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How Workspaces Are Changing to Meet Worker Needs

May 8, 2018

by Elizabeth Ballou

Content Creator & Marketer, Clutch

It can be hard to know how to optimize today's many types of workspaces for employee happiness. Clutch's 2018 Future of Work survey suggested that people most value comfortable, inviting workspaces with flexible working arrangements and built-in communities, which has continued with the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated April 15, 2022

In the 1950s, office workers could expect to do their jobs from corner offices or large, utilitarian spaces. In the 1980s, they might expect to work in cubicles. Today, open offices are popular, but so are more workspace options than ever before.

Semi-closed offices, themed rooms with nap pods, home offices, coworking locations, coffee shops, and libraries are all places where modern workers might set up their laptops.

To understand what qualities employees value in their workspaces, Clutch surveyed 1,003 knowledge workers, or part- or full-time employees who can do their jobs from a desk in 2018.

Our 2018 findings show that workers value aesthetics, comfort, flexibility, and community in the physical spaces they occupy while getting their jobs done.

It is important to note that this data was taken before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when comfortable workspaces took a new meaning – working at home.

Our 2018 Findings

  • The majority of workers (61%) value an aesthetically pleasing, comfortable workspace.
  • Approximately two-fifths of workers (39%) who value a comfortable workspace say that a dedicated desk, office, and/or meeting space is most important.
  • Over half of all workers (53%) value the flexibility to work in different locations, signaling that the trend in workers valuing workspace flexibility continues to rise.
  • A quarter of workers (25%) who value workspace flexibility do not have access to flexible work options.
  • Nearly half of workers (47%) value a community atmosphere at the place where they do their work.

Aesthetically Pleasing, Comfortable Workspaces Are Key

Workers of all ages value an environment that is pleasant: large, modern, customizable to their tastes, and comfortable to sit or stand in.

For the majority of employees (61%) in 2018, an aesthetically pleasing, comfortable workspace was the most valuable workspace trait regardless of their gender, age, or location.

What do workers value in a workspace

A workspace that is comfortable supports employees’ physical needs.

For example, an office with high-quality chairs, enough bathrooms, and space to hold meetings, eat, brainstorm, or focus supports workers’ comfort.

A workspace that is aesthetically pleasing means that the space’s physical qualities make inhabitants feel good. In a workspace, that ‘feel-good’ sense translates to a faster pace and higher quality of work.

“I like to work in environments that are clean, bright, have some color, and are well-kept. If they are trendy, even better,” noted Sarah Mitchell, a child sleep consultant in Mountain View, California. Mitchell works out of her home office but also frequents coworking spaces, coffee shops, and libraries.

When workers have access to space they find agreeable and cozy, they’re able to concentrate better and think more positively about their work.

“The state of my environment subconsciously influences my mood for the day and my productivity,” Mitchell said.

It’s hard to define ‘aesthetically pleasing,’ but a few guidelines have the weight of surveys or studies behind them:

This coworking office in Croatia is a good example of nature contact and natural lighting.

Croatia coworking space natural lighting nature contact

In addition, a workspace that’s modern, or in line with current design trends and inventions, means that workers can take advantage of the latest office technology.

A few examples of modern workspace objects or designs include:

COVID-19 has led to a world of WFH and hybrid working models – but some coworking spaces invested in protocol changes that promoted safety and flexibility for workers in need of a separate workspace. 

Comfortable workspaces – no matter the time – are key. 

Only 47% of employees in 2018 had an aesthetically pleasing, comfortable workspace. This means that 14% of workers value those qualities in a workspace, but didn't have access to them.

14% of workers value a pleasant, comfortable workspace, but don't have one

More employers should try to construct spaces that fit at least some of the criteria for modern, pleasing, and comfortable workspaces.

Additional Reading: 'Staffing and HR Trends for Small Businesses in 2022'

‘Animals in a Zoo:’ A Workspace Case Study

The fate of the Crystal City, Va. branch of TechShop, a makerspace and coworking site that declared bankruptcy in late 2017, shows how crucial physical environments are to worker happiness and productivity.

Most TechShop locations had one area for woodworking, metalworking, and 3D printing, as well as another for more traditional, office-style work.

But “TechShop never did a good job about keeping their spaces clean,” said Laurel Cummings, an innovation researcher at Building Momentum, a science and engineering consulting company. During her time at the University of Virginia, Cummings researched community-building in makerspaces.

TechShop Crystal City members said that the location’s concrete floors, glass walls, and location in the bottom of an underground mall made them feel like “animals in a zoo.”

TechShop Crystal City

As a result, they felt that their productivity dropped significantly, according to Cummings.

When TechShop declared bankruptcy, the Crystal City location closed. Many members have relocated to other makerspaces and prefer their new setups, Cummings said.

The Crystal City TechShop demonstrates how the aesthetics of a workspace can impact the work done inside it.

Aesthetically Pleasing Offices Aren’t Just for Millennials

Employees of all ages value an aesthetically pleasing, comfortable workspace, not just millennials.

Even though the media often portrays millennial workers as demanding, the desire for an aesthetically pleasing workspace goes up as workers get older. Over half (58%) of millennials in 2018 valued this quality in a workspace, whereas 64% of Generation X and 59% of baby boomers valued a workspace that looks and feels good.

Which generations value appealing, comfortable workspaces?

These numbers show that pleasant, accommodating workspaces matter to every generation.

Gen Z has mainly known a time of remote work: a lot of that generation graduated in 2019, 2020, and 2021 – during the height of the pandemic. 

Despite only knowing remote work, research states that more than half plan to leave remote work jobs for hybrid or in-person positions. 

A cozy workspace with social interaction is key for this group.

Pleasant Offices Matter During Recruitment

Companies looking to hire new employees must be aware of how they present themselves to interviewees.

Over a quarter (27%) of employees strongly agreed in 2018 that office appearance and work environment strongly influence where people decide to work. Another half (51%) agreed. Only 15% felt neutral, and 8% disagreed.

Physical environments influence the places where people work

An office that comes across as welcoming, bright, cheery, or modern is more likely to appeal to candidates than a workspace that seems dreary, closed-off, or in need of remodeling.

According to Tracy Haugen, author and director at Deloitte Consulting, 1 in 3 workers say that being able to integrate work and life is the most important factor in choosing a job.

Haugen’s findings support our research about why company culture and perks matter.

Workers Want Enough Room to Accomplish All Tasks

Workers benefit from enough room to get their work done.

Having enough space to accomplish all job tasks is a major part of feeling comfortable and at home in a workspace.

Of those who value a comfortable workspace in 2018, 39% (the largest group) said that a dedicated desk, office, and/or meeting space was the most important aspect of that workspace.

What makes a physical workspace appealing?

This indicates that respondents benefitted from enough room to get their work done.

Workspaces generally feature one of 4 main layouts:

  • Closed Office Layout: Many employees (though not necessarily all) have their own office, which is their private space.
  • Shared Office Layout: Two or more employees share private offices.
  • Cubicle Layout: Each individual has a cubicle, or a semi-enclosed work area made of movable dividers. Some employees may have a private office, but most don’t.
  • Open: Similar to the cubicle layout but without dividers. Employees work alongside each other. They may have dedicated desks or ‘hot desks,’ where workers take whichever desks are free.

The layout below is a typical cubicle workspace.

Cubicle layout office

There is no one-size-fits-all workspace plan; rather, each has advantages and disadvantages.

The ‘City’ Approach to Workspaces

Traditionally, workspaces resembled the closed or cubicle layouts. However, open workspaces like the one below have been gaining popularity.

Open workspace hackerspace office design

Proponents of open workspaces say they’re cheaper, easier to reshuffle into various configurations, and promote collaboration.

Critics of open workspaces say that they don’t provide employees with enough space and are thinly-veiled ways to cut costs.

The most versatile workspaces, though, contain both open and closed elements. That way, workers have communal areas where they can congregate, brainstorm, and hold meetings. They also have quiet, more isolated areas that are conducive to intense focus.

Flexible Workspaces Help Workers Do Their Jobs

In 2018, the ability to work in different locations was quickly becoming crucial to most employees.

Over half of all workers (53%) valued the flexibility to work in different locations. Different locations could mean multiple spaces in the same building, but it most likely means separate spaces entirely: from an office and from home, or from a coffee shop and from a coworking space.

This statistic makes workplace flexibility the second-most-valued quality in a work environment, after an aesthetically pleasing and comfortable workspace.

53% of workers value the flexibility to work in different locations

Younger workers are more likely to value work flexibility: 56% of both millennials and Generation X prioritize the ability to work where they want compared to 44% of baby boomers.

This is likely because coworking and working from home are recent workspace trends. When baby boomers entered the workforce, it wasn’t as acceptable to work from alternate configurations such as home, a coffee shop, or a library.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, a telework research company, “regular work-at-home among the non-self-employed population has grown by 115% since 2005,” which is nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.

“I like the flexibility of working wherever I am,” said Stacy Elder-Herb, communications director at WundaBar Pilates, a fitness company. “It is fantastic to wake up early and answer email in my pajamas before the sun comes up (or my kids get up) with my first cup of coffee.”

After the freedom WundaBar Pilates has given Elder-Herb, it would be hard, she said, to “show up and clock in” to a more conventional office environment. She juggles her communications role with teaching Pilates classes and raising kids, which is why workplace flexibility is essential.

For business owners, workplace flexibility means no long-term contracts or traditional tenant fees.

“We prefer to plug in wherever we are or near whoever we might need to meet with on any given day,” said David Schlais, who runs Vital Traffic Labs, a boutique digital marketing firm, with a business partner. Schlais and his partner work from coffee shops and the day offices they rent at a coworking space.

For workers of many levels and industries, flexible work options provide more freedom to accomplish a variety of tasks.

The coronavirus pandemic forced workers to adapt to the new normal of remote work, leading them in charge of their own productivity and flexibility. 

Many Employees Lack Flexible Work Opportunities

In 2018, many employees wanted to work from different locations but either weren’t permitted to or didn’t have the resources to do so.

A full quarter (25%) of workers said that workplace flexibility is a trait they valued in a workplace, but they themselves didn’t have flexibility in their work options. This is the largest group of employees who want a certain aspect in their physical workspace but don’t have it.

25% of workers value workplace flexibility, but can't work from multiple locations

Providing both enough space and enough flexibility to make employees feel in control of their work environment is key.

According to a study by Dropbox and Ipsos MORI, employees that have access to a flexible, collaborative workspace are 19% more likely to be happy at work than those who have neither. They’re also 34% more likely to feel creative.

Ultimately, giving employees flexible workspace options lets them have more control over their lives.

Community Atmospheres Encourage Knowledge Exchange

The feeling of community is another aspect that many employees value in their workplace. Nearly half (47%) valued a community atmosphere in 2018. 47% of workers value a community atmosphere in the workspace

These numbers show that workplaces should be designed with an eye for gathering people together to create community.

Younger workers are more appreciative of a community atmosphere than their older peers. At 55%, millennials were most likely to want a workplace that helps them bond with fellow employees in 2018.

which generations value community atmosphere

More than 40% of Generation X valued a community atmosphere, while only 35% of baby boomers valued it. It was referenced earlier that Gen Z workers want a more collaborative, in-person environment where they can build bonds with their co-workers. 

This may be because the internet has exposed millennials to the concept that most ideas can be made reality through the connective power of the internet.

“Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with access to the internet,” said Cummings, the makerspace researcher. “The internet has brought this idea of multi-disciplinary work to a whole new level, and it’s expected.”

Cummings first became interested in makerspaces when she visited 757 Makerspace, a collaborative workspace in Norfolk, Va. It cost money to become a member at 757 Makerspace, but the space held a free Open Make Night on the first Friday of every month.

“Anyone could come use the tools and the community expertise,” Cummings said. “It was cool to see people lending a helping hand.”

Teaching people to do something useful, whether it’s using a 3D printer or starting a company Twitter profile, is a major part of creating a sense of community.

Workspace Freedom and Good Design Are Crucial in the Modern Office

When businesses and public places of work accommodate occupants’ desires as they plan physical workspaces, workers can do more, learn more, and collaborate as they choose. This data was collected before the force shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but all of these sentiments remain true. 

A clean, well-lit, and adequately-furnished space improves workers’ moods, while enough room to accomplish tasks as diverse as holding meetings and concentrating alone gives workers the physical resources they need.

As flexible work and alternative workspace setups (such as coworking and working from home) grow more popular, workers appreciate knowing that they have the ability to work in whatever environment suits them best.

Finally, many people (especially younger workers) benefit from a space that encourages the growth of community. When people gather, they not only have fun, but learn from each other and make business connections.

As the world of work adapts to new technology and design trends, it’s more important than ever to remember what workers want.

Looking for real estate for your cozy workspace? Check out our directory of top real estate companies.

About The Survey

Clutch surveyed 1,003 employees whose work can be completed in an office.

Nearly three-fourths (73%) of respondents work full-time and are W2 employees. 12% work part-time and are W2 employees. A tenth (10%) are full-time freelancers/contractors, and 8% are part-time freelancers/contractors.

67% of those surveyed identify as women, while 33% identify as men.

35% of respondents are millennials (18-34), 41% are Generation X (35-54), and 23% are baby boomers (23%).

About Clutch

A B2B research, ratings, and reviews firm in the heart of Washington, DC, Clutch connects small and medium businesses with the best-fit agencies, software, or consultants to tackle business challenges together and with confidence. Clutch’s methodology compares business service providers and software in a specific market based on verified client reviews, services offered, work quality, and market presence.

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