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Companies design office space to fit changing employee demands

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Companies design office space to fit changing employee demands

What a day at the office looks like is beginning to change. As independent and co-working spaces are becoming readily available, experts say employers want to shift from a traditional office scene. With strong emphasis coming from supervisors to create a work-life balance and cater to mental health needs, companies are tackling the issue beginning with the basics – the makeup of the building.

Modernity and how it fits at the office

When it comes to sprucing up the office, it’s more than just adding wall art, though that is a big part of the equation, said Kathleen Rose, president/CEO of Rose and Associates Southeast in Davidson. At an event hosted by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce on Friday, May 18, Rose discussed the effects of co-working space, independent working and office design and how they impact recruiting talent.

“Exponentiality – the science of how fast the way change is occurring,” she said about the transformation of office culture. “What’s important to think about is the rate of change, exponentiality, that’s a word to write down.”

While many of the companies that have invested in unique office settings are those of the tech and entrepreneurial fields, all career fields are starting to taking note, Rose said.

Because of this work environment dynamic, priorities have also shifted within the everyday office culture.

About 60 percent of people work outside of the office, she said.

This is primarily due to the offerings of communal working spaces with commodious desk offerings at coffee shops that have the capacity to provide on-demand drinks and light food options, catering to a comfortable and less intensive atmosphere.

When it comes to recruitment, the layout of the office is important, which is why more companies are changing the look of their workspace, she said.

“People want to work where they feel their friends are around them,” Rose said. “That’s the new workers’ experience. It’s all about being innovative. People are turning to more open spaces and collaboration spaces within the office, and the look of it is that of a lobby or lounge of a hotel.”

When it came to redesign and location, Kim Reynolds, senior director of talent at Greenworks Tools, said she did a lot of research on what other places were doing to create that “cool” but productive working environment. The tool manufacturer’s headquarters resides in the reproposed Merino Mill in Mooresville.

“I wanted it to be just as cool as Yahoo! and Facebook,” Reynolds said about transforming the office space. “I was thinking about how the environment could be more collaborative. It was important for us to cater to an intentional breakroom where when you wanted to take a break, it really felt like a break. We have dedicated spots where people can have some downtime, which includes a ping pong table and a popcorn machine. It’s not your typical work environment.”

New workers and millennial's

As more millennials join the workforce, how they work and where they prefer to work is constantly studied, Rose said. The generation is changing the way people are working.

“Unlike our generation and the generations before, new workers are choosing where they want to live first and finding a job second,” she said. “Before it would be that you got the job, and then you’d live in that community. Now it’s more about what the area has to offer before setting on a job.”

In a study done on a millennial workforce in Asheville, Rose said, some of the biggest challenges reported were people could not find employment based on their degrees in the area. Yet, even with that issue, people still chose to live in the area, despite job scarcity.

“The focus group showed that there are many people who had MBA and PhD degrees living in the area but couldn’t find work (based on their field of study),” she said. “Another factor in choosing where to work had to do with the dress code and how they’d prefer to work and that sort of thing. The other thing that came out of it was if there was beer and yoga, you could find millennials there.”

The change has also impacted the real estate world, Rose said. Companies are more likely to gear toward leasing a re-purposed building that has vintage roots than purchasing a new building.

“The co-working idea is growing, about 30 percent of total offices in the U.S. was in co-working space,” she said. “We’re not building big spaces anymore, it’s about sharing spaces. The notion is that you don’t go in and sign a lease in a regular office space, no executive suit-spaces, it’s more about renting an office. It’s more about joining as a member, not a tenant.”

In Mooresville, the 1.1-million-square-foot old mill-turned-plaza features restaurants, antiques and office space rental. In an earlier conversation, owner Michael Bay of Merino Mill said he was turning the furniture store portion of the mill into an area where employers can rent out the space. A total of 100,000 square feet will be dedicated to office space.

“We decided to make more space available,” he said. “The Mill is so beautiful and very historic. It’s not your average normal office space. The ceilings are high, and the flooring is over 100 years old. The feeling and look of the architecture is very attractive. And it’s almost half-priced at what new office spaces are asking.”

While co-working spaces are becoming more prevalent, Rose said there are concerns of privacy when it comes to documents being on display on open desks and etc.

“The vibe is about having less private office space and showing more transparency,” she said. “So some argue that there is then a lack of privacy. Some companies are building areas in the office so people can get that privacy. For instance, there are companies that have a phone booth so people don’t have to go all the way outside to take a call. Still, there is the issue of security and how can privacy still be honored in open work spaces.”

Staying productive

When creating spaces for the office, Reynolds said she had to keep each of her company’s departments in mind.

“We’ve always been used to the traditional kind of office space where it’s often located in a strip mall or with other businesses so it would feel less inspiring,” she said. “To keep every department productive, we knew we had to keep in mind the needs of each person. Even color plays an role in being productive. Just because it’s bright and bold will not always mean it’s conducive in a work environment. The point is not to be distracting. When it came to designing the engineer (wing), it was more about providing elements they would find useful, like chairs that have a desk that could roll out for their laptops. When we thought about space, we tried to tailor it to each team.”

Self-motivation is a key factor when it comes to being productive, Rose said as she answered some questions from audience members May 18 who were concerned about getting actual work done.

“Millennials want to do things without being told they need to do it,” an attendee at the Lake Norman Chamber event said. “Sometimes, it’s that older people need to be told what to do and we work on the opposite of that. That’s kind of how we’ve trained our minds to think when it comes to career motivation and work. We’re also battling with a lot of competition around us so being unique when it comes to how we are productive helps.”

Out with the old, in with the new

The reason for change comes from companies providing incentives to their employees for working on-site. Especially for those employers who require workers to be in the office.

“I think when you have some offices that are very remote capable, you don’t care if they work from home,” Reynolds said. “In this case, we want everybody here. We like to have impromptu meetings. We want everyone to feel included here. We don’t always have that flexibility where people can work outside of the office, so because that’s part of our culture, we wanted to create an inviting and welcoming space. We have large rooms where people can gather. We also have a wellness room so if you have a headache you can take an aspirin and go lay down and be able to get back to work. We wanted to think about all the things that could be more pleasurable for someone at work.”

Because companies want workers to stay with them long-term, they have to keep up with changes and trends, Rose said.

“To keep people interested and want to invest in the company long-term, they have to create an environment that is enjoyable,” she said. “The fact is that if someone doesn’t like where they’re working, they will opt to leave and find another opportunity. Companies are strategically competing for their talent. The old work spaces really left employees feeling isolated and segregated and ultimately insufficient.”


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