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Village people

As organisations compete for talent, FMs need to work towards inclusive workspaces catering for diverse age groups, personalities and cultures. Leeson Medhurst, Director of 360 Workplace, explains

In the battle to attract talent, the role of the workplace is becoming more essential. Providing a working environment that facilitates individual ways of working, and gives employees a sense of belonging, is becoming as useful a tool for talent attraction as salary and traditional benefits packages. However, when it comes to workplace design, it can be very easy to build an environment that facilities managers feel best suits the business rather than individual people.

Today’s workplace is heterogeneous, comprising people of different ages from multiple generations. Some workplaces have an employee age gap of nearly 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees, accommodating a broad range of perspectives, needs, and attitudes towards work. While baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are still promoting a collaborative, hard work ethic, Generation X (1946-1964) want more independent working environments. Contrast this with the multitasking, technology-obsessed Generation Y (1982-2000), and the responsible virtues of Generation Z who will enter the workplace in 2020, and designing the right environment for all can be a minefield.

Too often facilities managers will design a workspace for the most common generation in the workforce. While this may seem effective, a focus on baby boomers could prove detrimental when trying to attract new talent as the workforce reaches retirement age. Yet too much focus on Generations Y and Z can result in a workforce that lacks the experience of Generation X. To accommodate a variety of different generations in a commercial office refit project, it’s important to understand the values and preferences of each generation and create a design that strikes a middle ground. We believe that most businesses can divide their teams up into four categories, which inform future office design.

Anchors are people who like to have a dedicated desk space and are used to the traditional nine to five office routine. They are often people whose job it is to facilitate information, and like to gather towards the same space and people every day. In many cases, they are from the baby boom generation.

Internal nomad gatherers also like to have their own dedicated desk space, but are rarely found there. Instead, they arrive at their desk first thing, answer a few emails and are then pulled into multiple meetings, development sessions and other responsibilities for which desk space is unimportant. From a real estate perspective, their dedicated space is unnecessary, but does give them a sense of belonging.

External nomads are people, particularly those from Generation Y, who are much happier working remotely. They are also known as connectors, likely to spend 50 per cent of their time in an office environment, and the other 50 per cent working in the field. They may be sales or marketing personnel and do not require their own dedicated office space. They are often happy to work from anywhere as long as they have a phone and a laptop.

Finally, ambassadors are rarely seen in an office environment. They favour flexi-time, are fiercely independent and often only seen in the office when they are due to attend an important meeting, or event. Their office is their home, their car, or their local coffee shop.

In order to accommodate all these different personas in a workplace design, it pays to liken the workplace to a small village. Small villages evolve over time to accommodate lots of different people from different backgrounds and generations. First, it is important to create neighbourhoods where anchors can congregate; after all, the communal kettle, the water cooler queue and the kitchen are often the only spaces anchors visit outside of their designated desk space. In villages, these anchor points are often the post office, bakeries and small shopping stores. Therefore, placing emphasis on a well-thought-out kitchen design and positioning of the stationery cupboard can help to create small office neighbourhoods.

You then need to create peripheral areas outside these anchor points to accommodate the nomads. These people are often on the move and can settle and work from anywhere. In a village, the local coffee shop, a public house and libraries often provide free wi-fi facilities to cater for nomads. Within the office environment, creating dedicated coffee and dining areas can provide these peripheral remote working places within the same building. Furthermore, these spaces may also begin to attract anchors over time, helping to change their own personal working culture.

When building the ideal office village, thought should be given to breaking down traditional boundaries within the workspace, to encourage collaboration and co-working. In many office environments, invisible walls exist between neighbouring spaces. For example, sales and marketing may sit and work in the same space, but how often do they collaborate and work together? By taking the village approach, it is possible to create blended environments, where all employees feel welcome and included.

Take Fourfront Group’s London Bridge office as an example. A workplace strategy process found that the organisation is highly fluid, requiring only a nominal number of anchored desk positions. The design needed to support flexible working and meeting opportunities to encourage a transient style of working.

Fourfront Group’s office location is positioned across one floorplate and provides an open-plan, agile environment, which encourages users to socialise and learn from each other. The office can accommodate 165 people at any one time, and consists of collaborative, concentrative, and communicative zones. The playful environment facilitates productivity and is 95 per cent agile, offering a range of working platforms to suit staff and clients alike.

Of course, there is one major barrier to designing a workplace that accommodates all cultures – the rising cost of real estate. For example, the average cost for desk space in London is constantly on the rise, so facilities managers need to start designing flexible, multi-use workspaces.

For example, something that is increasingly becoming a common feature of commercial fit-outs is the need for a prayer room. This is always challenging, because the room has to point the right way, have all the right washing facilities, and space to accommodate different religious requirements. Many FMs struggle to see the value of having one room designed for a small proportion of the workforce, even when they realise how important such a room is for some employees. One solution is to design a prayer room which can be used for additional purposes. For example, having a flexible and versatile interior means that a prayer room can be transformed quickly into a mother and baby unit, or a welfare room for people who feel unwell and need a different space to work from.

Space optimisation can go a long way towards creating the right environment for employees. Camelot, the UK’s national lottery operator, recently decided to update its existing interior. Following a full workplace appraisal, it was found that staff were opting to work away from their desks and seeking alternative meeting spaces. The low desk use and meeting room utilisation signalled that Camelot’s 500 employees could consolidate into two of the three buildings they occupied. Further staff surveys and senior leadership interviews concurred that a range of different working solutions was required to break down team silos and encourage collaboration, while providing for quieter spaces.

This cultural change was supported through intelligent workplace design and an informed furniture selection. The main tea point and service hubs were relocated to the core of each floor, providing central areas for people to come together. Dispersing from the core, teams have been staggered outwards with groups requiring higher levels of concentration positioned on the perimeter where closed meeting rooms and formal workspaces are located.

When managing costs and different employee requirements, it is important that commercial offices are refit with flexibility and collaboration in mind. This is why it is important to work with a consultant that can deliver an insightful workplace strategy that seeks, follows, and creates a continuous evolution and working culture. As the modern workforce continues to become more diverse, successful businesses need the working environment to reflect this.

About Sarah OBeirne

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