How to use your office space to attract the best employees

Posted on June 21, 2016

A work space is a place to be productive, to be sure. But it’s more than that. It’s also where people, with the exception of their homes, spend most of their lives.

Companies must keep both of these truths in mind if they are to attract the best employees.

Work spaces should be designed for people to get their projects done efficiently, but also to make them feel comfortable, healthy and part of a group — places for them to socialize and form relationships.

“A smart company thinks about ‘why do we have office space in the first place?’ ” said Brad Lynch, principal at Chicago-based architecture firm Brininstool+Lynch. “And that is to create an environment to have people work well and work intelligently and communicate with each other — kind of like a club, if you will.”

Jason Lauritsen of Quantum Workplace said the companies that do well in Quantum’s “Best Places to Work” contests tend to invest in creating spaces for their employees to connect and spend time together.

“If you’re interested in building a best place to work, it’s important to create those spaces. And not only create them, but make sure employees are using them — that they have the time and the support to go use them,” Lauritsen said. “That pays real dividends.”

Here are more things to think about when creating a work space to attract the best employees:

One size does not fit all

Technology is driving change in work environments, according to Lynch, allowing people to be more productive in smaller spaces.

“With technology comes freedom in terms of where you can work, how you deliver your work, how you communicate with people, etc.,” he said. “So the open work environment, in terms of how smart companies attract people, is as much about what amenities you’re giving them in trade for that space.”

While there is a trend toward open-office environments, Lauritsen stresses this type of work space may not be effective at your company.

“It’s not one-size-fits all,” he said. “There’s a lot of debate going on right now about ‘is open office space the best, is it offices, is it something in the middle, is it open plus these breakout spaces?”

The answer depends on your employees.

“It tends to be some mix, some combination of things,” he said. “We’ve corrected from all offices to all open to something in the middle.”

The one-size-does-not-fit-all concept extends to amenities. A ping-pong table, for example, may work well at an ad agency, but in other environments it may be distracting because of the noise or because people are wondering why you’re playing games instead of working.

Stay flexible

If you’re a startup or a growing company — or both — it’s hard to predict what your space needs are going to be. It’s also hard to know what amenities your specific group of employees are going to like until they start using them.

Maybe your employees tell you they really want a room where they can catch a quick nap — but after six months you find that no one is using the rooms for that reason, and now you’re trying to figure out what to do with the furniture you bought.

Or your company is growing so fast that you’re constantly repurposing rooms and furniture.

These are good reasons to consider furniture rental while you wait to see how employees will really use their work space, and you watch to see if your growth stabilizes into a predictable trend line.

Staying flexible can help you save money in the long run and keep employees from feeling locked into an inefficient workspace.

“Every business wants to be one of the best places to work. Companies that go the extra step towards providing a pleasing work environment earn high marks from employees,” said Peggy Moore, vice president of workplace sales for CORT Furniture, a leader in the furniture rental industry.

“Rental is a great solution for businesses that want to upgrade, try out new ideas or accommodate special requests. One of the key reasons companies rent workplace furnishings is to quickly accommodate growth. With furniture rental, a business can fill immediate needs, make changes to get it “just right”, then add incrementally as further growth occurs. It makes sense financially as compared to over-purchasing and the logistics are much simpler to manage.”

Be inclusive

Involving employees in office design has multiple benefits. It will decrease pushback, most of which comes during the design phase, according to Lynch, and it can also help keep costs in check.

Lauritsen says employees can help a business figure out what’s most important in their new work space. Involving employees helps mitigate some of the risk that they’re going to be unhappy on the backend because they’ve had some say in it.

“There’s some ownership, they participated in making that tradeoff decision,” Lauritsen said. “Employees are a lot smarter and a lot more capable of helping with those decisions. They understand the realities of making a business. Owners and leaders don’t involve them in the process as much as they should.”

Keep it healthy

Eating right, exercising, taking care of oneself. That’s a societal trend that businesses should embrace.

Many of Lynch’s clients, including Web application company Basecamp, are stocking food areas with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and shying away from sugar-laden soft drinks and other unhealthy choices found in most vending machines.

Brininstool + Lynch client Sterling Partners, a venture capital firm, is using standing-height tables in food areas as well as work areas.

“They want people to be always moving around as opposed to being sedentary,” Lynch said. “It’s very unhealthy for employees to be sedentary – to be sitting down and hiding in an enclosed workstation or private office all day. One of the great things about having an open office environment is that you keep people moving.”