Remote work and flexible schedules have impacted the in-office workspace as much as it has the workforce. Employees now go into the office for specific reasons, and how they use the workspace is different from employee to employee.

In this interview with Jeanne Meister and Kevin Mulcahy, co-authors of the book The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees, Meister and Mulcahy discuss the impact of the workspace on employee retention and how Human Resources can leverage changes in the workplace to improve the employee experience.

 

You’ve dedicated much of your time and focus on the workplace of the future. Your latest book, The Future Workplace Experience – is another in-depth view of this concept. What has driven you to keep writing on this subject?

We saw transformational changes happening in how people are working, where they are working (increasingly more working remotely) and how they communicate with peers. Employees seem to all want more of a better workplace experience and more choices at work, seeking more control over how, where and when they work.

 

The physical workspace plays a key role in employee retention. What are some changes some enterprises should consider making to their workplace to prepare for the future workplace?

In a TED talk, Susan Cain made the case that most workplaces are, “designed mostly for extroverts and their need for lots of stimulation.” She highlighted how introverts are highly talented individuals with a very different set of characteristics. So companies should ask, “How can we accommodate both our introverts and our extroverts in our workspaces?” Try asking yourself four simple questions regarding the workspace you have in your organization:

  • Where do you go to do your best work?
  • Where do you go to get the job done?
  • Where do you avoid meeting or working?
  • Where do you go to recharge?

Although a majority of American workers go to offices with open floor plans (70% of us, according to the International Facilities Management Association), companies are beginning to acknowledge that this isn’t always the best for getting work done. In fact, research from Steelcase conducted with a global sample of 12,480 employees across 17 countries documents that workers who have control over where and how they work, and are free to choose a workspace to fit their task at hand—either focused work or collaborative work—are 88% more engaged at work. The decision is not whether or not to design an open space, but rather how to give employees choice in where to work based upon the activity they are working on.

We see among our clients who are heads of HR the growing importance of workspace and the recognition that space is not just a building, but now it is part of the HR agenda to engage employees.

The five ways that we see employers leveraging workplace is to:

  1. Drive culture and use the workspace as a physical manifestation of their values and mission.
  2. Enable more choices for how, when and where employees can work.
  3. Ensure workspace that enables and facilitates wellness, instead of proliferating health issues.
  4. Enhancing engagement through more creatively designed workspaces.
  5. Nurturing community though reinforcing opportunities for social connection and learning from others.

 

Can you explain a bit more about the employee experience and what are some of the most interesting things you’ve seen (technology, workspace concepts, etc.) that have, or will, make a huge impact on that experience?

As we enter 2017, we see the next journey for HR leaders is to apply a consumer and a digital lens to the HR function creating an employee experience that mirrors a company’s best customer experience.

Employee experience is defined as seeing the world through the eyes of a company’s employees. This starts with looking at all HR processes with a consumer lens, meaning what does the new hire and on-boarding experience look and feel like from the point of view of an employee. Applying this human centered approach to HR involves using the principles of design thinking to the employee life cycle. Companies examine all elements of the touch points with employees—from recruiting to the physical space and the technology tools they use at work—to create one holistic experience for employees.

 

The new workplace can have as many as five generations working in it. Moving forward, in your mind, how important will mentoring be in the adoption of new technologies in the future workplace?

In our book, of The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees we reported on research from PwC finding that 53% of a global sample of Millennials say mentoring is the most effective way to learn and grow on the job. Companies are taking note of this. PepsiCo’s Conn3ct pairs Millennials with executive sponsors who mentor them. But Millennials are not waiting for their company to develop a formal mentoring program. As Jeanne wrote about in the HBR Guide entitled Getting The Mentoring You Need, Millennials are persuading both peers inside their company as well as those outside the company to become their mentors and engage with them on a specific objective, such as building more of a global mindset or understanding particular industry dynamics.

In addition, we also see the emergence and growth in reverse mentoring, where a senior business leader is paired with a Millennial to build a new skill set for the senior leader. MasterCard was an early adopter in this type of program and to date they have more than 300 senior business leaders paired with Millennials. There is also another benefit to the senior leader and that is to understand how Millennials consume information differently and use this to build a more consumer-driven HR function.

The most important lesson for HR professionals is to stay on top of technology shifts in order to avoid the dreaded skills gaps that leave people and technology underutilized.   Workers of all ages will now have to ensure against technologically induced unemployment. If employees are undertrained and unable to take full advantage of the current technologies within a company, the benefits of that technology decrease significantly, and the employee is no longer capable of achieving maximum potential at the company. If technology is underutilized, then so are employees, and this can lead to an erosion of resources, morale, jobs and ultimately efficiency. For these reasons, employees of all ages need to be pushed to master the technologies available to us in our workplaces and encourage experimentation with new technologies.