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5 Things We Learned At The CoreNet Global Summit

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The theme of this year’s CoreNet Global Summit – hosted October 14-17 in Boston – was “What’s Next? Exploiting Uncertainty”. Judging by the breakout session topics – everything from AI to well-being; Gen Z wants and needs to measuring experience per square foot – the theme is apt. There’s no shortage of opportunity, or uncertainty, to exploit. Your job is decide where to start.

Here are five key takeaways from the sessions we attended.

Well-being is good – until it means no more “tater tot Tuesdays”

In the first session we attended – “Against All Odds: Designing for Change Amidst Uncertainty” – we learned about the new workplace guidelines that ASD|SKY and CBRE have helped implement at McKesson’s headquarters in San Francisco.

No small task, building out the 525,000 square foot campus and moving this 185-year-old company out of cubicles and into a more mobile environment – in 11 months.

The change management process included taking user groups through “day in the life” activities, thinking first how they move through their day in the old environment, which offered only three space-type choices (offices, cubes, and conference rooms). From there, they showed employees nine space types, encouraging them to think about how they’d broaden their workdays in a new environment with more choices to support a variety of tasks. This went a long way to get employees excited about what they’d gain, and less concerned with what they were “losing” as they moved out of their old space.

More difficult was managing the change to a WELL environment, in which unhealthy food items would be limited to encourage better eating habits and food culture. In particular, employees lamented the loss of beloved “tater tot Tuesdays”. Again, the change team – which included change champion committees dedicated to design, employee engagement, and health and wellness, among others – was mindful to highlight what wasn’t changing, and emphasized what the employees would gain (or lose, in a good way, since we’re talking about healthier habits) in the new environment.

Nine out of 10 Gen Z’ers say an organization’s tech sophistication would impact their decision to work there

We got to this one early and overheard other audience members chatter before the panel discussion began:

“They’re different,” someone in front of us said, ominously, to her colleague. “They’re not like millennials.

Dun dun dun.

Born between 1995-2010, Gen Z’ers share a desire for more security and stability at work and in life. According to the presenters – Heather Turner Loth and Allison Pfeifer of Eppstein Uhen Architects – this is because of cultural influences on Gen Z as they grew up, especially seeing their parents affected by the financial crisis. They also crave authenticity and want authentic experiences in their own environment.

Based on a survey that EUA conducted, Turner Loth and Pfeifer identified five other drivers that will influence Gen Z’s experience in the workplace:

1) Limitless connection

“This generation grew up with iPhones in hand 24/7, 365 days per year,” said Turner Loth. “They’re overconnected, but there’s FOMO [if they unplug].” In the EUA survey, 68 percent of Gen Z said collaboration and socialization provides the greatest level of satisfaction with a work experience. This can be supported by various meeting settings and centralized hubs that give employees many options for connecting. The presenters believe a shared sense of purpose is what will keep Gen Z in the same job longer.

2) Purposeful environments

Gen Z is entering the workplace after spending years in active learning environments, where they’ve grown comfortable using a variety of spaces, depending on what they’re learning or studying. In the EUA survey, 8/10 Gen Z’ers said they prefer a mix of team individual work throughout the day. Workplaces must provide support for both types of working with a variety of settings.

3) Personal well-being

In the survey, 55 percent of Gen Z’ers said work-life balance is key when choosing an employer. The presenters suggested that, based on these desires, organizations should spend less time worrying about workplace amenities and more time looking at well-rounded benefits packages and providing more mobility and flexibility for employees.

4) Transparency

Due in part to living through the financial crisis and, now, an age of fake news and data breaches, stability and transparency are more important to Gen Z than past generations. In the survey, 50 percent said they’d prefer that team leadership sit within the immediate proximity of their work environment. Visual access to leaders, a well-integrated expression of brand, and secure access – both physically and virtually – all play well with Gen Z.

5) Infused technology

This is a generation who grew up with tech in their hands. A recent IBM study found that Gen Z uses the majority of their free time – up to 5 hours per day – on screens. A Monster survey discovered that 9/10 Gen Z’ers said that a company’s technology sophistication would impact their decision to work there.

Working outside makes us more productive, more creative and happier

If we could have attended some of these conference sessions outside in Boston Common, we would have, and Leigh Stringer knows why.

In her work with L.L.Bean’s “Be an Outsider at Work” campaign, she’s exploring the benefits of getting outside more often during the workday. Their research shows that employees who do are more productive, more creative, and happier. So what’s holding them back? Really simple things, it turns out. In their survey of 1,000 Americans who work 9-5 jobs, the majority of respondents said they’d love to work outside more, but three things get in the way: bugs, weather, and certain aspects of their jobs, including screen glare, WiFi, concern about what the boss thinks, and just plain old inertia.

Aside from the weather, these are easy things to solve for. So L.L.Bean partnered with Industrious to mount pop-up co-working spaces in parks across New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Madison, Wisc. to show how easy and fun it is to work outside. They provided lots of soft-seating, strategically covered certain spots to mitigate screen glare, and provided power and WiFi. The pop-ups were a hit in every city.

Still, an audience member remained skeptical, saying that he has outdoor space at work, but no one uses it because of a perception that employees who do are slacking.

“Change management 101” was Stringer’s suggestion: if it’s something important to the company, “get leadership to sit out there and conduct meetings.”

How do you measure employee experience per square foot?

We don’t know, but as companies increasingly prioritize employee experience as a driver behind engagement, Cushman & Wakefield is trying. If they crack the code, they believe they’ll be able to help resolve three critical C-suite challenges: winning the war for talent, bolstering productivity, and optimizing spend.

Their new Experience per SF™ (EPS2) approach – which combines surveys, observation, and focus groups – allows them to look at employee experience across 33 attributes and 10 experience outcomes to help clients “score” their workplace experience and see where they need to improve.

“It’s a simple idea,” said Bryan Berthold, the Managing Director for Workplace Strategy & Change Management within C&W’s Strategic Consulting practice. “If you look at employee engagement, there’s something missing. The workplace. How many real estate questions are on an engagement survey?”

“Place has a purpose and it’s up to us to define, measure, and prove that real estate is truly making a positive impact on the people,” he added.

“We are freaking people out with workplace projects”

Ha, yeah we are. But Angie Earlywine, Principal and Director of Advisory Services at BatesForum, had some tips for alleviating this in her “Workplace 911: NOT So Best Practices Revealed” presentation.

For one thing, “there’s no one size fits all,” she said. “We must do studies to find out how employees are really working.”

From there, she urged the audience to never proceed without stakeholder engagement, alignment and a clear vision and charter statement.

“You must have this from the outset,” she said. “There’s always pressure to get a project underway. But you must be bold enough to say ‘timeout’. You need to get the right stakeholders at the table before you keep pushing ahead.”

Her other tips? Don’t be a perfectionist, don’t misjudge privacy concerns – “the minute the ‘P’ word comes up you have to ask 20 questions to diagnose the true concern, privacy is so multidimensional,” she said – and don’t skip the furniture mock-up.

As for freaking people out, she re-emphasized the importance of alignment and engaging people early and often.

“It relieves the anxiety if they’re part of the process,” she said.

WorkDesign Magazine