In his book, The Elemental Workplace: The 12 Elements For Creating A Fantastic Workplace For Everyone, Neil Usher arrives at a universal definition of an “elemental workplace".

Usher, 55, a property, workplace and change professional with over 25 years’ experience, describes the ideal workspace as a “fully inclusive, sufficiently spacious, stimulating and daylight-flooded... providing super-connectivity and local environmental control, while allowing individual influence over a choice of comfortable, considered settings, offering convenient and secure storage for personal and business effects, affordable and healthy refreshments and clean, well-stocked washrooms". This expansive definition comprises 12 specific workplace elements—daylight, connectivity, space, choice, control, influence, refresh, sense, comfort, inclusion, wash and storage.

In an interview with Mint, Usher, who was recently in Delhi, talks about what millennials want from the workplace of today. Edited excerpts:

How did you arrive at this definition of the workplace?

I was getting frustrated that some organizations had fantastic workplaces with the right professional teams and money, while many people were still working in mediocre, second-rate workplaces. So, the challenge really was what can we do to improve quality and standards. There must be some very simple things we could concentrate on, some basic principles that we could use to create a framework so that even with small amounts of money, irrespective of where they were in the world, whichever industry sector or which workstyle they wanted to use, everyone could raise the standard of work. So, it’s not an elitist thing, everyone can aspire to it.

How are people responding to it?

They appreciate its simplicity and the fact that it’s organized and structured and it’s a tool that they can quite easily transpose over the challenges they’re facing. I’ve heard of a number of design firms using it to formulate their pitch for work and been successful with it. It’s mainly a sort of structured simplicity because we tend to over-complicate our world.

You said some people want to focus on only one or two elements of the ‘elemental workplace’ that are the most important for them. Aren’t all the elements connected?

It’s not a hierarchy of needs. We can’t start elevating some above the others. When we look at things like storage and washrooms, it’s easy to think they’re not vital, but they are because they’re very important to people and comfort. During all the conversations I had in the sessions I ran before I started writing the book, these are the things that emerged as elements people really feel strongly about.

I started out with two flipcharts and a group of people and said, let’s work out what’s really important to everyone. Let’s also work on the important but not necessarily vital for everyone. In the UK, things like cycle facilities are really good examples of things that are important to a number of people but not necessarily to everyone. I did some market testing in different industries and I kept coming up with the same 12 things.

What are the needs of millennials in the workplace?

We have always had multiple generations in the workplace. That’s nothing new. I think to start trying to ascribe characteristics to people based on when they were born is entirely wrong. We all have some sort of formative few years in our 20s when all of our ideas become hard-baked. I describe myself as a seasoned millennial because I want the same things that millennials want.

In western European countries and in Japan, in particular, the biggest problem is an ageing workforce. As people age, they are much more needy than young, fit, healthy people who are just starting at the workplace. Those who are in the last 10 years of their work lives have much more that needs to be taken care of. I think every workplace needs to balance the needs of different ages of people.

The strange thing is that we have been talking about millennials for the past 10-12 years, we still feel millennials are the really young people but they’re not so young anymore, there’s Gen Z now and the alpha generation.

So, you don’t think millennials need us to make the workplace a lot more collaborative?

It’s good for all of us. I’m 55 and it still is good for me, so I don’t see why it’s necessarily something that should be applicable just to young people.

Close