Workplace for a younger generation

Workplaces for a new generation

It’s always been a challenge for organisations to embed the shared values and behaviours that embody and define the brand, but a recent report by the Chief Marketing Officer Council has highlighted just how important this is for attracting and retaining younger employees.

The millennial generation (I hate that term), those born between 1990 and 2000 and now entering the job market will shape the world of work for years to come. For employers, attracting and retaining the best of these workers is crucial to the future of the organisation. After all, it’s their attitude to work, career aspiration and knowledge of emerging technology that will define the culture of the workplace in the 21st century.

Millennials matter not only because they are different from those that have gone before, but because they are more numerous than any since the soon-to-retire baby boomer generation. They already make up 30% of the workforce and by the end of the decade will form 50% of the global workforce.

Time and time again research shows that these younger workers have a social mindset. As Leigh Buchanon writes in Meet the Millennials, “One of the characteristics of millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70% say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.

The CMO study highlights what the millennial worker values in the workplace:

- 88% want a collaborative work culture
- 64% want to make the world a better place.

The question is, therefore, how can the workplace help deliver on these aspirations and to what extent can an organisation’s brand personality be embodied in the workplace?


Ben & Jerry's Cafe


The traditional office environment does not foster collaborative working. Historically, collaboration occurred through a scheduled, formal, meeting. As a result, organisations are full of conference rooms and other hard meeting spaces. Spaces designed to facilitate large group work processes, efficient exchanges of information, and decision making.

However, from the perspective of younger employees, a formal meeting room doesn’t fit the bill.  First, these employees are looking for social connection and engagement as a key driver of their collaborative experience. Secondly, to succeed organisations are looking for innovation, and this is nurtured through informal gatherings in flexible spaces that together are much better at engendering these creative interactions.

Together, this shifting of employee expectations of group work experience and emerging enterprise needs is changing the workplace way from bookable formal meeting rooms towards a greater variety of collaborative workspaces.

During the 1940s, psychologists Stanley Schachter, Leon Festinger and sociologist Kurt Back looked at how people form friendships. For example, why do some strangers build lasting friendships whilst others don’t get past basic platitudes? The prevailing view until then had been that friendship skills are learnt in infancy, where children acquired the beliefs, values, and attitudes that would bind or separate them later in life. However, Schachter, Festinger and Back had a new theory that would shape the thinking of a new generation of silicon valley innovators from Apple’s Steve Jobs to Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

They believed that the physical space was the key to friendship formation, and that “friendships are more likely to develop because of brief and passive contacts made going to and from home or walking about the neighborhood.” In their view, it wasn’t that people who had similar attitudes became friends, but it was the people that passed each other during the day tended to become friends and later adopted similar attitudes.

The first workplace ever posted on Office Snapshots was Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters – and Steve Job’s influence is immediately apparent. It is a workspace where it’s obvious that creativity abounds. The story of Pixar’s headquarters begins in 1999 when Steve Jobs as Pixar’s CEO, brought in Bohlin Cywinski Jackson – famously known for designing Bill Gates’ Washington residential compound – to bring to life his vision for the Pixar campus.


Pixar Campus

Jobs wanted the headquarters to be a place that “promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations.” At the time this was revolutionary, collaboration has recently become one of the major topics in office design, but in the late 90’s it was unknown. In 1996 offices were cubicle farms.


1970s cubical farm office


The original idea separated different employee disciplines into separate buildings – one for animators, one for tech, one for everyone else. But because Jobs was fanatical about creating a space that facilitated unplanned (accidental) collaborations, he wanted a campus where these encounters would take place all the time, and so his design included a great atrium space that acts as a central hub. 15 years later when Jobs was planning the Apple 2 campus, he wanted the same ideas of unplanned encounters to drive the design. The ideas originally developed by Schachter, Festinger Back in the 40s.

Today, we take much of this for granted, open plan spaces, with different types of informal break-out spaces are starting to become the norm and it’s exactly this type of work environment that millennials expect.

But it’s not just the physical working environment that’s important, people increasingly want to not just get rich, they want to make a difference.

The old kind of CSR programmes that grew out of the culture of corporate philanthropy (writing a cheque at the end of the year to a few favourite charities) is not what people are looking for. They want the companies they interact with to reduce the impact of their business on the environment and contribute to society by paying their way (tax). And they expect this philosophy to be integrated into the heart of the business.

There are a few companies getting it right, at Playgroup we have been working very closely with Unilever. Recently their chief marketing officer Keith Weed criticised “posturing” brands that develop CSR initiatives just to sell more products. Speaking during a Chartered Institute of Marketing sponsored debate at the House of Commons, Weed said “social responsibility needs to be woven into the DNA of a company and not just a tool to paper over the cracks in businesses that are failing to serve the communities they operate in.

All this means organisational, employer and customer branding have never been more critical to companies than they are today. At Playgroup we would go further, organisations need to make this attitude part of their DNA and the work environment is a perfect opportunity to communicate the brand values and ethos of the organisation. While most companies can’t be the Apples, Facebooks or Googles of the world, every company can take it upon themselves to give their employees a workplace that offers a purpose beyond profit and a workplace that’s both unique, inspiring and reflects the values of the organisation and facilitates collaboration.


Dan and Johnathan in the studio


At Playgroup, we take our brand expertise and deliver communications within the physical environment. We create branded workspaces and destinations — reflecting the mission, vision and values of an organisation — that are energising and unifying spaces for employees and visitors alike. We work alongside architects, space planners and developers, delivering inspiring global workspaces and iconic destination branding for all our clients.

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