With the future workplace becoming an increasingly popular topic, business leaders are broadening their understanding of what younger workers want to see in the workplace. The office has had to flex and bend to meet the needs of workers in recent years and the future workplace looks set to transform our expectations of the functions an office can support with.
Companies that can distil the ideas of young workers and adapt them into practical solutions will be right at the top of the list when it comes to attracting and retaining leading talent.
For designers looking to define the future workplace, it’s essential to embrace new ideas that challenge present conventions. From creative design features to more practical functions that support day-to-day life, future-oriented companies must be willing to consider all manner of design solutions if they want to attract top talent and drive performance.
Those employees whose preferences will inform how future offices look, feel and function are today’s Gen Zs and Young Millennials. To help understand the world of work they will occupy in the coming years, Oktra has created the Future Workplace Report. Based on insights from surveys conducted with 1,000 young people aged 18-34, the report aims to signpost the expectations for the workspace of tomorrow.
With the rapid growth and encroachment of artificial intelligence (AI), Gen Zs and Young Millennials predict that robots will become a common feature of tomorrow’s workplace. Asked to outline their expectations for office AI, our survey respondents described various fantastical scenarios, one of which featured “intelligent robot assistants” who will “play an important auxiliary role in the office”.
Performing a range of menial and functional office tasks, these AIs could increase workplace efficiency and free up their human counterparts for more creative and strategic assignments. As one respondent reflected, corporate workspace could be revolutionised by “intelligent robotic assistants that can take the minutes of meetings, manage office space and bring me a coffee”. This might spell the end of the office tea round but the integration of robots could potentially slot in to cover even the most basic of tasks.
During the pandemic, people around the world made meaningful connections with nature. Connections many are keen to maintain at work. Young people have a heightened eco-awareness and affinity with all things green which is now influencing their expectations of the workplace. The well-documented benefits of biophilic design have extended to the office facilitating interactions with plants, trees and outdoor spaces.
In our report, participants expressed a desire to see garden areas and biophilic design become staple features of the modern workplace. Providing an opportunity “to get away from the computer screen”, respondents said corporate greenspace helped to “promote mindfulness”. Outdoor work areas – “areas with nice plants and clean air” – were proposed as catalysts for calm and productivity. Likewise, office interiors that ‘bring the outside in’ are likely to create conducive work conditions for Gen Zs and Young Millennials. As employers look to engage the next generation of workers, gardens and green space could be where the seeds of future success are sown.
When companies were first establishing their new workplace strategies, hybrid working was positioned as the solution to several problems for employers and employees. Fast-forward 12 months and hybrid working is part and parcel of the modern workplace and the term hybrid has dropped away. The focus is now on people being able to connect with colleagues, both digitally and in person, and companies are expanding their real estate with satellite offices.
Organisations are moving away from fixed desks and workstations, with many becoming more confident of being able to create high-performance workspaces that act as ‘satellites’ around their main head offices. From what was presented as the golden solution in the post-covid landscape, the hub and spoke model has never truly lived up to its billing. However, workplace behaviours are evolving and, in some ways, it was ahead of its time. Now that people are less engaged with working from home on a long-term basis, the opportunity for satellite offices is growing.
With our survey respondents favouring collaborative working, knowledge sharing and improved connectivity, the future workplace may revolve around a central HQ and smaller regional spaces. This way, the central HQ takes care of the group tasks and immersive workplace experiences and satellite offices provide staff with flexibility and designated environments to be productive while also connecting with employees.
Bringing pets into the office is an increasingly common phenomenon. Being able to bring a furry friend – especially dogs – to work is a major driver of recruitment and retention. Cost, convenience and mental health were among the key benefits cited in our report. 13% of respondents claimed that pet care, like childcare, was a barrier to working on site, while the therapeutic value of canine companionship was thought to provide a boost to workplace wellbeing and morale.
Currently, pets-at-work policies – where they exist – stretch to a day a week, maybe two. But many believe there is a strong case for more permanent arrangements. Indeed, employees are likely to have become even more attached to their fur babies during lockdown. And companies that offer progressive pet policies and incorporate exercise areas and other pet-focused facilities into their office designs, could reap the rewards in the coming years.
Being caught ‘sleeping on the job’ used to be grounds for disciplinary action. Today, certain industries actively promote employee naptimes to help optimise wellness and performance. The idea of sleep pods is usually met with a mixed response and for many leaders, the need to sleep during the day is not one they want to advertise. Despite the science behind the power nap, keeping the workforce fresh by promoting nap time at work is littered with flaws and makes it an unlikely addition to the future workplace.
In our survey, respondents linked napping, well-being and performance. One predicted that as “wellness delivery…become[s] a major standard, specific nap spaces that ease users’ fatigue and boost their motivation” will be essential. Such spaces, suggested another, will require sleep-inducing ambient environments, filled with clean air and soothing sounds.
For some sectors, nap areas are more of a necessity than a gimmick – traders working across multiple markets and time zones already have nap spaces in their offices. With pods varying in scale from ergonomic loungers to Japanese-style sleep capsules, the sleep pod is a costly design investment. But if it keeps employees sharp and increases productivity, then it might appeal to some businesses but it almost certainly won’t appeal to all.
To successfully design the future workplace, there needs to be a strong understanding of how the office is going to resonate with younger workers. Attracting the best Gen Z and Millennial talent requires a reset of our current workplaces and their ideals. The office and working landscape in general are more fluid than it’s ever been and this presents businesses with a huge opportunity to establish a new guideline for how the office should look, feel and perform.
Organisations have demonstrated a high level of flexibility in recent years and as the dust begins to settle on flexible working, the office still operates as a beacon for productivity. Based on our data and insights, it’s clear there is increasing synergy between time in the office and the benefits to the effectiveness and efficiency of staff. Design gimmicks are few and far between in comparison to the desires for purposeful workspace and a prioritisation of personal “me” spaces.
The future workplace is not about implementing every idea proposed by young workers, but it is about understanding the purpose behind this requirement. If businesses can read between the lines of what their workforce is looking for, then they can capitalise on how to inspire and motivate their people through purpose-driven design.
Whether or not all the predictions in the report come to pass, the important thing is for new ideas to drive greater performance and shape a dynamic and exciting working landscape in the future.
To discover all the data and insights from our research, download the Future Workplace Report here.Download Now