The changing criteria for office design to attract and retain millennials

Julian Sharpe

Fortune Magazine is best known for its Fortune 500, a ranking of companies by revenue, however, through its partnership with “Great place to work” it also publishes the lesser known “100 best companies to work for” list, which shines a light on the things that employees themselves value in their companies and, by extension, their workplaces.

The survey contains specific questions aimed at millennials and the conclusion across the assessment shows money is not always the key focus. So what is it that attracts and retains millennial talent and what can employers learn from the survey? There are three key themes that stand out: information, learning and connection.

We shouldn’t be surprised that these elements score so highly. We know that the three most commonly accessed websites are Google, YouTube and Facebook. These sites match the three exactly, particularly if we include entertainment within the remit of learning.

Many interior design schemes purport to be designed around the needs and requirements of the people who use them but don’t really succeed. The traditional corporate formula and an engrained belief that a client has a particular perception of how their corporate supplier (bank, law firm, accountant) should operate, look and feel, thwart the progress of design-creativity in the workplace. We are led to believe that established blue chip companies want to emulate Google in their look and feel – and in some cases, this is happening – but more often, traditional organisations fear an inclination towards an agile and flexible office space will somehow strip it of its gravitas.

Spaces must be designed to support working practices that drive productivity today – collaboration, discussion, places to think. Gimmicks shouldn’t be bolted on for effect

It isn’t that millennials don’t want a serious environment, but in order to provide spaces that work for them, we must then design schemes that provide good, clear opportunities for information, learning (entertainment) and connection.

Where some organisations fail is by offering a half-way attempt to cater for the requirements of new talent, but without the design commitment to support today’s working practices; for information, learning and connection to thrive, rows of desk-bound activities need to be reassessed for their necessity, but this needs to be done authentically and with an aim to create a true environment where people can develop.

Is that break out space really going to work when it’s just a row of sofas in an unused corridor with no view? Are we really expecting our colleagues to traipse around a large office floor looking for a place to have an informal meeting when all the best ones were claimed at 9am? Do we really think that our catering environment can attract staff if the coffee is less than great and it doesn’t have Wi-Fi and power provided? Adding a sleep pod to the space outside HR isn’t fooling anyone.

Spaces must be designed to support working practices that drive productivity today – collaboration, discussion, places to think. Gimmicks shouldn’t be bolted on for effect; good, clear circulation has a direct impact on company-wide collaboration and engagement and should form the backbone for meeting and learning opportunities. On-floor hubs should be real destination places; they should be located in the best places in the building on obvious circulation routes. Social spaces should be available where employees are trusted to be themselves; why shouldn’t they be able to show off where they work by inviting their friends, and clients, to visit?

For millennials particularly, the three criteria really do determine whether they consider their company a great place to work. In a world where the attraction and retention of key creative individuals is paramount, we should be assessing the success of our office buildings on whether they support these key themes

Julian Sharpe is principal director for TP Bennett