NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Companies that want to attract and retain top talent are finding that a "millennial-friendly" culture and open office design are putting them ahead of the competition. Workplaces with collaboration spaces, gaming areas and communal kitchens are becoming more common as businesses look to cater to the needs of a digital generation that places a premium on work/life balance. With millennials projected to make up 46% of the workforce by 2020, companies know they've got to redesign or get left behind. If you're ready to remodel, here's a look at five of the most important changes you'll need to consider.
Open, collaborative spaces with wipe boards
Millennials are discerning in how they select employment, says Neil Grimmer, CEO and co-founder of Plum Organics, an organic baby food company with 100 employees, half of whom are millennials. Today, Grimmer says his office environment is a direct reflection of company culture.
"Everyone wants a more open office plan these days, with collaborative space for impromptu, flexible jam sessions," Grimmer says. "When you have big open spaces with wipe boards, it allows the thinking to come out of people's heads and onto the walls. Visualizing your work is powerful because you can see the evolution of an idea and add to it."
The Plum offices are undergoing renovations that will take their current 8,000 square feet space to 23,000 and include more communal meeting areas, a larger kitchen and "war rooms."
"Offices that always have everyone in a separate cube are missing the point," Grimmer says. "There is certainly a time and a place for head-down work, but there is also a need for collaboration."
It's not just hip tech firms and media startups with communal dining areas these days, says Scott Spector, principal at architecture and interior design firm Spector Group. Law firms, accounting firms, financial services and hedge funds are embracing the need for a company cafe and casual meeting area.
"We're starting to see it take hold everywhere — even in companies where people have to wear suits to work every day," he says. "Millennials want work/life balance. They don't get in at 9 and leave at 5, and not every conversation they have needs to be held in a formal meeting room or office. They want a cafe or lounge that feels more homey."
The most popular office kitchens are multifunctional, Spector says, and many have long communal tables or are set up to look like a diner or coffee shop.
"You're no longer seeing the skinny galley kitchen that you sneak through to get coffee. You're seeing full kitchens with pantries, banquette seating and gaming areas," he says. "It feels residential, like you're in your own home. These are places where you might actually want to sit with a coworker and have a conversation."
Fluid workspaces and standing desks
Technology has allowed people to work from anywhere, anytime with a smartphone and a laptop, and more offices are embracing that mobile culture, Grimmer says.
"Technology has enabled us to be far more flexible. We can stay connected in some of the most remote parts of the world and still be a team," he explains. "People don't have to sit in the same spot, in the same building every day to be a valuable member of an organization."
Increasingly, companies are opting against permanent desk spaces for employees, instead encouraging "hoteling," where staff members choose a new desk space every day.
"We see people standing all day at bar areas, or with small rolling desks that are mobile. They never sit in the same place twice, and many of them are electing to stand all day," Spector says.
Standing desks — which aren't cheap — have become hugely popular in the past five years as people have learned the importance of staying active during the workday, he says.
"Adjustable desks are huge right now. People love being able to sit for part of their day and stand for part of their day," Spector says.
A gym and/or wellness room
Millennials are looking to work for companies that value the health and wellness of their employees, Grimmer says. Plum is installing a workout facility as part of its expansion that will include standard workout equipment, yoga and bootcamp-style classes.
"They're looking for companies to acknowledge that they are an individual with a family and a life outside of work," Grimmer says. "Most people put in long hours at the office and they don't always have time to get to the gym for a workout. We wanted to make it really easy for people to carve out that time for themselves."
Plum also has a nursing room on site for new moms.
"As you can imagine, as a baby food business we attract a lot of new and expectant mothers," Grimmer says. "We wanted to make sure we were accommodating all the ways new moms want to engage with work. Smart companies are saying, 'How do we make this an exciting place for new parents to find a home and grow a career?'"
Gaming and outdoor spaces
Some companies are literally having a ball at work, Spector says. Foosball tables, pool tables and Ping-Pong tables are increasingly appearing in common areas, Spector says.
"We put a bocce court in one office," he says. "Those things are really long and take up a heck of a lot of real estate, but when it's not in use, it's a little cafe with seating that can be moved really quickly. People have figured out how to get the most out of their space."
Companies have also started offering more outdoor "green" spaces, which seem to go hand-in-hand with a more lenient overall policy on pets.
"We're seeing more recreation than we've ever seen. Work can be stressful, and companies are giving their employees those opportunities to decompress and blow off some steam."
— By Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet