Back in the 1950s, Frederick Herzberg explored the link between an employee’s motivation to perform their job and the environment in which they must perform it. It was a revolutionary idea for its time, but now it’s accepted as fact – that poor working environments will increase rates of employee dissatisfaction.
Thankfully, working conditions have come a long way in the last 60 years. But in these days of low unemployment and high employee turnover, it makes sense to revisit what we know about how a physical workspace can not only motivate employees to perform, but also increase levels of engagement and retention.
The Workplace of the Past and Present
Cubicles were about reducing the physical barriers separating co-workers and encouraging the free flow of communication. The open-door policies that are so commonplace today are a not-so-subtle poke at the manager of old, hiding behind a closed door, isolating themselves from staff – one of the problems cubicle environments were designed to address.
Unfortunately, the reality didn’t play out exactly as planned, as the impersonal nature of row after row of identical office spaces has left employees feeling more like nameless, faceless worker bees than valued individuals.
Imagining the Workplace of the Future
The tide of public opinion has not only turned against the cubicle, but against physical offices in general.
Today fewer employees are interested in commuting to a physical office every day, which is why a remote or flexible work environment has been shown to increase a company’s recruiting and retention efforts. But for many businesses the physical presence of their employees – for at least a few days each week – is a business necessity or a managerial preference.
To counteract the growing trend toward remote and/or flexible work arrangements, companies with a physical office space must design that space in a way that allows them to hire, motivate, engage, and retain employees.
The Future is Now
Employers are in a daily competition for qualified employees. Those companies that require the physical presence of their employees have an additional hurdle to jump when it comes to recruitment. Luckily, there are many ways employers can bring the workplace of the future into the present.
Mobile-friendly. Workspaces should provide the bandwidth to support the myriad of mobile devices that employees bring into it, from laptops to mobile phones to health monitoring devices. Obviously, it’s important to regulate how, when, and where these devices can be used during work hours, but their presence should be accepted as a business reality and an expectation of today’s pool of employees.
Open… and closed. The modern open workspace that was introduced by the cubicle generation and expanded by Silicon Valley can seem more coffee shop than business office. It’s an idea that is compelling for a certain segment of the population, but it is not for everyone.
The best workplaces will create an environment that balances the needs of introverted employees as well as extroverts, with a balance between quiet rooms and open spaces where employees can choose the space that matches their personal preferences or current task – with the understanding that these needs will likely be fluid throughout the work day.
Healthy. Increasingly, employees want to know that their employers value them for more than what they do from nine to five. We all can’t afford our own biosphere, like Amazon, but we certainly can keep employee’s physical and mental well-being in mind when designing office spaces. For example:
- Access to natural, rather than florescent, light to increase attention span and mood
- Stairs and standing desks to encourage movement
- Spaces within the office that employees can move between to get physical and mental mini-breaks from their work and recharge, such as coffee stations and magazine racks
It is also a good idea to consider the external environment when selecting a modern workplace. Walking meetings are increasingly popular, so an office near a park or in an area with usable sidewalks would be more appealing than one where employees feel trapped indoors. Even something as simple as an outdoor picnic table can promote a healthy “fresh air” break.
The physical office may be waning in popularity, but it is not disappearing any time soon. In the ever-tightening competition for the best and brightest employees, a modern and innovative workspace just might be enough to flip that office from a liability to an asset.
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