The workforce is made up of employees who expect more from their employers while at the same time give back more in return. No longer is it about trudging into a dull building, taking a seat at your desk, and putting your time in with your head down until the end of the workday. The workday is also no longer considered a 9 to 5 job that we leave behind as soon as we leave the office. Our job now follows us home every time we use our phone to reply to a work email in the evening or over the weekend. And whether it is the influence of the millennials or just a shift in how we now approach work, the 21st century workforce has changed and the workplace has naturally changed with it.
A More Collaborative Environment
While the 21st century office is now accessible from anywhere, simultaneously there is push for increased collaboration. Working creatively as part of a team is now more important than ever with some companies even relying on team assessments and peer evaluations. This movement toward collaboration can now also be reflected in the design of the workspace as seen in the shift from corner offices to more open spaces. Workspaces were traditionally divided into cubicles and offices that grew in proportion to an employee’s status. However, that is now becoming a thing of the past as executives are now part of the collaborative team. Desk setups may still be considered mundane but companies are now redesigning common areas to be more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. This is meant to draw employees away from their desks to these common areas with the intention that this will foster creative collaboration and spontaneous brainstorming.
Better Use of Technology
In relation to collaboration, employees are investing in technology that enables employees to collaborate more effectively. The modern office is becoming more streamlined so that everything is accessible online. The use of interactive boards and advanced conferencing platforms make for a more tech-savvy office. All this makes it possible for employees to collaborate even when they are not in the office.
Efficient Use of Space
Yet another additional advantage to collaborative spaces is that companies can reduce the cost of real estate, which is a significant cost for any company. By reducing the number of private offices and adding more collaborative spaces, lounges, and breakrooms, space can be used more efficiently. The only spaces that will need to be enclosed are conference rooms where meetings can be held and private phone calls can be conducted.
Over a decade ago, many employers would have scoffed at the thought of putting money toward improving company culture. The occasional office event or party would have been considered sufficient enough by the employer to satisfy employees. Perhaps they would have tried harder if they had known that a positive work environment can increase employee productivity and retention. Tech companies were ahead of the times in recognizing this, which perhaps explains the innovative advances that have been made by technology companies. Twitter’s strong company culture is enhanced with massage therapy, yoga and fitness classes, free breakfast, lunch, and snacks from the cafeteria, and a rooftop deck. The perks for a Google employee include free breakfast, lunch, and dinner—all organically prepared by a chef; free haircuts and dry cleaning; subsidized massages; on-site physicians; gyms and swimming pools; video games, foosball and ping pong—and that is just a few of the perks provided. The intention is to provide perks that create more of a balance between work and home and encourage higher productivity and more interaction in the office.
The water cooler no longer needs to be the main gathering spot when there are now break rooms with high-tech coffee makers and vending machines surrounded by air-purifying plants and beanbag chairs.
Companies not only want a happy, productive employee—they also want a healthy one. When companies use ergonomics to design the workplace, they keep in mind the limitations and capabilities of the worker. As a result, healthy workers can reduce worker’s compensation and health care costs for the company. Turnover and absentee rates of employees can be reduced if employees are comfortable and energized. Also, when a company demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of an employee this can lead to an increase in morale and employee involvement.
Big open-ended spaces are now designed with ergonomic furnishings, as well as low-glare lighting. Workstations can now be created with the individual worker in mind. Some of these include sit-to-stand workstations, standing desks, memory foam padding chairs, and stability balls. The breakrooms and lounges are meant to incentivize employees not only to frequently interact in a productive manner, but also to encourage the employee to take breaks from the workstation.
It should not be surprising that lowering the carbon footprint has also become a priority for the workspace as well. Companies are becoming more knowledgeable about where their products come from and becoming much better at using recycled, renewable, and toxin-free materials. New offices are now often designed with programmable lights that shut off automatically when the room is not in use. Automated thermal shades also reduce energy costs by maintaining a consistent room temperature. Modular walls can easily expand when the size of a company increases which reduces construction time and landfill waste.
This awareness by companies on how they can have a better impact on the environment also has a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. In addition to cutting the cost of energy, employers are hopeful that employees will be more productive in a toxin-free environment. High-technology conference rooms are designed to reduce the need for business trips which saves money for the company as well as lowers carbon emissions. No longer is there a need for an employee to travel across the country when high-quality, face-to-face conferencing and interactive whiteboards allow business meetings to be held anywhere in the world.