Is your workplace ready for a new type of worker?

In an already tight labor market, competition for top talent may become even tougher once Amazon’s HQ2 moves into our region. Many local business leaders are already taking a fresh look at how they can attract and retain skilled employees. While some are improving the overall employee experience and others are redefining their workforce strategy, there’s one area that shouldn’t be overlooked when trying to entice today’s digital workers:  workforce environment.

Revamping work environment goes beyond providing upgraded technology or a more comfortable atmosphere. It’s about understanding what people need to thrive and creating an atmosphere that supports today’s collaborative and flexible ways of work. At many organizations, people are working from virtually anywhere, and their schedules are often flexible. In a single day, they might spend three hours working alone, join a 12-person meeting, collaborate with a team, meet clients offsite, host conference calls remotely from home, and more—all while  striving to be more efficient, creative and productive.

While it’s tempting to begin the redesign process by looking at technology or considering costs, it’s best  to start by considering your people. Here’s a look at five key questions to ask on the journey to upgrading your work environment for the digital age.

  1. What’s the mix of talent and how do you expect it to change? Teams made up of primarily full-time employees are becoming less common as leaders add more part-time employees, contingent workers and automated tools. That trend is likely to continue, making it more difficult to calculate space needs. Consider where you plan for the business to go and what that means for your talent mix. How do you envision roles changing? What part of work will be automated? Will you rely on more contingent help, which will cause the size of your workforce to fluctuate? How many people do you expect to be in the office versus working remotely? A change in the workforce mix will have business implications, which in turn can drive decisions about the physical space.
  1. How do your people work? Redesigns are successful  when they’re tailored to each company’s unique needs. Knowing how your people get their work done is a solid starting point. Are they in an office or working remotely? Are they working quietly at desks, meeting in conference rooms or taking their laptops to common areas like cafes or lounges? What do they use more often: desktop tools or mobile technology? Analytics can help you begin to see how your people prefer to work, what space is not being fully utilized and what needs aren’t being met.
  1. What technologies do your people need? There are hundreds of technology innovations that promise to improve the way people work, from augmented reality for meetings to intelligent windows that let in more daylight while simultaneously reducing glare. But what do your people actually need? It’s vital to know the answer to that before you invest in bells and whistles you might not need. For example, we worked with a major media company that was ready to install fiber optic cables in its new headquarters to provide the bandwidth officials thought was needed. But we found that only about 15 percent of its workforce needed that kind of power; everyone else could work well with a simple Wi-Fi connection. That made a big difference in the company’s bottom line.
  1. How can you help people collaborate? Teamwork can accelerate creativity, innovation and problem solving. As you redesign your work environment, consider the tools and physical spaces that will encourage collaboration. Don’t be afraid to think outside the usual corporate solutions, either. While standard meeting rooms and offices have their purpose, there’s something to be said for creating spaces that allow your people to be creative and experimental. At PwC, for instance, we created Experience Centers—dynamic spaces for diverse teams to innovate, develop solutions and prototype products on an accelerated timetable.Meanwhile, don’t forget to create ways for people from different sections of the business to interact. You never know what innovations and opportunities might emerge from chance encounters and casual conversations. Coffee stations and communal working areas can help encourage casual interactions, while in-house social media platforms and video conferencing options can help remote employees connect.
  1. Is your environment designed for a diverse and inclusive workforce? Organizations that invest in diversity and inclusion are seeing a number of advantages, including an increased ability to attract talent, greater innovation and improved financial performance. But even if your organization champions diversity, a poorly designed workplace that doesn’t feel inclusive or welcoming could undermine those efforts. As you redesign, consider the unique needs of diverse individuals. For example, the workforce is now comprised of four generations (Boomers, Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z). Each generation has different perspectives, values and needs. A redesign needs to make sure it accommodates and includes all types of employees.

The way we work is changing fast. And a major employer moving into our area means the competition for top talent will become tighter. A work environment designed with people in mind can help you attract and retain the best talent, while also enabling your organization to thrive in the digital age.

Learn more about how to re-shape your workforce. [pwc.com]