’t form a significant part of the overall Employee Value Proposition will soon cease to attain or retain talent, impacting their relevance and revenue”, he says.
Plans to occupy authority are more and more common among everyday people and customers are well and truly king. “This shift in power has had a marked impact on how we do business and, as both customers and service providers, behaviours have changed,” says Johnson.
While implementing energising interiors that pop with colour and incorporate common cafes for ad-hoc interactions are ways in which companies can keep employees upbeat, a less expensive solution can be as simple as ensuring proper ventilation or modernising the lighting. Hot-desk style seating, where staff rotate time in office and operate remotely either from home or connected coffee shops, are also quicker fixes. “With traffic congestion at an all-time high in urban areas, allowing employees to choose where and when they work is becoming increasingly popular, and is a competitive asset,” says Johnson.
As the lines between work and home continue to blur, thanks to improved remote access and better digital devices, employers should strive for a sense of experience at their place of work instead of continuing in the footsteps of the hit series Mad Men, a male-dominated 9-5 ad agency set in the 1950s.
Instead, businesses that encourage employee expression, setting the tone with clear brand values, colours and signature styles will, at the end of the day, come out trumps.
“A company, large or small, needs to subscribe to its own set of ideals as much as it promotes them to its customers. This not only projects a sense of sincerity and authenticity externally, it also enhances internal camaraderie among colleagues,” says Julia Ahlfeldt, a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).
She continues by saying that in an age of social media, where everything is all access, it is essential that companies start seeing their employees as brand advocates and not merely as worker bees. “One perplexed post from an uninspired staff member can create as much reputational damage to a business’s brand as an agitated customer can, and employers need to strive to create a positive perception among their staff that sees them being proud to publically air their professional lives.”
While policies can be put in place that seek to stop this type of behaviour, and in some cases employees can be dismissed, it is in the employer’s interest to create a work environment that is fulfilling, motivating and stimulating and that aims to prevent venting from even arising.
Internal design with intent
Finding purpose is as high on an employee’s agenda as a fair wage is and among professionals, a compelling office space or studio that allows them freedom of expression may make all the difference between their taking a new job or staying put in their current position.
“In an operating environment where competition is rife, the war for talent fierce and the commercial stakes high, ignoring the value that interior office design can bring to a business is an oversight that can be avoided with a low cost to relative return,” concludes Johnson
Grant Johnson is the Founder and Head Designer at Conduit Interior, a hands-on commercial interior design agency. Visit www.conduitinterior.co.za.