By Alyssa Jones
Office culture is changing. The younger workforce is looking for more out of their employers than hefty compensation packages and a solid 401K. With the uprising of technology, healthy mind and body awareness, and community lifestyle millennials are expecting to see that in their workplace. Colleges are integrating advanced technology into student studies, lecture halls, and classrooms. Social media encourages discussion and inclusion. This has become a lifestyle for millennials and has greatly affected their perception of value in every aspect of their lives. To attract the younger workforce, employers must acknowledge this difference in thinking and make changes to their to reflect that.
It’s time to tear down the fabric panel systems! Millennials prefer collaborative work environments that offer more flexibility than individual, traditional cubicles. Assess your office space and see if an open office concept is feasible. Open office plans consist of individual workspaces that are grouped together, without any boundaries. Desks can be pushed together into quads, bull pens, or zig zag patterns to create the look of one, large, extended desk.
I have answered the same question from multiple business owners, “What about privacy? I wouldn’t want to be looking directly at my colleague all day, every day.” The truth of the matter is that the younger workforce isn’t interested in the private confines of a traditional cubicle. No walls allow for collaboration and inclusion. Gone are the days of office popularity contests and whispered conversations behind enclosed cubes. An open desking concept includes everyone, in every conversation and promotes communication across your team.
There are circumstances where it is impossible to offer an entirely open desking concept. For example, if you have a group of employees that are on the phone most of the day, having a divider to create a sound barrier may be necessary. Glass is a great compromise between a full fabric, paneled cubicle and the desired open office plan. There are multiple heights and configurations of glass dividers that will create this look. One option is to mount the glass in between the desks. This way, there is still a direct line of sight between each employee. If you have an existing panel system or would like to utilize your used cubicles, consider adding glass stackers to lower fabric panels. Glass immediately modernizes any office design and gives the illusion of a larger, more open office.
Millennials value their break time. Forget working through lunch. The younger workforce understands and appreciates the value of a true break. They’re respected as a time to recharge and a means to sideline the stress of the day. No problem, right? Every office has a breakroom. Wrong. Millennials are doing more than just eating lunch and drinking coffee on their breaks. Upgrade your breakroom to include comfortable lounge seating that is perfect for relaxing while checking social media, reading, and flipping through phones. Add a sofa or bean bag chairs to the standard café style furniture. Make the breakroom welcoming. If you are unsure where to start, take inspiration from your own living room!
You want the breakroom to be the opposite of the working area of your office. Changing up color themes and décor is a fast way to renovate this room. If you are uncomfortable about adding color to your office workspace, this new and improved breakroom is a great place to start. Make the environment a positive distraction for the brain. Create a place to unwind and where work is left at the door. Give your employees a place to free their minds from the pressure of the job and enjoy a few minutes to themselves.
Employees are at their most creative and productive when they are comfortable. That doesn’t mean you need to throw a pizza pajama party on Fridays. But, it does mean that you may want to loosen up the design of your internal meeting room.
Depending on your business, a large, traditional, boardroom style conference room may be necessary to facilitate client needs. However, think of how imposing and intimidating that room could seem to a department of five employees who are using that room to meet a new team member or to collaborate on a project? Company and department meetings are held to share information and to generate ideas. Create an environment that encourages employee participation and is conducive to generating collaborative conversation.
My favorite, unconventional conference room I have designed utilized tablet chairs. My client had a very specific purpose for the room. It was to be the idea generator and brainstorming space. At first, we discussed a regular conference table and chairs. However, once I was in the room, I realized that nearly every wall of the room was being used to present or record something. It was going to be incredibly difficult to position a table where every seat had a good view of the white boards and TVs scattered across the room.
My client was still very set on doing a traditional conference room. They wanted to maintain a high level of professionalism and the obvious way to accomplish that was to go with a conventional office design. This is where the purpose of the room took significance. Their clients would never be in this room, it would be for internal work only. The room was to be used to generate new business ideas. Brainstorming challenges you to think outside the box and what better way to inspire you than to create an out of the box conference room?
Out of this was born the tablet chair conference room. The refurbished chairs I used were equipped with casters. These chairs are easily moved around and the seat fully swivels. The mobility of the chair made it simple for employees to look between walls and presentation boards. The wood tablet surface accommodates a laptop or notebook for note taking. This conference room setup is extremely flexible and informal but one hundred percent functional. The “fun” environment makes conversation flow easier and all members participate more in each meeting. My client and their staff love the room and I couldn’t think of a better example of where a conversational conference room not only worked, but far exceeded the productivity of a standard 16-foot conference table.
Awareness of body and mind health has been revitalized by millennials. This generation, more than any other, has become hyper aware of how daily activities effect their overall health. Businesses can contribute to the health of their employees by purchasing furniture that is kind to the body. A great example is ergonomic chairs. Lower back pain is one of the leading office related health complaints and ergonomic chairs are the only task chairs that are designed to provide sufficient lumbar support. If you expect your employees to sit for most of their work day, it is imperative that you offer them proper seating. While these chairs are more expensive than the average desk chair, it is undoubtable that the company will save the money tenfold. First, these chairs are designed to last, and you will not be replacing them as frequently as other task chairs. Second, the company will avoid workman’s compensation claims related to lower back pain and injury. Ergonomic chairs only work if they are properly adjusted for everyone. Schedule a fun day for employees where they learn about each chair and how they work and then subsequently pick their favorites. Customers’ favorite ergonomic chairs include the Steelcase Leap, Herman Miller Aeron and the Steelcase Amia.
An ergonomic chair is the first step to offering health focused furniture. However, it is still not ideal for employees to be stationary for the entirety of their eight-hour shift. Multiple studies have been released discussing the negative effects of sitting all day at work. An ergonomic chair will certainly help, but the ultimate set-up would include a sit-stand desk. There are two popular options on the market right now. One choice is to purchase a sit-stand unit that rests on top of an existing desk. There is a shelf for a monitor or laptop and a separate area for a keyboard and mouse. The height is adjusted manually by levers. This is a fast option to convert workspaces because the units are universal and can fit on most desks. Another option is to purchase a desk where the entire surface moves up and down. These models are available in both electric and manual. This is the more expensive choice of the two, but also the most preferred. Since the entire surface moves up and down, everything on the employee’s desk will as well, including pads of paper, a cup of coffee, etc. The individual sit-stand unit only moves the computer, which means employees will still have to lean over to grab anything else off their desk. Additionally, the entire surface is available for employees to use. The full moving desk is sleeker and looks more modern. They can easily be added to open desking concepts and benching systems.
While it may seem extravagant to renovate your office to accommodate the work culture of the younger generation, all these changes can be done in stages. As your existing chairs show signs of wear, replace them with ergonomic ones. Replace used desks and cubicles as needed with preferred sit-stand options and benching stations. The office culture changes initiated by millennials is a start of what is to come. All your employees will benefit from a health-focused, collaborative office. Start today by creating the office of your company’s future.
Alyssa Jones is a business development representative and showroom floor manager for Transfer Enterprises, Inc. Total Office Furniture Solutions in Manchester, CT. She can be reached at 860.645.9090 or Ajones@tedesk.com