With Millennials in Mind, Office Designs May Go Back to College


Workers in 2018 may feel like they're back at their alma maters as companies redesign work spaces to cater to millennials.

Open office spaces are out, while collaborative spaces are in.

Pendulum Swings Back From Open Offices

The open office plans that trickled down from Silicon Valley haven't delivered on promises of maximized productivity and flexibility, and the pendulum is settling somewhere between traditional cubicle offices and open office plans, Lisa-Marie Gustafson, human resources manager at Hexcel Corporation, told Bloomberg Law.

In lieu of open offices, "lean" spaces are increasing in popularity this year. Lean spaces are devoid of corner offices for senior executives and come with spaces for team collaboration and mobility, she said. These new designs will often have areas that provide quiet and privacy, essentially catering to every individual's need for an ideal work environment.

This mix of private/public space mirrors collegiate life in many ways, Jonathan Webb, vice president of workplace strategy at global furniture manufacturer KI, told Bloomberg Law. New, evolved office designs come with "third spaces" where employees can choose to socialize, work, and collaborate. "Think libraries, commons, cafeterias, which are typically primary work spaces for college kids," Webb said.

By offering office designs that resemble the spaces young people are used to, companies hope that these work environments will help recently graduates make the transition from college to the workforce "without such a shock," Webb said.

Appealing to Millennials

Company investment in these design changes could be largely because of an increase in millennial workers who want a comfortable space in which to work, Dean Stier, vice president of multichannel marketing at National Business Furniture, told Bloomberg Law.

For example, reception rooms of the past would be more stark and calculated in design, and now they are casual spaces with soft seating that almost look like living rooms, he said. Another way these design goals are manifesting include smaller conference rooms with seating options instead of one long table with chairs, Stier said. These spaces are now open enough to encourage employees to use them for collaboration, but still enclosed enough to offer some privacy.

Another factor driving this push to work zones over desks is technology, according to Stier. The use of laptops, tablets, and phones "creates a much more mobile workforce than before."

Technology means more power needs, though, Gustafson said. As Hexcel redesigns its offices and manufacturing areas, one electrician's full-time job seems to be "constantly dropping new power sources" as these spaces change, she said.

Companies are also increasingly considering Wi-Fi capability, laptop vs. desktop needs, and ways to support mobile technology in office spaces, Gustafson added. This is true across industries, whether it's on the manufacturing floor or at an architecture firm, she said.

Another Arrow in the Recruiting Quiver

Companies will continue to struggle to attract and retain top talent in 2018, and furniture and office design can help create a workplace culture that will better recruit the best and the brightest, Stier said. "We are starting to see companies realize that the days of endless cubicles don't work anymore," according to Stier. "People don't want to be pigeon-holed into a single area."

In fact, 76 percent of millennials in a study from NBF stated they felt strongly that the design and aesthetics of office space influence their impression of a company, while only 39 percent of employees ages 55 and older care about office design. The study also found that 70 percent of millennials care about where an office is located, compared to 41 percent of baby-boomer employees.

Regardless of age, however, a majority of approximately 2,000 respondents hoped that their employers will upgrade their work spaces, Stier said. "Most employees want their employer to invest in an environment where they can work more comfortably."

Employers perhaps shouldn't count on office design being the sole factor that will woo millennial workers, Gustafson said. "We see that millennials want to have a great work environment, but they're more concerned with who they're working with and what they are doing," she said. Workers are more likely to choose a place to work if they feel it will provide a great environment, great co-workers, good team communication, and a chance to make meaningful contributions, she said.

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