The standards of the modern office are shifting all the time. Gone are the days of cubicle farms and compartmentalized solitude. Gourmet coffee, cabinets of snacks, dogs in the office, and funky furniture fill newly designed open spaces. Large windows cast natural light throughout open rooms with rows of desks. Large spaces, open concepts, and room for collaboration are all the goals of the modern office.
All of this, of course, is done with the intention of increasing employee well-being and productivity. Cool, modern workspaces are seen as just as important for recruiting top talent as a competitive salary and attractive benefits. Recent studies show exposure to natural light and outdoor views result in 6 percent fewer sick days. And activity-based working, the theory of providing multiple types of spaces that employees can choose to work depending on their tasks, is said to increase productivity by 25 percent or more.
But as companies are now coming to discover, all that open space isn’t necessarily a good thing. Open spaces may seem larger, but the amount of personal space set aside for each employee is shrinking. It’s estimated that worker space is commonly now just 60 to 150 square feet per employee, compared to 225 square feet just a few years ago. That’s because large companies, wooed by same penny-pinching mentality of many airlines, have discovered the real estate cost saving in cramming more people into increasingly smaller spaces.
Too many employees packed into one open room means regular interruptions by coworkers and high levels of noise. Or the adverse happens, as employees retreat into their headphones seeking their own sense of solitude. At best, the original intention of conversation, idea sharing, and collaboration is hampered or negated. At worst, it creates an atmosphere of complacency and dissatisfaction.
As modern companies continue to adapt their spaces to fit the needs of their employees and the bottom line of the company, the entire idea of a modern workplace continues to shift in ongoing iterations towards the ideal solution. Companies will never go back to the office design of rows of cubicles, but what’s next for a more productive workspace? Today, what defines the modern workplace?
6 Essential Characteristics that Define the Modern Workplace
1. Various spaces that fit various needs
Open office design, in some form, isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But as companies work to perfect the concept for their employees, there has been a notable rise in even newer, more diverse working spaces such as huddle rooms, phone booths, and focus rooms. These spaces are typically small—meant for one to four people at most—informal, and most importantly, private.
As mentioned above, activity-based-working is a popular philosophy that empowers employees to decamp from their desks and find the space that works best for them and their current task at hand. Whether they need to make a phone call, brainstorm with a few other colleagues, or simply take time to buckle down and work in a space that is guaranteed to be free of interruptions, employees report higher rates of satisfaction and productivity when given options that meet the needs of how they best perform. Space drive behavior; be sure you provide various spaces for various needs.
2. Technology that takes the tediousness out of everyday tasks
Just as there is a rise in the type of spaces available for employees to work within the modern office, so is there a growth in new technologies that streamline productivity and make the most of the spaces at hand. New and evolving capabilities, such as those within Internet of Things (IoT) devices, are changing the ways people work. IoT isn’t just a buzzword. It’s creating a more connected, intelligent workplace. IoT can help users locate particular rooms, monitor air quality and temperature, and reserve workspaces.
Additionally, companies are looking more closely at their room usage data and the time employees waste on tedious tasks. Recent research shows that the average office employee spends over five hours each week sitting in meetings and over four hours on the tedious tasks needed to prepare for them. Technologies such as AskCody’s Meeting Management suite enable users to intelligently search for meeting rooms and private spaces based on criteria and size; book directly from their computer, smartphone, or display screen right outside the meeting room door; order resources and catering; and handle guest registration all with just a few clicks. It also solves the problem of pre-booked meeting rooms that lay vacant by freeing up rooms that haven’t been checked into within a particular time period.
Time is money. The modern office makes the most of both.
Leagues of millennial workers and those used to the growing gig economy find it suffocating to be chained to the traditional 9 to 5 working schedule. Many perform their best perched out in a coffee shop or find they are most productive from home. The ability to work remotely is no longer seen as an uncommon perk; it’s the new norm.
Modern office culture must adapt to a growing workforce of remote workers, while at the same time offering an office space that is an appealing place to come back to. This is all seen as an acknowledgement of a new type of fostering productivity while supporting the need for a healthy work-life balance. Making it easy to take time for unexpected doctors’ appointments, childcare needs, and family time is a critical element of the modern office. Employees that feel comfortable doing so are happier, healthier, and significantly more productive.
In addition to the reported boost in happiness and productivity, a flexible office environment engenders loyalty among employees. Workers who feel valued as whole beings are more likely to stay at company longer, offering long-term cost savings for companies who don’t have to worry about worker churn that is common in many of today’s industries.
4. Organized time for collaboration
That said, an increasing number of employees who work at home or off site create a new set of challenges for team cohesion and collaboration. That’s why the modern office prioritizes set times for team meetings—either virtual or in person—to build relationships, offer a determined time for brainstorming and results reporting, and encourage collaboration.
Weekly team meetings and smaller breakout sessions let employees know when it is appropriate to get together, bounce ideas off of each other, and participate in the dwindling “water cooler talk.” Pre-determined meetings also have a two-fold benefit for different styles of workers. They break independent workers out of their “headphone zones” and signal to those who might regularly drop by others’ desks for some unscheduled brainstorming that there is an appropriate time and place for collaboration. This helps solve a major problem for those who complain about near-constant interruptions.
5. Clear mission, culture, and brand
Corporate identity is more important than ever in today’s modern office. Employees want to know what their place of employment stands for to assure themselves they are spending so much of their time at a place that matters. That doesn’t mean your company’s mission must be to save the world or create the next Google. Rather, focus on cultivating an environment of passion, inclusivity, and new ideas. No one wants the scary boss. Make sure your company leaders are groomed to be approachable and transparent. Employees are much more likely to be more loyal, creative, and perform better when their direct supervisor is respectful and receptive.
Establish regular ways to put the company brand, mission, and culture at center stage. These should be special events such as company-wide meetings and corporate retreats as well as everyday manifestations, such as office design and smart branding. As we’ve written about before, creative conference room names are an easy way for companies to reveal their culture and inject a little fun.
“Companies that name their conference and meeting rooms according to themes are doing so to communicate their values and organizational culture to their employees, customers, clients, and all who enter,” says Sarah Brazaitis, an organizational psychologist and senior lecturer at Columbia’s Teachers College.
Your company’s external reputation matters too. Consider ways your company can be a corporate steward with service opportunities and other options for employees to get involved with the community where they work. In addition to doing good by the community, this is just one more way to strengthen the corporate mission, encourage employee bonding, and increase loyalty.
6. Regular temperature checks
The overarching characteristic of the modern office is the acknowledgement of the needs and worth of individual employees. Of course, that means it’s important to remember that all of these trends of the modern office aren’t one-size-fits-all. The open office design, kombucha bar, and dogs in the office might be one employee’s heaven and another’s hell. Some might be lining up to join the company dodge ball team, while others want nothing more than to get home to dinner with their families.
It’s equally critical to recognize employees’ lifestyles, as it is their working styles. It’s a good idea to take quarterly or biannual surveys on employee happiness to see what’s working and what’s not. It’s impossible to customize every aspect of the modern office to every individual employee, but regular demonstrations that you care is the first step in increasing and sustaining employee satisfaction.
These six characteristics of the modern office will cultivate a more open environment for your open design. As an increasing number of companies are coming to see, without regular gut checks as to why they want to foster a modern office, they’ll fall short in achieving their goals. Scandinavian chairs and minimal walls are not what create a modern office. An acknowledgement of the needs of employees and an effort to empower them is.