A 2016 research report by architecture and design major Gensler – ‘The Evolution of Workplace in India’, reported that a full 60% of our workforce is under 35, and by 2020, the average Indian will only be 29 years old. The report also touches upon how a ‘one-size-fits-all’ workplace does not do justice to the multicultural, multilingual, and multi-generational Indian workforce.
This is in line with the trajectory many countries are on, because wider studies, such as PWC’s ‘Millennials at work. Reshaping the workplace‘, point out that by 2020, millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. Such data always gets me thinking about how this affects my area of work – workspace design.
Traditionally, offices were seen as no more than a space in which to work. Little thought was given to enabling productivity, and there were certainly no features to enhance positivity in the workplace. Such a concept was unheard of even. Workspaces were basic, intensely hierarchical, and purely pragmatic.
Today, there is a growing realisation among my clients and business leaders with whom I interface, that the Indian workforce has matured greatly. It is global in its outlook, but needs employer sensitivity and workspace design that reflects its specific ethos.
I’ve talked in the past about Steelcase, and how design can bring about more engaged work teams. Another set of rich resources I use are the reports put out by industry leaders in the field of corporate real estate, of which the CBRE Group’s various publications and websites are a good example.
CBRE Group is the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, and their repository of research spans across workspace strategy, occupancy management, and change management.
So, when they published their series of reports, ‘Asia Pacific Millennials: Shaping the Future of Real Estate’, and its offshoot about ‘Indian Millennials’ late last year, I read them avidly. And the following findings leapt out at me:
“85% of Indian millennials place importance on office design/layout while looking at a new job”
“Millennials are willing to go an extra mile or even take a modest pay cut for a better office environment.”
“70% of respondents said they believe employers should put more thought into their working environment and that good office design can have a positive impact on the team.”
It was a confirmation of the data I’ve been coming across in my reading, and of my own thinking that’s been taking shape over my recent interactions with students and young executives. The report goes on to poll respondents about the facilities they prefer their workspaces to offer.
While canteens came out on top, and are a near universal presence in offices today, the millennial employee thinks of coffee bars, green spaces, rest areas, sports/wellness facilities, crèches and showers, as reasonable expectations from the spaces they engage with for upwards of 40 hours a week.
While a large portion of my research as a workspace designer is material that originates in developed markets, it’s up to me to take those ideas and ‘Indianise’ them in the work I do. And workspace design in India today is about catering to the needs of a largely young workforce – Millennials – because they are the workforce that my customer wants to attract and retain.
For employers from earlier generations (those of us born between the mid-60’s and the early 80’s) such thinking represents a paradigm shift in workspace builds. And as a designer, it’s my job to bring about that shift about in my projects, while still answering my clients’ business needs and expectations.
Office design that engages the millennial mindset may seem like an easy prospect. After all, we have the data on what they want, and examples of stellar youth-centric office designs for Google and others. Executing them to (mostly) Gen X clients’ requirements on cost, timeline and efficiency, is a whole different matter.
One recent and highly enriching experience that comes to mind was the extensive (and intensive) Mumbai and Pune offices overhaul for a large European multinational Bank. While the specifics are pertinent to a stand-alone post about the project, the essence is what I wish to reiterate here.
The project’s builds involved hours of what we like to call proto-thinking, before my team and I got to design and presentation models and I often found myself processing seemingly random behavioural cues from my end-users that had nothing to do with design per se. For example, my research and reading had suggested to me that Millennials need to be praised in public, but they wanted to be criticised in private – and this had implications for the method I used to zone and create closed spaces during the design and build.
Eventually, the final designs were fine-tuned over 25 times to arrive at its present form. But that’s the level of behind-the-scenes trial-and-retooling it takes to methodically arrive at an engaging and intuitive workplace design, which meets the wide range of needs of multiple stakeholders – especially those of Millennial employees.
While research and editorials by thought-leaders like the CBRE Group inform and guide my thinking, I also like to stay in sync by directly interacting with young people. This I do by visiting colleges and sharing my knowledge as often as I can. Industry events are another avenue where I can observe and engage with this group, and I seize those opportunities whenever they present themselves. Each encounter is eye-opening in one way or another.
Millennials come into the workplace with a more open-spirited, and hands-on approach to make a positive impact in the workplace than we did. They view business positively; a Deloitte poll I just came across shows that 76 percent of their Millennial respondents say businesses, in general, are having a positive impact on the wider society in which they operate. Interestingly, Millennials said that it is primarily via the workplace that they feel most able to make an impact.
They feel engaged when their values, needs, and interests are aligned to those of their employer. Subsequently, they want a sense of connectedness at work, and expect their employer, and by extension their offices, to optimise these connections along with their talent, health, happiness and productivity – a paradigm shift in design thinking that I’m proud and excited to be catering to.