Everything You Need to Know from the 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey

Leading architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm Gensler recently released its 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey complete with this overarching advice: moderation is key. The survey of more than 6,000 people working full-time across the United States is aimed at understanding the key issues facing the modern workplace and unpacking pervasive narratives. Clocking in at 34 pages of revealing insights and useful infographics, it’s a lot to digest. What Gensler concluded in a nutshell, however, is that “what people really want from their workplace is a great experience.” So, how can employers deliver?

Here are our key takeaways.

Hot Topics

Gensler notes that we’ve ended up with a rhetoric of extremes around the workplace. One example is the persistent debate of open vs. closed offices, which is especially unproductive without a consistent definition of what each entails (not to mention that most offices are somewhere in between). Another hot-button issue is the thinking around office amenities. As the concept of a workplace “perk” continues to evolve, it’s increasingly difficult to determine whether an amenity is truly making good on its purported benefits. More on that later.

Recommendation: Polarized conversations tend to be more complex than they appear — it’s not so much about picking sides as it is about understanding how your own company works best and implementing complementary workplace strategies.

Diversity of Needs and Expectations

Today’s workforce spans five generations, with Millennials the largest contingent and Gen Z beginning to enter the fray. These younger workers have a preference for employers that hold the same values as they do and the expectation of a healthy work/life balance which, according to Gensler, is “driving organizations to increasingly compete on experience and purpose.” Demographics are changing too, as more women and people of color are entering and excelling in the workforce.

Recommendation: It’s a known quantity that companies with diverse makeups perform better, so reflecting the needs and expectations of this evolving talent pool is a smart move all-around.

Choice and Autonomy

Gensler says that people are spending more time collaborating, socializing, and learning at work than ever before and that these “non-focus behaviors” have a direct connection to greater business performance and innovation. While 44 percent of respondents said they work in a “balanced workplace” (defined by Gensler as workplaces that successfully prioritize both individual and collaborative work), the majority still don’t.

Recommendation: Offering employees greater choice and autonomy in where and how they work is one way to engender high-performance behaviors.

Experience and Effectiveness in Tandem

An effectively optimized work environment is not the only predictor of success, it turns out. There is also the importance of an employee’s experience in the workplace to consider. Together, they give a fuller look at employee engagement and performance. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Gensler notes that workplaces that optimize effectiveness and experience in tandem are consistently associated with the highest employee engagement and performance scores. Similarly, those that scored poorly on both fronts ranked the lowest. 16% of overall respondents reported a mix, i.e., people working in the consumer goods, nonprofit, and media industries tended to be highly engaged employees with ineffective workplace, whereas a number of respondents from the legal industry reported effective workplaces with poor experiences.

Recommendation: Create a workplace strategy that optimizes for both work environment functionality and employee experience — the synergistic effect will result in maximum productivity.

Space to Focus

On average, survey respondents, particularly women, would like greater levels of privacy than they currently have at work, and most prefer “open environments with ample on-demand private space to support individual, focused work.” On the other hand, respondents across genders and generations said the“best” workplaces overall are those that support “team building and collaboration.” Gensler says that while these desires may appear at odds with one another, they should be treated as equally important.

Recommendation: Employers should offer a variety of spaces that accommodate privacy and focus alongside more open spaces that prioritize connection, collaboration, and innovation.

Amenities That Optimize

As companies get more and more creative with “perks” it’s important to identify which to invest in and which to avoid. Gensler reports that the amenities that deliver the greatest impact are those that connect directly to people’s “most salient needs and preferences” — in other words, “amenities aren’t for escaping work, they’re for optimizing.” Gensler also notes that work-focused amenities are one way to encourage people to work in a more mobile fashion — behavior that is associated with higher performance, as well as an interesting relationship between spending time outside the office entirely and great experience.

Recommendation: For the best ROI, invest in work-focused amenities that align with the direct needs and priorities of people’s jobs.

Conclusion

These are just some of the salient takeaways from a very comprehensive report that is definitely worth a read. All told, the message is that there are a number of factors that need to align to create an optimal workplace. Gensler suggests that we shift the language we use to talk about the workplace entirely, away from “dichotomous discussions” and towards the gamut of considerations that should inform a robust workplace strategy.