view from the outside of a well-lit office building at night
PHOTO: Vladimir Kudinov

Work used to mean showing up, punching the clock and retiring with a gold watch 40 years later. Those days are gone. Employees today are looking for different perks. To be honest, employees have always demanded more out of their workplaces, but the competition for talent means now their voices are heard.

The Impact of Environment on Employees

As technology quickly evolved with the tech boom of the '90s, major enterprises had to adjust how they thought of their facilities because they now had to create a competitive workplace for the influx of young technology-driven employees. One example is Microsoft. In 1985, the company decided to move its Bellevue, Wash. campus to Redmond, a move close in proximity but colossal in every other way.

Microsoft moved into the $25 million dollar facility with a humble 30-acre lot and 800 employees. By 1992, the total office space was 17 million square feet and encompassed 260 acres of land. Currently, Microsoft is adding an additional 1.4 million square feet to its massive and famous campus. The digitally-focused company led the way for companies like Apple and Google, both known for their impressive campuses to create employee-centric workplaces.

Although tech behemoths may have built workplaces designed with the employee in mind, most of America was stuck in workplaces that were not designed with employee satisfaction as central to the mission. In fact, many buildings weren’t even designed for optimal efficiency for the enterprises they served. But the ever-evolving workplace has always been built by employee demand and the quest to retain the brightest talent. From the unions during the Industrial Revolution that demanded safer workplaces to the integration of the workplace post-WWII, employees have sought to take charge of their environment when it came to where and how they work.

It was only a matter of time before the digital workplace was a demand, not a perk, for American employees and a selling point for US companies.

Related Article: Designing a Smarter Workplace: Blend Online and Offline Work

The Employee-Centric Digital Workplace

It’s 2019, and the digital workplace is completely contingent on employees’ expectations. It’s become essential for employers to elicit feedback from their employees: What employees want versus what the company thinks they want is vital for a cohesive working environment. Implementing fancy tech for tech’s sake isn’t going to create loyal employees. In fact, according to a 2018 Gallup report, 63% of workers are disengaged at work — which spells a crisis. Although reading the feedback may at times be uncomfortable, solutions like anonymous surveys can go a long way to increase engagement. 

With today’s competitive market, companies need to be innovative when it comes to integrating tech into the workplace. Attracting top talent means that workplaces need to be as agile as the technology employees use every day. That means responding to employees’ needs at the push of a button. Anything less than that means low engagement becomes a real possibility and with a booming job market, employees won’t hesitate to look for greener pastures.

A truly connected workplace means employees have access to all facets of the company. How does technology create a digitally connected workplace? IoT and sensor technology can make the physical building work seamlessly, but the real way employees connect digitally is by being able to communicate with their colleagues and find their colleagues instantly, leading to collaboration and productivity. It’s being able to plan a meeting and know that the conference room will already be set up to meet your needs. It’s about knowing when the next company outing will be or what’s on the lunch menu that day. That combination of information + services + choice = an incredible employee experience that drives productivity, rather than thwarting it.

Related Article: How Human-Centered Design Helps Build Digital Workplaces That Work

How to Get Started Building an Employee-Centric Workplace

With all of the new and exciting technologies available to connect digital workplaces, it can be hard to know where to start and what technologies to deploy to create both high ROI for the organization and high satisfaction among employees. The following steps will get you started on your journey:

  1. Create a cross-departmental task force to collaborate on workplace needs.
  2. Conduct a survey to find out what employees want and need.
  3. Create a priority list that enhances both employee experience and productivity.
  4. Take it slow, there’s no need to implement everything at once.
  5. Deploy, test and redeploy until you have plenty of data to analyze.
  6. Report on the success or failure of the tools that you’ve implemented to plan for the future.

To connect in the digital workplace is to share your workplace experience with all of your colleagues, immediately. But just because we can do this seamlessly these days, doesn’t mean that employees up until now have been passive bystanders. What it does mean is that in the future, the workplace will be working for employees.