Keeping Millennials in the Workplace

Blurring the boundaries between home and work environments helps employers cater to the restless Millennial workforce, keeping them engaged longer.

One of the recurring themes at NeoCon 2017, June 12-14 was the notion that incorporating residential elements into the workplace experience can help companies attract and retain the best employees.

Hosted by The Mart, a massive Art Deco style building spanning two-and-a-half city blocks in Chicago, NeoCon is the largest trade show for commercial design and furnishings. The products and trends showcased here are backed by research and data designed with workforce productivity and ROI in mind.

A variety of meeting spaces provides employees with choices. Rocking chairs are a popular addition to open plan breakout areas. Image courtesy of JSI
A variety of meeting spaces provides employees with choices. Rocking chairs are a popular addition to open plan breakout areas. Image courtesy of JSI

Corporate real estate executives who toured The Mart’s permanent showrooms and temporary booths were left with this take away: the workplace designed with rocking chairs, comfy sofas (the kind you can get horizontal on and put your feet up), movable poufs and gorgeous coffee tables that would look great in a living room are an invitation to kick back—but not to work less. Ideally, because we spend so much of our time working, the workplace should have as many of the comforts of home as possible.

Intertwining Spaces

The current thinking in workplace design is all about creating places people want to come into, an office where they’re as comfortable as they are in their homes. This is also a way for organizations to attract some of their remote employees back to the office more frequently.

Offices that provide all the comforts of home and the ability to move around during the day will keep Millennials engaged longer. Umami collection. Photo courtesy of Steelcase
Offices that provide all the comforts of home and the ability to move around during the day will keep Millennials engaged longer. Umami collection. Photo courtesy of Steelcase

Investing in workplace solutions that blur the boundaries between home and work environments can also help employers cater to the restless Millennial workforce, keep them engaged and retain them longer.

NeoCon attendees also saw a major blurring between work and play. JSI Furniture (aka Jasper Group) may have expressed it best with its NeoCon tagline ”Work at Play, Play at Work.”

JSI has been rolling out hip furniture collections with playful names like Moto, Reef and Bravado. Marketing verbiage—such as “work the way you live” and “follow your dreams”—is designed to appeal to a new generation of workers, but surely it’s just as pleasing to Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Another continuing trend reflected in this year’s NeoCon product offerings is the idea that “sitting is the new smoking.”

Employers have already begun supporting a less sedentary work day with movable height desks. But that’s just the beginning. Manufacturers are rolling out irresistible new furniture options, such as secluded alcoves for one or two with movable privacy panels, that encourage employees to take a stroll to the other side of the office.

Enhancing Productivity

Employers can offer a quiet enclosed space for conference calls or a project requiring concentration. Image courtesy of Jabbrrbox
Employers can offer a quiet enclosed space for conference calls or a project requiring concentration. Image courtesy of Jabbrrbox

Jabbrrbox One is a new product that helps address the acoustical challenges of open plan offices. This 48” x 48” x 90” single occupancy booth provides a distraction-free place for conference calls, lengthy projects or hyper-focused work. Jabbrrbox One comes pre-equipped with a Philips Hue LED light strip capable of producing 16 million different colors, power outlets and USB charging ports.

Proximity to nature can also enhance workplace productivity. A number of NeoCon exhibitors displayed vegetation on “living walls”, and this popular trend has already been embraced by companies including Capital One whose Chicago offices I toured while in town for NeoCon.

Capitol One Labs; Chicago, IL; Skender Construction; Darris Lee Harris Job#1314
Capital One employees can take a break or conduct a meeting “outdoors” even on the coldest Chicago day. Image courtesy of Capital One

Chicago winters can be rough, but it’s always bright and warm in the breakout area on the 22nd floor that simulates a rooftop terrace complete with grass flooring and living wall.

Known as The Shop, the 22nd floor is home to creative tech teams who enjoy walls with writable surfaces, colorful murals by local street artists and a maker’s lab. Stocked with a 3-D printer and art materials like Play-doh and construction paper, the maker’s lab provides associates with a place to get away from the work at hand.

Having a place to play has heightened their productivity.

So have the variety of lounge-like seating areas on the three floors of the building that I toured where Capital One Chicago employees enjoy all the comforts of home.