A lot has changed since fax machines, Rolodexes and boxy cubicles were mainstays in offices around the world. Thanks to changes in work styles, technological advancements, space allocation and cultural shifts, the workplace has drastically transformed over the past decade.

“The primary goals for organizations remain the same: attracting and retaining top talent, enabling this talent to successfully achieve organizational goals, and doing all of this in a fiscally responsible manner,” says Nina Charnotskaia, senior director, Workplace at CBRE. “What is changing is the role the workplace plays in enabling these goals. Top performing organizations recognize the important value of their workplace as a destination for their people – a place that brings them together as a community, fosters culture and connection to purpose, and gives them the resources to be their most effective.”

Today, there is a new consumer mindset at play when it comes to employee perceptions. More and more companies view their employees as consumers, which trickles down into how they design workspaces to support that ideology.

Organizations are providing environments that are conducive to keeping employees happy, healthy and, of course, productive and efficient. For example, employees have grown accustomed to amenities they could only dream of in previous decades. Gyms, wellness rooms, yoga classes, chef-prepared meals are becoming more common place and resetting talent expectations.

“Amenities that in the past seemed unique and special, are now part of the baseline expectations for employees,” says Charnotskaia. “Identifying the right services that reflect organizational culture, emphasize objectives and brand, and make it easier for employees to bring their whole selves to work, will always pay dividends and resonate to your talent.”

Lavish amenities aren’t the only way workspaces have changed over the years. Layouts and design have also undergone major overhauls. Private corner offices with heavy wooden doors and traditional square cubicles have long gone. Today’s modern offices tout transparency, community and collaboration, and prioritize equal support of tasks over hierarchy, which typically translates to environments that provide a wide variety of open and enclosed settings. While these updated designs are more commonplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unanimously effective.

“Open communal tables where no one has privacy only work if employees can still get their work done,” suggests Lenny Beaudoin, executive managing director of CBRE’s Space Enablement Services. “If you come to work and can’t be productive it creates a huge amount of anxiety.”

Ultimately, a company’s bottom line depends on the output of its employees. Spaces that cultivate a sense of community that’s the most congruent with productivity is imperative for developers and occupiers to consider. Successful layouts and designs are never a one size fits all for every type of occupier.

“I think it comes back to human beings creating connections and being inquisitive in communities where that interaction creates real value,” says Beaudoin. “Collaboration is the essential ingredient.”

With the ability for so many employees to work remotely, sometimes being around co-workers is the only incentive for many to come into a physical office. But employers can’t ignore the fact that employees need a space where they can get their work done.

“If the only reason for employees to come to work is human interaction and connection with others, I think the message to developers and occupiers is to create spaces that first allow them to get their work done, but are supported by the spaces that facilitate relationships and connections matter most,” says Beaudoin. “If employees can’t get their work done, they’re probably not thinking deeply about their engagement with other colleagues because they’re worried about getting their work done.”

When employees are in the space, technology has been a catalyst for improved communication and efficiency. From the advent of digital collaboration tools like Slack to high-tech whiteboards in conference rooms, technology has provided ways for employees to work more effectively and sustainably. Further, companies are now using smart building technologies to provide an added layer of create environments that are more responsive to people’s needs, while also ensuring efficiency of space. For example, companies are using technologies that detect and respond to human movement. This includes everything from motion-activated room sensors to sonar that emits from light fixtures to hypersensitive air monitoring that can measure the occupancy of a conference room based on the amount of carbon dioxide production in the room.

“Buildings are getting really sophisticated in terms of understanding where people are and what they’re doing,” says Beaudoin. “Carrying a cell phone or laptop means we all have beacons on us, and then you have an app or a technology interface that allows you to navigate that, that becomes a really valuable thing.”

To help better increase individual well-being, personal productivity and organizational effectiveness in the office, CBRE recently launched Host, an experience offering that connects employees to their environments – via workplace hosts, technology, amenities and meaningful communities. Host seamlessly connects employees to one another, as well as to the info, amenities and services that fuel wellness, focus and creativity.

With the ever-changing advances in technology, and amid shifting cultural mindsets and design trends, the workplace will continue to evolve. To stay nimble and ahead of the curve, developers and occupiers should create environments that become their own ecosystems that thrive on a foundation of collaboration.

“We have to treat workplaces as destinations of choice for people – environments that provide the right tools, services, resources and spaces for people to do their best work, eliciting people to choose them as the best place for work,” says Charnotskaia.


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