For most newly graduated millennials, college is still fresh in their minds and hearts. They likely enjoyed that environment, mixing their hard work with open spaces, working in open areas and completing projects independently.
However, when this same group of young people enter the typical workplace, they find those habits they developed in college are, for all intents and purposes, useless. The transition from college to work/life can be harsh, notes office-design expert Jonathan Webb of global manufacturer KI Furniture. Webb is an office researcher as well, and his work co-writing a white paper on this topic is intriguing.
Millennials are seeking a work space that makes them feel like they did in college, Webb believes. So having an office that reminds these young employees of that campus setting is as essential in grabbing millennials as interviews, hiring them and retaining them, Webb said. Companies such as Quicken Loans in Detroit are doing a good job of appealing to millennials with unique spaces, standing desks and the like, Webb noted.
So how do you create a campus or collegiate-inspired workplace? Workspaces should emphasize sharing ideas, socializing, and treating workers equally. Seventy percent of offices had an open layout in 2015; but having some private or walled spaces also is important, Webb added.
“We interviewed Fortune 100 and smaller organizations from a variety of industries and regions. Our hypothesis was if you want to attract and retain the next generation of worker, perhaps it would be wise to study where they’ve actually been spending the last four to six years of their lives,” Webb said.
That 18-month research project found three primary observations. They are:
• New grads feel “lost in translation,” Webb said. They feel comfortable in that collegiate setting of working anywhere they want, not being chained to a desk. They want a work station where they can hook up three or four of their devices and multitask. But it is rare to find a workplace that is set up that way, Webb said. So as part of their research, Webb said KI took some of its clients on a college-campus tour. The idea is to find ways to balance a campus environment with a corporate setting. So take the time to tour your school and think about how you could adapt that setting into your office.
• There’s not a lot of research being done on the recently graduated workforce and their work style. Take the time to do that deep dive into what your new hires want – what did they experience at school? What are their working preferences? Do they want walls or would they prefer an open environment? Webb believes there is plenty more to learn about how campus settings can positively influence work space design from the walls to the furniture to the way electrical outlets are set up across a room.
• Workplace design needs to add some of these campus-inspired changes to real l ife. Most companies Webb talked with said their newly hired employees like to work in groups, something that they learned to do in college. But finding a way to build that into the workplace design in their office can feel challenging. So Webb noted that a combination of cubicles, couches and offices with walls may be helpful in giving everyone what they want. Collegiate design blends the visual with the audio, for example. Students can hear and see one another at large work spaces or tables. Take that idea one step forward into thinking like a college campus and you realize millennials can scatter about the room and still get their work done without sitting in an assigned seat. So give those new hires space, time and flexibility and you might be surprised at the positive result.
KI, a contract furniture company, manufactures innovative furniture and movable wall system solutions for educational, university, business and government markets. The employee-owned global company is headquartered in Green Bay, Wis.