THINK TANK: INFORMAL, YET PROFESSIONAL
Talk about the death of the traditional office model has been around for a while, although it is certainly true that the pace of change has been frequently exaggerated.
But while companies have fixed their focus on cost efficiencies and agile workplace models in order to help shrink their footprints, in the background the needs of employees have been changing.
Knowledge workers in particular have a growing desire to feel a ‘sense of connection’ to their workplace, to have a belief in their employers’ brand and to be part of a creative pooling of knowledge. As a result, knowledge workplaces have become far less formal.
Office refurbishment and relocation firm Morgan Lovell believes companies are showing an increasing appetite for this new kind of “informal yet professional” workplace environment, one that helps their employees feel at home in the office. But is this ‘office as destination’ concept a reality?
Science behind the intuition
Scientific evidence is emerging that proves the connection between the office building environment and how well you think and sleep long after you leave the building. If you’re a jobseeker who spends considerable time studying the traditional compensation, benefits and organisational culture of your next employment opportunity, add one more item to your list.
We’ve always assumed that good air, access to daylight and thermally comfortable places were intuitively more productive. Now there is science behind that intuition. Research by Harvard University shows that people who work in certified green buildings scored higher on cognitive tests. They even slept better at night, influencing how well they performed at work the next day. Earlier research by the same Harvard team found that people who worked in an optimised indoor environment, lower in CO2 and VOC (volatile organic compound) concentrations due to good ventilation, scored 101 per cent better on cognitive tests versus standard office conditions.
The research, sponsored by United Technologies, is changing the conversation about the true potential of green buildings that can improve human performance while delivering important energy and water savings.
John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, United Technologies Corporation
Creating a ‘destination workplace’
A good workplace bonds employees to one another in ways that virtual communication cannot replicate. It reconnects employees to the company, and offers the company the chance to showcase its culture. A good workplace focuses on effective community building, rather than serving various working styles.
A ‘destination workplace’ creates an environment where people can thrive, enabling them to see the bigger picture and their place in it. This model enables colleagues to both collaborate and socialise. It strikes a balance between connection and disconnection, encouraging communication but also contemplation. It is playful, homely, promotes health and well-being and encourages communal values and goals.
An example of this evolution can be found in the world of sports and entertainment. Technology means that fans can watch an event from the comfort of their home, in the pub or on their smartphone, rather than attend the event. As a result, venues had to take a more proactive approach and foster relationships with fans to boost declining attendances. Events aren’t just about the game now, but about sharing a common purpose at a destination and being part of legendary moments. The same approach can be adopted by employers to create an engaging workplace experience.
Businesses benefit too. Talented people are more likely to stay if they feel satisfaction in their workplace.
While it’s important that employees have the flexibility to work in a way that maximises their productivity, employers are starting to realise that this is possible within the workplace. The result is a more collaborative and loyal workforce, who will be engaged and go the extra mile to provide an exceptional service to colleagues and customers.
Sam Sahni, head of workplace consulting at Morgan Lovell
The healthy buildings agenda
Decisions we make about employment and careers have a profound impact on our health and overall lifestyles. What we do for a living can impact how we sleep (think stress levels, working hours, commute times), our regular exercise and activity levels, how we dine, and what opportunities we have to see friends and family we don’t work with. And as we spend on average 90 per cent of our time indoors, the quality of that indoor environment is also critical. Do you know how well your office shields you from exposure to toxins through its air quality, water quality, or cleaning regimes? How much natural daylight do you see on an average day, and is it the case that the healthier choice is always the cheapest, or most convenient?
I believe the modern workplace is about experience, and empowering people to make better-informed decisions on their health. The WELL Building Standard (see p.60) is one such approach, translating research into practice to enable public health and positive behaviour change to be built into building design, operations and organisations policies. The healthy buildings agenda is about facilitating people to make the choices that support them to achieve their full potential.
Victoria Lockhart, EMEA International WELL Building Institute
Whitney Austin Gray
Choice and empowerment
As we evolve building design strategy to meet the needs of users, more public health research is available to help us understand how people are best adapting, or maladapting to their indoor environments. For example, whether or not the office is informal or formal, agile or fixed, human occupants seek out variations in stimuli throughout the day –in the morning needing a quiet space, while in the afternoon seeking out a more vibrant active space. In the end, it is more about choice and empowering people to be seek out environments that meet their individual needs to allow people to adapt best to indoor office spaces.
Whitney Austin Gray, PhD, LEED AP, senior vice-president, Delos