It’s no secret that each generation in the workplace has its preferences. From where they want to work to how they want to work, there are both subtle and major differences. To gain a better understanding of what office environments employees have today and desire to have in the future, as well as how shifting workplace space strategies are creating the need for new technology our team at VergeSense recently commissioned a Workplace Experience & Office Space Employee Survey. Within the survey and findings analysis, we took a deep look into how the workplace is evolving, what employees crave in the workspace, and what that means for the future of PropTech.
Examining Workspace Engagement Across The U.S.
The survey was administered to 500 office workers between the ages of 25- and 64-years-old in the first half of 2019 and was weighted for the U.S. population by gender and region. Respondents were fairly evenly split between small, medium and large organizations. Startups, which we considered to be organizations with 11 to 50 employees, represented 26% of respondents. “Small businesses” with 51 to 100 employees were 12%, midsize, with 101 to 1,000 were 28% and large businesses with 1,001 to 5,000 were another 12%. The rest of the respondants were “extra large businesses with 5,001 to 10,000 and large corporations with more than 10,000 which were 7 and 15% of the responses respectively.
The split between those who work in open office concepts and cubicle/closed office concepts was also pretty evenly split with 54% working in “closed” offices and 46% in open office setups.
Rethinking Open Office Design to Reshape How We Work
Even scientific studies have struggled to decide if open offices are good or bad for workers, and we’ve recently seen a growing amount of research supporting a move away from traditional open office designs.
While that debate continues, survey data indicates we’ve begun to see a bifurcation of open office concepts, with a new, more flexible open-concept arriving in the form of agile or dynamic workplaces, which essentially takes the set desk out of the open office concept. Rather than having a set desk within a wide-open workplace environment, workers have the freedom and flexibility to work in different areas of an office through hot-desking and different shared spaces.
Of the respondents to our survey that say they work in an open office concept, 40% noted that they have no set desk and the freedom to choose where to work. This aligns fairly closely with previous data from JLL, which found that as of 2017, 29% of all offices had moved to agile work environments where workers move interchangeably between desks, and working space can be easily rearranged with lightweight and moveable furniture.
However, workers aren’t only moving agile or Activity Based Working (ABW) environments, they’re enjoying them more. When we asked office employees what their ideal work area setup would be, those that are currently hot-desking and have the choice where to work were the most likely to say their current setup is their ideal work area (74%).
The results of the survey clearly show a general move toward more open work environments, and employees are embracing the change. However, open workspaces come with their own set of problems especially when it comes to the availability of private and collaborative spaces.
A quarter of agile workers always struggle to find a quiet place away from the bustle and noise of a co-working or open office environment. Someone who needs a quiet space to focus on difficult tasks or just prefers silence to noise might find it very difficult to be productive in such a busy space. Some spaces take this into accommodation by offering phone booths or bookable rooms, but if there aren’t enough, workers may be kept from showing their full potential as valuable employees.
Smart Technology for a Smarter Office
So, what does this mean for the broader real estate and PropTech industries as a whole? The growing need for smart building technology. The past few years have seen massive growth and skyrocketing investment into PropTech, and while the next challenge will be to incorporate the new technology into the real estate industry, current building and property managers can benefit from the innovations happening today.
In large dynamic workspaces, it can be hard to stay on top of managing the building, dealing with problems that crop up, sifting through data from many different sources and also think of improving the space to better fit the needs of employees. Smart management software has made it much easier to keep track of all the components needed to run a building, and AI hardware, such as occupancy sensors, help managers identify money saving options, such as reduced air conditioning or electricity in unused rooms throughout the day.
However, building and property managers don’t have to be the only ones benefiting from PropTech. With 64% of workers saying office space is at least ‘Sometimes’ underutilized, we can confidently state that there is room for improving workplace engagement with PropTech. Next-generation AI sensors can not only tell us what spaces are underused they can analyze the problem and make better recommendations on where to work in real-time based on the data.
Employees want their employers to help them thrive professionally and personally, so adding wanted rooms or areas to the workplace keeps everyone happy while improving the internal opinion of the company. Overall, it seems that employees would love employers to add a wellness and fitness area to their workplace (33%) along with some nap rooms (30%). Although sleeping or relaxing at work was once frowned upon, large conglomerates such as Google have normalized practicing self-care at work to increase productivity.
Now, companies are experimenting with meditation rooms and nap pods to provide workers with spaces to go to clear their head or take a power nap if needed. They may even turn to self-tinting windows to enable the ideal lighting for those very types of rooms at certain times within the day.
In an era where there’s a big emphasis on self-care and wellness, it isn’t surprising that many employees want their employers to be supportive of their physical and mental health.
Overall, the results of the Workplace Experience & Office Space Employee Survey indicate the prominence of and preference for open work environments, but also identifies some of the key problems with open and co-working spaces when it comes to productivity and privacy. The current American work environment is transitioning to be based around flexibility; a needed proponent as the workforce continues to expand and new professionals enter with different wants and needs.
As the adoption of co-working spaces continues to grow at astounding rates, the use of PropTech, such as building management software and occupancy sensors, is important to maximize efficiency, identify ways to improve the space and increase employee happiness. The innovations coming out today are already changing the way we think about empowering our workers, maximizing productivity and generally improving the quality of life of office workers. No two people are the same and therefore no office is perfect. But by spending the time to understand the different needs of modern workers we can hopefully provide offices that are better equipped to fit the needs of the workers of today—and tomorrow.