How workspace design can help you win the race for talent

It’s getting more challenging to find the right people to fill roles across a wide range of sectors. In fact, the latest Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends survey found that 93% of employers say they’ve experienced hiring difficulties over the past 12 months, increasing from 86% in 2021 and 77% in 2020, which is a very significant increase in a short timeframe. However, the good news is that there are ways to boost both the recruitment of new staff, and the retention of existing employees. Key to safeguarding an organisation’s brain trust and ensuring business continuity, providing the best basis for innovation and growth, and ensuring competitive advantage, is the creation of a workspace that doesn’t just fulfil expectations, but exceeds them.

As you might expect, aspects such as salary, culture, opportunities for progression, and work-life balance are always going to be effective in attracting the cream of the crop when it comes to recruiting for new staff. However, as people spend such a large proportion of their time at work (whether in the office or WFH), then the working environment is also a significant factor when it comes to making decisions about which vacancies to apply for or which job offer to accept.

Digital workspaces for a seamless experience

Despite a well-documented drive towards in-office working by some business leaders (Amazon, BlackRock and even Zoom have hit the headlines for their increasingly office-centric working policies over the past few months), the appeal of hybrid working is holding firm amongst workers. The Chartered Institute of Professional Development’s research has even discovered that around four million people (12% of employees) have changed careers due to a lack of flexible working. This means it’s still the case that the digital workspace is just as important as the physical one, and organisations would not only do well to offer a hybrid option, but ensure a seamless experience between the two workspaces, making it easy for staff to work wherever they are without niggles or speedbumps.

Also, with 75% of the workforce digital native by 2025, expectations – especially from entry-level and more junior staff, who are perhaps best thought of as tomorrow’s home-grown directors – have risen in terms of workspace technology. With entertainment, socialising and life admin all done online, often via user-friendly mobile devices, it’s only natural for anyone who’s grown up digital to expect the technology they use at work to function as easily and effectively. This aspect is particularly important when you’re looking at recruiting graduate intakes, or bolstering the talent applying for the most junior roles, as younger generations arguably perceive more advanced technology as the norm, because it’s all they’ve ever known.

That said, it’s not even really about the tech as such – in many ways this should recede into the background an ‘just work’. What is key is to facilitate productivity and connectivity. “Technology should just work, without troubleshooting, or having to go and find the right cable or download a new piece of software,” says Sajan Shivshanker, Chief Operating Officer at Aura. “Workspace technology shouldn’t be about the product as such; it should be designed to relieve pain points and solve problems, control costs, improve productivity and efficiency, and elevate the experiences of both staff and customers. This doesn’t come from a particular technology, it comes from choosing the right products and integrating them for the right tailored solution that supports business objectives.”

The importance of physical workspaces

There are of course many benefits in terms of productivity when hybrid working is embraced – deep thinking work is arguably easier without interruptions, and many people find working from home particularly helpful if their role includes a lot of this – but there are also a number of advantages to being together in a physical workspace that cannot be entirely replicated, however good the technology is and however carefully workflows and processes have been tailored. This means the physical workspace is never going to lose its importance, aside from any preference for in-office working amongst some business leaders, and  therefore is likely to be a deciding factor in candidates’ decision-making when it comes to replying to job offers.

Spaces must be designed with workforce priorities and preferences in mind, in order to appeal to new starts, and also to provide an experience that current employees won’t want to leave. Key factors driving the return to the office include the importance of learning by osmosis (more junior staff, especially, can only develop their skillsets and learn from others by being around when work is done), and also the desire to be social (if COVID taught us one thing, it’s how important our social networks are), so it’s really important that sufficient focus is given to areas used by people for downtime, and also those spaces where teams get together or training is carried out (whether formally or informally).

Also, people are realising that it’s impossible to ask a casual question, or spitball ideas spontaneously, when working remotely – everything is more likely to be planned and scheduled, which can cramp innovation and creativity. There are plenty of workers who would rather be in the office, but of course they want an environment which supports their work objectives and is pleasant to be in. This all means that an organisation’s workspaces must not just provide a productivity-enhancing environment and the right equipment and spaces, but be attractive and comfortable to be in.

People, peace, and productivity

But there is something of a challenge in creating the right comfort levels, too. Several years of working from home has meant that people returning to the office are no longer used to coping with a communal workspace – perhaps they find background noise more distracting, that their breaks are less revitalising without home comforts on hand, or the lack of autonomous control over environmental factors such as light levels and ambient temperatures. Adopting a human-centric approach to the design and layout is critical.

At home, we don’t encounter the problems of sitting in a draught right below the air con unit or overheating because we’re too close to the radiator or in the full glare of the sun, we are never distracted by loud conversations held across from our cluster, and we can have full control over the comfort levels we enjoy during our screen breaks. These considerations should be part of the workspace design process, too, so that the individual lack of control over the environment does not become a factor which plays a part in staff moving on to pastures new. Tools such as sound masking systems and workspace control apps, combined with a thoughtful approach to design and specification, can help give employees an experience that involves almost as much autonomy and comfort as their home offices.

As well as offsetting the comforts of home by meeting workers’ needs better, workspaces which support company culture, offer leisure and wellbeing facilities, and have an appealing aesthetic can help to both attract and retain the cream of the crop – who wouldn’t want to work in an office which could rival an upmarket hotel in terms of ambience and amenities? These are all pieces of the puzzle that combine to create the sort of workspace that sets people up to perform at their best, crucially while also enabling them to prioritize their own wellbeing. This creates a more sustainable approach to recruitment; it’s what will attract the kind of new hires that will want to join, give their best, and stay long term.

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