Work is changing faster than the workplace

By Keeley Kinney / Guest Editorial

Businesses are experiencing an unprecedented pace of change today. Businesses have had to become agile and capable of navigating change. This change is pushing on them both externally, that they have no control over, as well as internally, as they foster change from within.

Research shows that businesses go through a significant business change that alters their business plan dramatically every three years. At the same time, companies change out their interior space on average every 10 years and remodel their building every 40 years. So the physical work place is having trouble keeping up with the ever-accelerating pace of change required to run a business.

Once a business decides it’s time to rethink their work space, they should start with their people in mind. Over the course of 10 years, 82 percent of companies’ cost will be in its people, 10 percent will go to technology and 5 percent will be spent on facilities and furniture.

According to Mike O’Neil, director of workplace research for Knoll, there are five major business trends that are causing companies to rethink how they plan and furnish their interior work space. The five trends include enabling technologies, a war for talent, a mandate to innovate, a distributed work model and corporate social responsibility.

Technology is shifting every one-and-a-half years. Changes in technology often is the driver for other changes in a business.

There is a growing war for talent. Although we are coming out of a period of high unemployment, there is a growing awareness that we are headed into a war to recruit and retain the type of worker we need to compete. What you may not be aware of is that nearly 50 percent of all job applicants cite the workplace as a key factor in whether they accepted a position or not. And employees site the workplace as one of the top three factors that affect job performance and job satisfaction.

For the first time in U.S. history, we have four generations at work. Research shows that Baby Boomers and Gen Y have polar opposite preferences for the type of space they feel they do their best work in. So why does this matter? Gen Y is going to become the largest population of workers. However, Baby Boomers are still typically making the decisions on their company’s workplace design and furnishings. Businesses need to look into the future and take into account the preferences of Gen Y’s workspace.

Mandate to innovate is becoming a requirement for a company to compete and remain relevant. In order to innovate, a company must have engaged employees. However, research shows that 70 percent of employees are not fully engaged. This is obviously a leadership/people issue, but can the workplace impact this? Research shows that companies providing workplaces that are more efficient for knowledge work are seeing higher levels of employee engagement, brand equity and profit growth up to 14 percent greater than those with less effective work environments. So the workspace can be a component of your corporate strategy to impact the engagement of the knowledge worker.

Distributed work is becoming the norm. Technology used to chain us to our desks. Now mobile and cloud technology are untethering us to work throughout our facilities, throughout the communities we live in and even throughout the globe. Work is really a state of being now, not just a destination.

Corporate social responsibility is becoming a key factor. Employees and clients want to work for and work with a company whose social values match their own. In fact, college grads are so passionate about this that 86 percent of them would consider leaving an employer whose social values don’t match their own. In addition, the building construction industry is the top contributor to global climate change, so we will continue to see sustainable green building practices become the norm and not the exception.

So what do these business trends start to look like when you rethink your interior work space? Companies are developing “engaging” work spaces that are more open. Spaces have views of the outside, light into the core of the space, bright colors, lower horizons and removal of physical barriers. Less “me” space and more “we” space. More spaces to collaborate and innovate. Introduction of small focus rooms for heads down or disruptive work. Companies are making investments in products that promote wellness, like sit-to-stand work surfaces and fitness spaces. They are investing in social spaces that bring employees together and promote team building. Companies are taking the opportunity to make their brand visible to both their employees and their clients. And probably the most important implication is companies are seeking to find flexible solutions that allow them to change.



Keeley Kinney is vice president of business development at Saxton. She can be reached at (319) 730-0125 or