Couches. Rotating desk assignments. Standing desks. Treadmill desks. Cubicles. There are several workspace options today. Companies, particularly startups, have become conscious of what kind of a workspace will help attract, engage and retain its employees. Their consciousness is understandable since today’s employee is not looking at their office as a place where they go to finish work, but as an extension of their beliefs and values.
The workspace is no longer just a physical architecture, where people spend 8-9 hours of their life five days a week. It has become a space where different attitudes come together, interact and innovate.
People are not monolith; generations are not a monolith. Each person needs a different type of space to activate different types of productivity and to feel creative or inspired. What made me think about this is the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media lab. I found myself working at their new building, sometime in 2009, all the time even though I lived a kilometre away. In winter, in rain, I would pick up my bag and choose to work there. It was more than the fact they had free coffee.
It was because the building offered different types of spaces—one was small and super private room, where you could close yourself to the outside world and concentrate; it was like your own personal office. The second one was a semi-private office, like people peek in and see what you are doing.
The third was a café setting, which meant it was kind of public with a bit of noise in the background but you could still find a corner to work. The last one was an open workspace. On several occasions, I would notice myself moving among these four set-ups, depending on my mood and the kind of work I was doing.
A firm that offers such varied options could succeed in attracting today’s workforce. Unlike their parents, the newer generations care about the actual space they work in rather than working there for 20 years. Values haven’t changed but they have been reordered.
For example, my dad has worked in the same company since the time he graduated from college. The dream now is no longer to have that stable government job but instead one that is risky, more experiential, and adventurous.
There are several reasons for this shift in priority. The newer generation is more ambitious, exposed to the global world and social media, and conscious of how they are contributing to society. Research shows that millennials are ready to accept a smaller salary to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible.
Even when it comes to the living spaces of the newer generation, a similar shift in attitude towards sustainability can be seen. Many of today’s consumers are ready to spend money on an expensive pair of jeans, which was made with zero waste, rather than buying cheaper pants available at a fast fashion store.
People are not buying stuff that won’t fit into their lives logistically. They are buying or even renting a single chair, instead of an entire set of furniture. The consumption is more use-based rather than want-based.
Consumers are asking themselves whether the thing they are buying right now will serve them any purpose 20 years later. The generational change is choosing values over value.
Whether inside or outside office, the new generation is slowly moving from value (cost of something, salary) to values they stand for—sustainability, creativity and innovation.
Henry Skupniewicz is co-head of Godrej DesignLab and head of fabrication futures at Godrej and Boyce. He was a speaker at the Hyderabad Design Week.
(As told to Pooja Singh.)