Digital workforce creates need for office design make-overs

Collaborative, extremely well-connected workplace required if you want to attract and retain millennial talent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 10:14pm

Managers often inherit their offices. They don’t always get to decorate them. But what if you did? Or what if you are about to move to a new site and have the opportunity to design from bottom up how you want your workspace to look and feel?

The ideal workplace is one that people want to go to everyday. It is one that expresses the ethos of your business and encourage productivity amongst your employees.

Not surprisingly, the tech companies – from Google to Facebook – are known for offices that foster creativity. Accenture’s digital studio in One Island East features a pool table, couches and a massive lunch-break area where music plays in our in-house barista-staffed cafe. The dress code is casual, reflective of an environment meant to inspire design thinking.

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If you’re at a bank, of course, the workspaces reflect the more buttoned-up corporate culture of the industry. Suits and ties have always been the calling card but you’ll also notice banks distinguish themselves too by their style. Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and UBS have long set the benchmark for sophistication – and fantastic art collections. While retail banks typically have more of an “of the people” feel. Consider HSBC’s landmark headquarters, with its cutting edge architectural design that uses giant mirrors at the top of the atrium to maximise natural sunlight and conserve energy and that has movable panels for flooring that allows for quick installation of computer terminals, but above all was designed with feng shui principles in mind and has become a landmark in the city.

These industry corporate cultural differences are real and won’t disappear anytime soon but how people work is changing and managers need to be ready to adapt their work environments to suit new needs. Last year, millennials became the largest generation in the workforce.

As we note in our Tech Vision report: Building the workforce for today’s digital demands, this shift is significant for two reasons: first, because millennials will soon become the predominant source of human capital; and, second, because businesses stand to benefit from the technology acumen and talent this generation (also known as ‘digital natives’) possesses. But the flip-side is that 53 per cent of business leaders are finding it hard to attract and retain millennial talent. That is worrying, as this generation is expected to account for 76 per cent of the global labour pool by 2025.

You need to design an office they want to work in – and that means it needs to reflect their style: be comfortable, not rigid. Be collaborative (think open plan) not constrictive. And while millennials are the ones labelled for wanting to work in a more flexible, different style, we have found that there is an increasing pool of digitally switched-on workers who may be older but work just like millennials do. Of the United States workforce, 43 per cent is expected to be freelance by 2020. Digital connectivity enables this.

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And making sure your office enables this flow of work from home to the MTR to the office is essential. That means workspaces need to keep pace – the days of Dilbert’s cubicles are over, the days of workers collaborating at work benches over touch-screens are in. New technology is constantly emerging, and the pace of adoption is faster than ever. Keep up, or risk extinction.

Gianfranco Casati is Accenture’s group chief executive for emerging markets