Thanks to 21st century technology, people can work from anywhere, but they do need to work from somewhere.

The problem is those Generation Y-ers who have been raised on technology, who text, Tweet and Snapchat from everywhere: beaches, bedrooms, park benches, kitchen tables, Starbucks, you name it! They are ready to work. They are eager to work. But they don’t necessarily want to work in a sterile, 20th century office.

Most of the decision-makers in corporate America are well-intentioned Baby Boomers and Gen. X-ers, who might not understand the needs and preferences of these new workers. Gen. Y cares about compensation, sure. But they also care about how, when, where and why they work. Too often, unilateral decisions actually repel young workers; it’s better to engage them, attract them, and have them racing to work.

Will Work for Free (stuff)

That’s what Google and Apple have done. Isn’t it ironic that these iconic firms – who help make our work lives more mobile than ever – have two of the most appealing workplaces in America?

Free food from gourmet chefs! Creative, open work environments! Warp-speed Internet access! On-site gyms and fitness programs! By understanding the demographic they want to draw, and what those people want from their work experience, these companies have created workplaces that employees absolutely love.

However, you don’t need to be a billion dollar company to make your work space magnetic. You just need to be proactive in learning what appeals to your current and potential workforce. Here are five steps for creating a truly magnetic workplace:

1. Ask and You (and Workers) Shall Receive

My company, Teknion, is moving a sales team to a gorgeous new showroom created by noted design firm Vanderbyl Design. It won’t have a reception desk because our sales team doesn’t want one. We wouldn’t have known this if we hadn’t asked for their input. The team prefers to sit and work within the showroom itself, and greet patrons without a barrier.

2. Engage ‘Em

The corollary of “asking” is “engaging.” Sure, you can “tell ‘em” what you’re going to do, or you can “sell ‘em” what you’re going to do. But doesn’t it make more sense to “engage ‘em,” and decide together? Collaboration yields powerful insights, and insights breed employee commitment. To “engage ‘em” requires extra effort up front, but yields better long-term results.

3. Discard Assumptions

My friend working in hospitality was surprised to learn that younger guests do not value carpeting. They perceive it as dirty, whereas older generations view carpeting as plush and desirable.

This insight prompted the company to reduce carpeting in new and renovated hotels. Preferences and perspectives evolve, and we must not assume that what worked in 1980 is still relevant today.

4. Journey Outside the Box

Literally, this could mean eschewing or redesigning cubicles. Figuratively, “outside the box” means being open to new ideas – in furnishings and elsewhere — that could magnetize workers.

A software company found that employees hated meetings disrupting the day. Now they only hold meetings at lunchtime – with a free, catered meal. The result is a more orderly day, productive meetings and ultra-attentive (and hunger-free) workers.

5. Ask … Again and Again

It makes sense to include employees in initial workplace planning efforts. It makes even more sense to follow up periodically. You may not have gotten everything quite right the first time around, so be open to reevaluation. People are dynamic. As their needs and wants evolve, so should the workplace.

From collaborative lounges to ergonomic desks, smart workplace design is powerful, enhancing our ability to interact with one another and the world. A magnetic workplace attracts the workers you want, unleashing new possibilities for your employees and your business.


Greg Dekker is Director of Workplace Strategy for Teknion, a leading international designer, manufacturer and marketer of mid- to high-end office systems and related furniture products. He writes and presents on innovation, business development, understanding generational differences, and workplace change management.


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