The return to the professional workplace

The return to the professional workplace calls for spaces that are private, preferably with a door. It doesn’t have to be large in size, but it needs to be quiet. Courtesy Firmspace
Matt Ferstler

Matt Ferstler
Founder and CEO, Firmspace

Much has been written in recent years about the ideal workplace – it’s become a national topic of debate and conversation. Every company, large and small, is looking for ways to accommodate multigenerational preferences, enhance productivity and reduce costs. For Colorado real estate professionals working in our fast-growing market, success often depends on the ability to find, optimize or sell one of these commercial office spaces. But what’s really working for today’s businesses? What’s not working? And how do we know?

As a business owner specializing in designing and curating shared workspaces across the U.S., I’ve seen so many businesses and workspaces fall prey to the same trendy ideas about open, collaborative, fun-centric office culture – and then suffer the consequences of doing so. The truth is, today’s workers don’t want or need more workplaces outfitted with rows of tightly packed group desks, bean bag chairs and game consoles. Instead, we need to elevate our thinking and return to the idea of the professional workplace. Here are a few ideas for doing just that.

Create private spaces. The biggest missed opportunity I see in Colorado offices today is the lack of private workspaces. Lured by the trends espoused in the catchy millennial-themed articles of recent years, and seduced by the thought of saving on real estate costs – office owners and leaders overwhelmingly established workplaces in the open floor plan or “bullpen” layout. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what employees need to be maximally productive and engaged. Study after study proves that workers are distracted in open office environments, not focused.

They’re much more likely to entrench themselves in digital communication, less likely to engage in in-person contact or collaboration. Open-floor-plan employees seem to be less engaged, less happy, less productive and less likely to stick around. What’s the solution to this pervasive problem? The return to the professional, private workplace. The return of the refuge for the busy employee who needs intense focus to produce high-quality work on a deadline. This space is a private one, preferably with a door. It doesn’t have to be large in size, but it needs to be quiet. For businesses and offices where small private offices are not possible, secluded desks or high-wall cubicles can work just as well. As long as each employee has a private, professional and peaceful space of her own – she’ll be equipped for optimal productivity.

Allow for collaboration. With private offices and secluded desks in place, it’s possible to allow for optional collaboration. Instead of forcing employees together in a suboptimal bullpen in an effort to compel collaboration, a successful office is designed with common spaces and lounges for voluntary use. Employees are able to migrate to these common spaces for meetings, conference calls, informal discussions, brainstorms or simple socialization. However, employees always have the option to return to their private work areas when it’s time for high-intensity productivity. In workplaces that allow for collaboration opportunities, employee autonomy is respected. The option for in-person communication, collaboration and socialization is always available, but it’s never unavoidable. A mixed-use office design featuring ample private workspace and ample collaborative workspace offers the best of both worlds, and empowers employees to make the day-to-day choices that best suit their own styles, preferences, workloads and moods.

Wellness-centric offices should maximum use and positioning of natural light, with common spaces and light-enhancing features built around the office’s largest sun-facing windows.

Prioritize wellness. If there’s one recent workplace trend that truly works for every generation and profession, it’s wellness. The incorporation of health-promoting amenities and programs is something that is universally appealing and effective. Baby Boomers, Gen Z, Gen Y and all the rest agree – their health is a key priority, and the workplaces and offices that prioritize it will be rewarded with higher rates of productivity and lower rates of turnover. Particularly for our newest generation of workers, Gen Z, wellness is top of mind. According to a recent survey, nearly two-thirds of this generation already feels stressed about their health and well-being. Among millennials, nearly six in 10 say their well-being in work is “very important” to them. These statistics prove that the importance of wellness on the job cannot be overstated. For wellness-centric offices, offerings might include:
• Maximum use and positioning of natural light, with common spaces and light-enhancing features like mirrors built around the office’s largest sun-facing windows.
• Sit-to-stand desks available and encouraged for all employees.
• Access to nearby fitness equipment and/or fitness classes.
• Access to fresh, whole and healthful snacks and drinks (as well as limits on access to highly processed or sugary foods commonly available from vending machines).

As business booms in Colorado, more and more owners will be looking for ways to maximize the efficacy of their new, existing and growing workspaces. Leaders who choose to take a critical approach to recent years’ trends, opting instead for a carefully curated, optimized and professional office layout – will surely be richly reward.

Featured in CREJ’s December 2018 Office Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.