21/03/2014

By Neil Prime, Head of UK Office Agency at JLL, the global real estate and investment services company.

Do companies really maximise the opportunity from the real estate they occupy? Through the recession, most thought that opportunity was cost saving and efficiency. This was, and will remain, important. However, in my experience around 80% of a company’s costs are spent on its people, so the key opportunity going forward is improving the productivity of that resource – this is where real estate can really contribute to your bottom line.

The workforce is increasingly generationally diverse. For the first time, four generations are working side-by-side in the workplace; Veterans, Boomers, Generation X and Millennials (or Gen Y). These groups all have different wants, needs and values – but all have an important contribution to make to your bottom line. Each group has its own views on collaboration, working environment, remote working and therefore workplace design must cater for this diversity. If you can get it right, this mix of work styles and preferences can be hugely beneficial to your business. Getting your workplace and space right therefore, is a major step to unlocking your workforce’s true potential and will be of benefit to you in the raging war for talent.

Whereas the older generation were happy to sit at a desk all day in return for a generous salary, Millennials are not focussed solely on remuneration but also want a better work/life balance as part of their “compensation”. On top of that, work/life balance doesn’t mean the same thing it did twenty years ago. Back then, it meant having a 9 to 5 job and being able to come home to the kids in the evening, but fewer people work that way in 2014. Instead, the barriers between work and personal time are increasingly blurred, and workplaces need to change to reflect that. Moreover, the “place” in which they are located must also be attractive to the talent needed. Younger workers are looking for offices that they want to spend time in; places where they can do more than just work. Millennials are demanding more stimulating workspaces, which lend themselves to teamwork and creativity. As a result, offices need to be suitable for a range of uses, including collaboration, socialising, concentrated work and rest.

We’re at a tipping point of realisation in UK businesses. Other parts of the world are miles ahead of us. Australia, for example, is at the forefront of activated workplaces creating informal, collaborative and productive spaces.

So how can you ensure that your office space does the same? Firstly, it’s important to recognise how your workforce is changing and to prepare for evolution. Workers are increasingly looking for flexibility and choice in terms of their work environment, and constantly evolving technology means they can work on the go. ‘Third places’ (anywhere that’s not an office or a home) are now regularly used for work and so technology capabilities need to allow for this.

Back in the office, it is important to be ready to serve four primary functions:

1. Collaboration: For the younger generation, knowledge work is largely collaborative, but traditionally, up to 90% of office space is dedicated to individual work. Newly planned workspaces are decreasing this by up to 50% . This means less formal fixed structures and more informal spaces for people to gather to share thoughts and ideas.

2. Socialisation: With all this new technology, we could all just work from home every day, but we go into the office to forge and maintain relationships. To accommodate this, we’re expecting to see a lot more work settings which reflect gathering places in the home, such as kitchens or outdoor spaces that allow staff to socialise while eating or hold informal meetings.

3. Concentrated work: People do still need areas for heads-down work. The university library model is a good one to turn to here, by which we mean an open environment with protocols that maintain quiet.

4. Getting away: Studies have shown that taking short breaks during the day can increase effectiveness, so offices should have or be close to areas which allow for rest and reflection. Adjacent public spaces, terraces, exercise areas or a cool café next door can all be suitable.

As you can see, new types of worker and new ways of working don’t mean the end for the office. It does however mean that IT, HR and real estate teams need to work closely to ensure that changing staff needs are being met. By improving your office and workplace space, you can attract and retain the best talent out there, as well as boosting creativity and productivity. In twenty years, 70% of the UK workforce will be Millennials or younger , so it’s essential that businesses and the real estate market start to evolve now.

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