31 May 2017

We have reached a natural turning point in how we approach workplace design writes Natalie Slessor, Global Head of Workplace at Lendlease. 'Millennials in the workplace: healthier and happier by design' published on Business Matters discusses how Lendlease is responding to the changing workplace needs of the next generation and in turn combating the UK's sedentary workplace culture at its new commercial development, International Quarter London.

Consultancies, HR teams and Boards all over the UK are in agreement that the health of their employees and productivity go hand in hand. And the next generation know it too— no longer simply accepting the way things have been done in the past.

In fact, nearly six in 10 millennials say that work-life balance and wellbeing is “very important” to them, according to research by global performance-management consulting company Gallup. So with a war on talent ever increasing and wellbeing high among candidates’ priorities, it is startling to think that many businesses are falling short on this now essential criteria.

In a recent study commissioned by Lendlease and LCR, joint developers of International Quarter London, almost a quarter of the 2,000 British employees surveyed said their workplace still did not include the space to incorporate movement easily into their day and a startling 84 per cent said they would not feel comfortable being more active in case management or clients perceived this as “strange”. This situation is simply unsustainable.

But there is a natural turning point, which business leaders should be taking full advantage of. As millennials increasingly become the backbone of the workplace, there is a real opportunity to align our workplace designs to use the physical environment as both a solution to combat widespread inactivity at work and as a valuable tool to create a culture that supports and attracts talent.

In practice, this means companies using workplace design to drive change.  By speaking with employees, seeing their needs and their habits, business leaders can start readdressing how the environment, and specifically the office, can encourage healthy work habits and improve overall wellbeing.

For example, there are the ‘hard’ changes – is the workplace fit for the operational purpose of the business and does it facilitate movement? But there are also ‘soft’ changes – are there creative spaces that people want to work in, can socialise in, and be proud of? Increasingly, we will come to expect workplaces that seamlessly blend both aspects. The combination of the two can be a powerful force, and be key to unlocking employee engagement and heightened performance, both of which ultimately benefits the bottom line and longer term health of an organisation.

Similarly, it is the role of developers to work collaboratively with organisations to build workspaces that are designed around the changing needs and habits of its staff, to enable the healthiest, engaged and most productive work possible. The two must go hand-in hand.

New office environments and holistic business destinations created from scratch are a rare opportunity for business leaders to press the reset button. And we’re beginning to see signs that businesses in the UK are coming alive to this concept, with workplaces designed with the mobile generation in mind at International Quarter London in Stratford. Indoor and outdoor facilities will be meshed, and the office space itself will be changeable. All of this creates a holistic solution that puts wellbeing first and builds an environment matched to the needs of individual businesses.

If holding a team meeting outside on the grass in the summer, or changing the location by meeting in a coffee shop rather than a board room, is good for employee wellbeing, then employers should have connected facilities in mixed-use communities to get people up from their desks and engaging in a new space. All this makes a difference to inactivity and goes some way to change perceptions of a company.

Ultimately, as the war for talent intensifies and the importance of wellbeing and corporate culture increases, the organisations that grasp the value of intelligent workplace design will secure a real competitive advantage. A workplace that genuinely supports wellbeing is what the next generation not only wants, but expects.

Natalie Slessor is Global Head of Workplace at Lendlease, developer of the £2.4 billion International Quarter London.