The office as a work location has changed. We’re entering an age where a lot of office workers, unlike manufacturing and public sector workers, don’t need to be present in order to fulfil their duties.
In fact, many of us don’t need to physically go into the office, regularly, at all anymore. We’re able to work independently and in an alternative location; as long as we have access to wi-fi and a laptop, we’re good to go.
We don’t have to justify our time away, either. Our digital workings leave their own trail, providing proof of our labour and its fruits.
This means that the office now has to work very hard to draw us in. Employees need to be enticed into this workspace and given good reason to be present. The space must deliver an experience that is preferable to us basing ourselves at home or at a third location.
In short, the office has to present itself as more enjoyable, worthy and worthwhile. It, fundamentally, has to offer us an experience; a ‘happening’ that can’t be provided elsewhere.
The need to create an experience is by no means new, having been recognized for some time by other sectors.
First came the ‘retail experience’. Shopping centres and high streets had to fight hard to lessen the impact of the ecommerce onslaught and to maintain a healthy footfall.
This sector was, subsequently, the first to be forced to acknowledge that it had to raise its game, recognizing that there was a real need to provide a full experience to shoppers, with many of the out of town outlets going head to head on which could provide the best themed event for their customers.
Over the years, we’ve seen orchestras playing their hearts out in the centre of malls; impromptu fashion shows in retail parks; the best children’s entertainment occurring on the High Street; cooking, makeover demos and celebrity appearances in department stores; streets transformed into beaches, big televisions, astro turf and a slew of giveaways in our cities and towns.
What was once exceptional event shopping has become the norm and now every significant date on the retail calendar gets transformed into an experience, each getting bigger and better depending on the brand and its budget.
Leisure wasn’t far behind, following suit and often combining with retail to offer a bigger and better experience. Now, out of town shared retail and leisure locations have become destinations because they deliver on more than just one front – cinema, bowling, laser tag, bars and eateries.
These centres are also dabbling with the gamification of a lot of their leisure points to create a truly immersive experience. Not forgetting that the larger destinations have hotel chains tagged on, thereby dispelling any need to go home and prolonging the overall experience.
Non tangibles – how the workplace makes you feel
At a recent Workplace Trends event, many of the speakers referenced a common theme – making the workplace a human centric environment. This was led, to a certain extent, by global head of research for JLL Corporate Solutions, Marie Puybaraud who talked at length about creating a workplace experience that enables humans to thrive and the importance of ‘Engagement, Empowerment and Fulfilment’ to the success of this model.
Under the banner, ‘Workplace – Powered by Human Experience’, Puybaraud talked of three specific priorities: ‘Engagement’ – ensuring that staff are committed and therefore loyal to the company; ‘Empowerment’ – providing staff with a sense of being in control of their work and outcomes; ‘Fulfilment’ – giving individuals the means to take comfort in their working environment.
We are most definitely moving on from measuring the value of office space against total occupancy costs and the utilisation of spaces and instead considering employee fulfilment and happiness levels, along with health and wellbeing.
Comfort levels and the usage of creative spaces is common to functional and more forward-thinking plans however this is being enhanced and added to by a solid movement towards the human experience which professionals like Puybaraud are identifying and recognizing as the way forward.
The big corporates have adopted this ideology, to some extent, and have worked to build the experience by catering for every want and whim within the working day.
It started in the last decade or so with super comfortable receptions, which imitate boutique hotels, and canteens like hipster cafes. It then rolled on to encompass gyms and workout rooms, quiet zones, spaces for prayer and reflection, roof gardens, fun spaces, with table tennis and other games, and bars and coffee points.
This basic, people-centric concept provides for all anticipated needs while rethinking the environment to tempt workers to be a part of it and to want to stay and be present in the space.
Of course, there’s an obvious social and shared aspect to attending a place of work, which is critical to acknowledge: People like to be around people. This basic need can be nurtured in the specifics of the communal areas, such as break out spaces and corridors, as well as the fun stuff listed above.
These collective areas have to be dynamic in order to encourage people to linger, creating situations and opportunities where workers will naturally come together to interact and share ideas.
Clever space planning, creating a flow and harnessing different styles, such as biophilic design, are necessary to set this harmonious, social scene. The basic aim should be to create a unique shared environment that enables people to belong – and encourages them to want to belong.
Following the brand
To fully deliver on the experience and harness a sense of belonging, it has to be in keeping with the company’s brand. You have to have a set of core values that you are confident in; an ethos to build the whole experience around.
Big brands have been in on the idea of creating an experience for some time.
Airbnb is the perfect case in point. It’s mission is to create a world where you can belong anywhere – and that’s true of the office, as much as it’s true of any of the homes on its site.
Airbnb’s San Francisco office contains a selection of vibrant rooms that have been carefully built to reflect some of the stand out homes from around the world that the site has featured.
When employees enter the offices, they’re immediately immersed in the Airbnb identity, with one room representing one founder’s apartment, where the company started, marked by a plaque detailing the story of host and home.
The aim of the design of the space is to encourage the employees to live the corporate values and, as global head of employee experience, Mark Levy says to bring everyone up ‘the commitment curve.’
The fact that this online giant has a ‘global head of employee experience’ signifies the trend that is afoot. Big brands have always been about the experience, from Disney and Coca Cola to Cadburys. The way this level of experience differs is by extending beyond the customer and the paying guest and making it all about the employees.
A softer side
The importance of the concept of office experience is underscored by the prediction that the offices of the future will likely be populated by people who demonstrate a softer skillset – those who excel at man management, communication and social skills – along with candidates who have very specific areas of expertise.
Given that the creatives, the communicators and the thinkers are those who will be dominating our future workspaces, the ethos of creating a work experience plays to the right crowd. We are, arguably, designing offices for a type; the groups most likely to appreciate and to savor the communal experience of their surrounds.
Indeed, if it is as Kay Sargent of global design, architecture and planning firm, HOK states, that we are “no longer designing an environment, we’re designing the experience” then it is those future creative leaders, who will inhabit these spaces, who will be able to fill in the blanks of what that experience is.
This thinking follows from Gensler’s US Workplace Survey 2016, which surmised that there was a correlation between the most innovative companies and the standard of their office designs. In the most innovative companies, it was found that employees could choose to move around from space to space, indulging in activity-based working and landing where their mood had taken them.
This well-documented freestyle approach is in situ now and has been proven to spur better connectivity and collaboration, improving the social aspect of the environment – which is, in itself, a great experience enhancer.
If we fully give ourselves over to becoming a people-led workforce, operating from offices fueled, primarily, by the quality of experience offered to employees, we have to make sure this squares with what serves our commercial interest best.
The challenge is to marry the corporate requirement with the employee requirement. Individuals want flexibility, inspiration and the opportunity to be creative. They want the space to be autonomous and to come together as a team. Corporates want increased productivity and an environment that will reflect well on the brand and positively influence recruitment activity.
All of these elements have to be addressed. After all, we collectively have a vested interest in the outcome. By creating the experience and meeting the individual need, the corporate expectation should automatically be surpassed.