05 What do offices that work look like?

By Tara Crean, Media Consultant 

Walk down any high street on a weekday and every café will be filled with people tapping away on their laptops, busy contributing to the gig economy. With their free Wi-Fi, buzzing atmosphere and constant supply of caffeine, cafés provide a great work environment. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that the office is on the way out.

The virtues of agile working, of being able to choose one’s own hours and environment, rather than schlepping into company headquarters from Monday to Friday, have been extolled for years. But now it looks like the latest generation of workers – millennials – want to head back the office, albeit one that has been designed with their specific needs in mind.

Recently our PR team left Red Setter’s Brighton HQ to attend the latest Midtown Big Ideas Exchange, which was held at the WeWork communal office space in Holborn, Central London.

‘Is the office dead?’ was the question put to a panel of experts comprising freelancers, communal workspace entrepreneurs, data analysts and corporate business leaders. And while the rigidity of a 9-5, presenteeism-focused structure was credited with stifling productivity, according to panellist Emy Rumble-Mettle, director of talent for media investment company GroupM, out of the 3,000 people questioned in their annual staff survey, most millennials said they preferred working in an office. ‘They want to be with people who drive and inspire them. The next generation needs something that boosts creativity, and, yes, that includes coffee machines, sofas and break-out areas,’ she said.

Millennials favour less conventional workspaces, with fewer cubicles and more collaboration. Technology has shrunk and become portable, so there’s no need to chain yourself to a specific desk any more. Millennials want the space, literally and metaphorically, to develop ideas and discuss concepts with co-workers.

Maybe they’re right. Humans are social creatures, so isn’t there something to be said for working in an environment that lends itself to teamwork? Patrick Nelson, executive vice president of real estate for WeWork Europe, argued that, while a lot of offices are depressing and sap creativity, ‘the right space can create a positive energy and boost productivity’.

Look at Google. According to salary information group PayScale, 84% of the tech giant’s workers said they enjoy high job satisfaction. It provides its staff with free food, gym facilities, massages, even nap pods. It knows that to attract the top talent, it needs to provide more than four walls and a punch-in, punch-out management style.

Of course, the modern workplace means different things to different businesses. At Red Setter, we’ve developed a space without barriers that feels communal and personal, with relaxing areas for collaborating and private zones for meetings. We like a little music in the background and a well-stocked booze cabinet – and for team-members to enjoy the wiggle room needed to deal with life’s everyday stuff, like kids’ sports days and broken boilers. We know that many of our team have busy, complicated lives, but we don’t want coming to work to ramp up the stress factor – it’s counterproductive anyway.

Panellist Monica Parker, founder of Hatch Analytics, made the salient point that designing an office to suit the modern worker isn’t just about ping-pong tables and on-site back-rubs. ‘Having choice and autonomy is better for mental health. People thrive when they have the power to make certain decisions,’ she said.

For many business leaders, giving team members a degree of freedom and autonomy will require a big shift in culture. But they’ll have a happier, healthier and more productive workforce, millennial or otherwise, if they do.


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