Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Collision or Cultivation?: Millenials and the Z-Generation In the Workplace

Preparing the workspace of the present and not to distant future for Millenials and the Z-generation should be a critical item on the short-list in the C-suite. Focusing on creating workspaces which engage the Millennial workforce and the Generation Z seems paramount given the older Baby Boomer, Generation X generations are beginning to age out. I read often in various news sources, journals and such how these two generations strongly value mission, brand and culture in conjunction with the physical workspace. Within the next five to ten years they will begin assuming leadership roles at work, so getting them engaged now is paramount to long term business success.
Millennials and the Z Generation want to be engaged at work and believe in what they're doing. They also want more autonomy at work and believe work is 24/7, not 8-5 as Rob Asghar from Forbes recently wrote. Their idea of boundaries vary differently from Gen Y, X and Boomers. Many of them have entered into the workforce at the nadir of the last recession, struggled to find jobs in their areas of study, least of all find a job at all. Harnessing engagement and belief in mission I believe will attract and retain key talent to help drive business success, build and maintain a strong #culturecode.
I have to wonder if the North Star for those of us passionate about the design and cultivation of work spaces, is to create rich branded and authentic environments reinforcing desired behaviors of collaboration, innovation and above and beyond contributions? A highly hierarchical, non-transparent, and entitlement driven work culture won't work for these two generations. I believe strongly you can't have a successful work space and workplace without cultivating a strong, yet intangible connection to mission, purpose and values. Our work follows this philosophy.
Authenticity follows corporate actions and programs supporting workers, giving back to the community and taking care of the environment. You need to walk the talk. In Vermont we have a very strong corporate social responsibility community #CSR pervasive in large, medium and small sized businesses for Vermont. I am a member of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, the largest and most vibrant such organization in the U.S.
Many such businesses here in Vermont combine tangible physical design with the intangible of the corporate "spirit" or "DNA", with visible operational values, human resource support and more. While I can't offer specifics on what the workspaces will need to look like or function as for Millennials and Z-generation to follow, I offer here instead a lens through which to examine and test whether organizations might be heading in positive directions in design process and intention.
Look around you at work. Do you feel aspects of the core company or organizational beliefs shine through in your workspace? Or are company values mis-aligned with your workspaces? Meaning, if you have a strong social or environmental mission does that come alive somehow in the design of your social or common spaces like lounges, cafe's, all hand meeting areas, in-between spaces? Are managers, corporate leaders accessible, visible to team members or are they hidden in other far flung areas of the building?
Do you have cube farms or neighborhoods of varying business units? Do you see easily visible yet tasteful messaging throughout your environment reinforcing core values? Do you and your coworkers matter visibly, ie. are your efforts celebrated in high visibility locations on bragging walls? There's a lot more to this but you get the idea.
Readers what do you think, especially younger ones? Do you work for an organization you believe in? Are you engaged at work by a mission or set of values beyond bringing in a paycheck? How and where doe this show up? Does this make a difference to you? Why did you decide to come work where you are in the first place? Were their tangible and or intangible reasons? Let us know.
For older readers, how is it going with Millennials and the Z-generation at work? If you could change one or two items in your workplace design what would it be? Let us know here. I certainly don't have the answers but maybe together with your comments and interaction we can build together what this future might look like.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Building Culture and Engagement Within Today's Changing Workplace

We often talk about the power of values driven design to help cultivate high performing workplaces. Without a clear sense of company mission, brand and values from you and your work community and team, it's hard for us help you design your workplace and connect it to your organizational DNA. With it we can help you design a work setting and resources to help power your organization forward.
After you move in, cultivating and sustaining your cultural DNA and engagement at work remains an organizational challenge, more so in today's open office workplace environments. Without some kind of guiding framework and principles, something we call Workplace Protocols; ineffective work, lack of team cohesion, unwanted noise and distractions and undue anxieties around behavior can sabotage best intentions and weaken your DNA. Rather than building and sustaining a strong high performing culture, internal systems and operational protocols, or lack thereof handcuff success.
Strong, engaged cultures with a clear sense of mission, brand and values help attract and retain committed team members and provide priceless motivation beyond the carrot and stick approach of benefits and financial incentives. Building such cultures are also very practical given what's at stake with workforce costs.
Most businesses, whether private, public or non-profit share one commonality. Your cumalitive workforce costs dwarf your other operational costs. Back in 2006 the total cost of workforce comprised as much as 70% of total business operational costs in a study by the Brookings Institute of Fortune 500 companies. Not much has changed since then regarding costs.
So if so much is at stake with people costs and the resources to support them what are workplaces protocols and how do they help build and sustain a strong culturecode# and the engagement you seek? Without an operational framework helping guide day to day interactions and such, your people and your investment in their workspace may not live up to their potential.
We think workplace protocols are guiding principles, not exhaustive procedures and rules, more about common sense and respect for self and one another, everyday etiquette focused on the "We", not "I" or "Me".
To build your culture we think it is important to use the protocols to do the following:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Forward Flexible Values Driven Workplace Design

Often when beginning work on workplace design projects with new clients I champion forward flexible values driven workplace design. It's a mouthful for sure, but simply put it means a workplace which adapts to change over time gracefully and meaningfully evoking company mission, brand DNA and core values. 
Easy to say hard to do. Let me explain.
The average square foot per worker shifted from 225 square feet in 2010 to 150 square feet or less according to August 2013 research from Core Net Global. Soon it is projected to dive below 100 square feet per person in the coming years. 
But is this steady decline in the ratio of workspace to workers reaching a point of diminishing returns, especially as the economy shows signs of recovery? Is too little individual space going to throttle the high performing worker and workplace?
With increasing density of workers out in the open numerous challenges arose with distracting noisy neighbors, phone conversations, music and more. Thus the rise in popularity of noise-canceling headphones symptomatic of larger issues at play in the workplace. 
Often these new downsized offices hamstrung workers by not providing enough quantity, variety and choice of small, medium and large collaboration spaces, places for quiet heads down work and focus team work.
Compressing your real estate footprint works only to a certain point. If not planned correctly, inflexible workplaces throttle expansion, growth and collaboration. The resulting inefficiencies cripple organizational work cultures stifling individual and team performance, innovation and collaboration.
Frankly I can't predict what the workplace will look like in five years only that it will continue to shift radically embracing technology and new modes of work we can't yet envision.
Here are some tips to make it through:
  1. Make Sure to Get Your Values Out in The Open: Want to attract and retain great team members? Be sure to put your values out there in the open. Whether signage, murals, wall color selection, material selection and aesthetics these are the tools by which you can tell your brand and company story. 
  2. Street Grids, Neighborhoods, Front-Yards and Back-yards: Organize your office layout like a street grid with major arteries, neighborhoods, front-yards, back-yards. Avoid dead-ends, cul-de sacs, work with more of an open framework allowing easy access to team members. You might have major boulevards bisecting the grid.
  3. Shared Views & Neighborliness: Locate private offices and conference rooms away from outside edges of work areas near exterior windows, more towards darker interior areas. Share the views and create a sense of work community.
  4. Adaptable and interchangeable workstation furniture:Select a family of open workstation furniture and potentially movable architectural walls with ample glass and panels aligned with the modes of working needing to get done. Work within an adaptive system based on the same kit of parts.
  5. Provide a wide range of common or soft spaces: Whether single or two person phone booths, team rooms, project spaces, work lounges, collaboration zones with a host of meeting rooms, quiet work areas, work-cafe's and more.You'll need more than you think.
  6. Establish and cultivate workplace protocols: Moving out into the open and adopting new workplace strategies places stresses on the organization. Establish shared protocols on how to work together, respect each other's personal space, team space, collaborate. Create a work culture which gives each other permission to hold one-another accountable for abiding by these informal or formal ways of working, while allowing them to evolve as workstyles evolve. You won't regret it.
  7. Get the technology right and build an Infrastructure for change: Given the move to wireless from wired, but couple that with security issues, consider ways to leverage both for the long haul. Also be open to trying and using collaboration technologies like touch screen displays, video conferencing tools, office wide white noise systems.
  8. Wellness, Nature and Sustainability: Think of your workplace as a wellness space providing workers access to plants, healthy non-toxic materials and ergonomic equipment like movable worksurfaces for standing, monitor arms, keyboards and more. Possibly bring in water elements.
Hope these ideas help. Let me know what you think? Do you have any comments or suggestions based on real world experiences with any of these ideas focused on forward flexible values driven design? 
(Originally published on LInkedIn 3/8/14, updated and adapted here)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Design Outside Spaces with The Sun's Passage in Mind

From LinkedIn...     
      Use the sun wisely when designing your new home, addition or renovation. Create outside social spaces on the sides of your home where the sun moves through the day and seasons. #VT #HomeDesign 
      Locate social spaces such as kitchen, dining, living room, den or library on the sunny side of your house and provide outside access through doorways helping bring the outside in and the inside outside. People need the sun, especially in the cloudy Northeast, as we don't have enough of it! Locate your TV room if you still have one on the north side or less sunny sides of the house. What do you think?less

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Better Buildings By Design 2014

Green Design is Rising
      Be sure to attend this year's annual Better Building By Design Conference hosted by @EfficiencyVT at the Sheraton today and tomorrow in Burlington, VT. We'll be there tomorrow to check out the trade show and all of the educational seminars. 
      A big topic this year is netzero by 2030 as well as the state of resilient design and its convergence on the marketplace. It's a great place to learn about emerging trends and best practices in green building design, resilient design, building science, lighting design and residential and commercial construction to name a few. 
      So attend #BBD14 to find out more and network with building design and construction professionals, facility managers, owners, consultants and engineers and more.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In-between spaces accelerate collaboration and innovation in Workplace Design

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day One NEOCON East 2013 Highlights & Thinking About My Clients - Day One

      I will keep this short.  I am here to talk tomorrow about a project near and dear to my, heart, my project work at National Life Group.
      However, I wandered the exhibition hall today to check out the furniture, equipment, lighting and other materials showcased. Thinking about my clients in Vermont I can not say I saw much in the way of workstations which might be relevant to them for open office settings.
      I realize this is the little sister or brother show to the larger one held each June at NEOCON in Chicago's illustrious Merchandise Mart.  There's little floor space to show complete product offerings so I know what I'm seeing is merely the tip of the iceberg.
      Here's the paradox, given the recent changes at places like Yahoo and now Hewlett Packard, where telecommuting policies no longer so freely apply, and perhaps other's around the corner, I see a shift in workers coming "back home" rather than being dispersed in "away places". With that comes a conundrum.
      After the last five or so years of shrinking real estate footprints, of doing more with less space per average worker, the rise of out in the open benching collaborative style workstations; where will all of these off-site workers go back on site and how will they be working? They won't like being hotel-ed around a huge library reading room size table out in the open, or similarly exposed small footprint work areas. If they're working more and more at the office, what kind of individual work-space will they work in? What's best for their work styles and the work required to be done?