Thoughtful Design

Five ways to create a workforce environment that can help increase employee happiness and productivity.

By Marilyn Tyfting

Think about how many hours one person can spend at work in a year or across an entire career. According to Psychology Today, the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, which equates roughly to more than 10 full years spent in the office. With such a significant portion of time dedicated to—and to being at—work, careful consideration should go into workplace design.

When thinking about great places to work, iconic tech giant Google comes to mind for most people, with their cool primary-color-branded spaces and luxe perks that include free gourmet food, haircuts, and laundry services. But the company’s successful reputation isn’t solely based on unique benefits. Its top-employer status also stems from the meaningful support it provides its employees, and the easy access to the support that matters most to each individual team member.

In the age of increased competition for top talent and the convergence of four generations in the workforce, including Generation Z, it’s more imperative than ever for employers to pay close attention to workspace design in order to attract, retain, and inspire employees. Tenured and engaged employees help companies gain and maintain that critical competitive edge that ultimately leads to sustainable growth and success.

With so much on the line, how can design or redesign impact a company’s workspace? Marketing expert and author Simon Sinek sums up the answer nicely: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Here are five approaches to ensuring that critical connection:

1. Create unique spaces that accelerate innovation. The newest iteration of the collaborative workspace is including cafés, TV rooms, and games areas where employees from different departments can congregate. This promotes cross-pollination across typically siloed teams to encourage inter-departmental dialogue and foster a problem-solving approach that draws upon diverse skills, strengths, and perspectives.

Personalization is also a big consumer trend right now, so why not let that trickle into workplace design? Don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. Talk to employees and ask for their opinions, whether it’s through more formal surveys or more informal conversations. If they have a say in the design, they will feel more at home in the space. Concepts such as a LEGO room may not be on an employer’s radar for an onsite space to relax, but employees will be quick to share their thoughts on designing their ideal workplace. Their input oftentimes results in the most unique and loved spots to congregate.

2. Virtual reality becomes reality at work. Although there was a lot of hype around virtual reality last year, employers will need to take it more seriously in 2017. New equipment, programs, and use cases are surfacing, including marketing, team building, onboarding, skills development, and collaboration. In fact, a recent KZero report shows that virtual reality hardware revenue is set to reach over eight billion in the next two years, and the amount of money invested will be over 400 million, with 25 million users by that time.

There’s no doubt that the technology employees use at home will naturally influence their desire to use it at the office and help to create a space where they feel more comfortable and engaged. In addition to meeting their need to have access to the latest and greatest technology, virtual and augmented reality can help promote products and services and make training more engaging and less expensive.

3. Be a product of the environment. Creating environmentally-responsible and energy-efficient workspaces reduces both operational impact and costs for employers. They are also an important factor for millennials and Gen Z job seekers who want to work for companies that share their dedication to social and environmental change. Green workspaces can include rooftop solar panels to reduce reliance on traditional energy sources, rainwater harvesting mechanisms to collect non-potable water for flushing toilets and grounds maintenance, and easy access to outside spaces where employees can enjoy fresh air and sunshine, or even flex their green thumb by cultivating and growing produce in employee gardens.

Another plus to going green is the consumer trend to pay extra for sustainable offerings. Employees want to be responsible citizens of the world, and they expect the same from corporations. A recent Nielsen global online study reported that 66 percent of respondents were willing to pay more for a product or service, stating their personal values were more important than personal benefits, such as cost or convenience.

4. Provide work-life balance amenities. Think of a thriving urban environment. It has coffee houses, restaurants, daycares, banks, dry cleaners, and more. Now, think about how companies can incorporate these amenities into the workplace. After all, employees value access to these services in their quest to achieve a better work-life balance.

Fitness facilities with the latest gym equipment and yoga studios are quickly becoming staples for many companies. But, upping the ante by building rooftop soccer fields and basketball courts and offering the latest exercise class trends can differentiate a company from another, all while encouraging camaraderie throughout the workplace.

5. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In order to be a great company—one that wins in the market through differentiation, innovation, and teamwork—it’s critical to build a team that is a genuine reflection of its customers and community. Supporting an employee’s right to bring their whole self to work facilitates a broader and more creative exchange of ideas, promotes better talent acquisition and retention, and inspires innovation to help better understand, support, and serve customers.

Tangible aspects of promoting a culture that supports diversity can include providing restroom access rights for transgender employees and developing employee resource groups for underrepresented employee groups to promote inclusion at work.

Each of these approaches underscores the importance of considering and integrating workspace components that support employees both within and outside of the workplace. Certainly, the financial implications of an engaged workforce are significant, with Aon Hewitt reporting that a 5 percent increase in employee engagement is linked to a 3 percent increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year. To multiply the impact of a company’s overall workplace strategy and design, oftentimes facilities, benefits, learning and development, community giving, and diversity initiatives can complement one another to produce twice or even three times the return on investment.

By recognizing that employee engagement is not just a nice-to-have, but rather a necessity to achieving business results, and focusing efforts on workplace design, employees will feel inspired to drive the success of the business.

Marilyn Tyfting is chief corporate officer of TELUS International.

Posted June 8, 2017 in Engaged Workforce

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