What Do Your Employees Care About Most in the Workplace?

Workspace design is an increasingly critical part of attracting new talent and keeping employees happy and productive. But it can be a challenge for companies to stay on top of the latest trends while satisfying different generations of workers. That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing a real shift away from the isolation of cubicles and the sprawl of open floor plans in favor of employee-centric design, workplace strategy best practices, and organizational wellbeing.

A recent survey from Capital One asked 3,500 full-time office professionals across the U.S. how workplace design impacts their satisfaction, creativity, and productivity. The survey found that employees deeply value flexibility and adaptability in their workspace and expect their environment to support their physical and mental health.

Based on the results, professionals perform at their best in dynamic and adaptable spaces that can accommodate diverse work styles and take a holistic approach to wellbeing. With that in mind, here are three takeaways for creating a workspace that empowers employees to reach their full potential.

Put Workers at the Center of Design

The right layout can be a major benefit to employee productivity, with 90 percent of employees saying they perform better in a well-designed workplace. And two out of three employees say this type of workspace inspires them to think in innovative ways.

There are, however, generational differences in how employees value their surroundings, with Millennials tending to have the highest expectations from their work environment. Overall, 35 percent of Millennials claim design is the critical element in choosing a work environment, compared to 32 percent of Boomers, and 28 percent of Gen Xers. Indeed, 24 percent of Millennials surveyed say that workplace design is even more important than workplace location.

On the whole, this difference in priorities reflects the growing demand for spaces that are innovative, beautifully designed, and rich in features and amenities. However, many businesses fall short when it comes to meeting these criteria. More than half of all employees feel their company’s current workspace doesn’t support or encourage the best performance.

So, what do employees yearn for—and lack—most in their workspace? The top demands, according to those surveyed, are natural light (58%), spaces for rest and relaxation (50%), individual work areas to concentrate (45%), the integration of natural and organic materials (26%), easily reconfigurable/modular furniture and spaces (24%), and areas for collaboration (22%).

Get Flexible and Adaptable

Employees want flexibility in both their schedules and workspaces. In addition to flexible hours, employees desire the freedom to choose how and where to work, with a workspace that adapts to their varied preferences. Nearly three-quarters of employees say flexible, modular workplaces improve their productivity and creativity.

In fact, 65 percent report being more productive when they’re able to regularly change their physical location with their office. Moreover, 73 percent say they have their best ideas when they’re able to access flexible, multi-use spaces and furniture arrangements, and a variety of standing and sitting options. And 24 percent cite modular furniture and spaces as their most desired design element at work.

The most productive workplaces offer areas that strike a balance between focused, solitary work and collaborative, cross-functional work. These two approaches carry nearly equal weight among employees, with 88 percent saying they need dedicated spaces for focused, heads-down work, and 77 percent saying they need spaces for creative collaboration.

Most businesses will have both introverts and extroverts on the payroll, and offices need to accommodate both types of personalities—as well as those in between. In other words, being able to personalize a workspace is vital to making employees feel valued. A 2019 Harvard study found that employees, by a margin of 42 percent to 28 percent, would rather be able to personalize their work environment than have unlimited vacation time.

Connect to the Great Outdoors

A resounding 87 percent of employees believe that workplace design affects their physical and mental health with Millennials (44 percent) and Boomers (41 percent) feeling most strongly that this is the case.

A key to improving overall employee wellbeing (along with creativity and productivity) is to satisfy our deep and fundamental need to be connected to nature. More than half of all employees crave a visual connection to nature, such as natural light, windows, or office views, and 45 percent want a more physical connection, such as outdoor spaces for working, relaxing, and socializing. Meanwhile, 31 percent would like more natural and organic materials in the office, like indoor plants and water installations.

It’s not surprising, then, that more than half of employees said natural light (followed by areas for rest and relaxation) had the greatest impact on their physical and emotional wellbeing at work. A study from Cornell showed that employees seated within 10 feet of a window reported an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision.

The overall body of research proves what many of us already knew—that creating an environment conducive to employee happiness, engagement, and wellbeing can yield better performance for a business as a whole. What’s new is the bigger picture this data paints about workplace design. As we’ve seen, companies that take a dynamic and employee-centric approach will be best positioned to help their employees—and themselves—succeed.