Five Reasons People are More Important Than Buildings

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The word “office” doesn’t mean what it used to. Elizabeth Dukes gives us five reasons that offices should be more about the people than the place.

The "war room" at Zimmerman Architectural Studios' Milwaukee HQ. Photo courtesy of Zimmerman.
The “war room” at Zimmerman Architectural Studios’ Milwaukee HQ. Photo courtesy of Zimmerman.

The word “office” doesn’t mean what it used to. When workers refer to going into the office, they could mean they’re heading to the brick-and-mortar building that houses their company, but they could also be referring to the unlimited expanse of the digital and technological world that connects the workforce in previously unimaginable ways. Today’s office travels where the worker goes.

This worker-centric structure requires that the workspace be flexible, mobile, and managed by technology. Times are changing, and the office needs to keep up. Here are five ways offices should already be putting people first.


Along with technological advances, there’s also an uptick in workers’ need to be collaborative. Thus, the ubiquitous “conference room” is changing, too — and that includes what they’re called. Sure, some are still called meeting rooms, but you may also hear names like “huddle rooms,” “enclaves,” and “collaboration spaces.” These are names that challenge the notion that a group of people will simply assemble in a room and assign tasks to the guy who forgot to show up. Instead, the people convening in these rooms will brainstorm, they will focus, they will draw upon one another’s strengths, and they will come up with ideas and answers.


This isn’t just about staying young and hip. It’s about attracting the best and the brightest people by offering the best workspace for them. Today’s college graduate is thinking about what his or her life will be like working for this company, both inside and outside the confines of your building’s walls. And they should, since they’ll be spending their days (and often nights) working. Whether they’re in a corporate mega-campus on acres of rolling hills, the 37th floor of a downtown high-rise, in a hotel room or a customer’s office, on a plane, at Starbucks, or even on their sofa at home, they will likely spend more time working than not.


In fact, Americans are spending more time at work than ever before — and more time at work than anyone else in the world. The average workweek for an American worker is up to 46 hours, which adds up to 378 more hours per year than the average German worker. We also take fewer vacation days than anyone else. Furthermore, we’re not finished when we leave the office. One recent survey found that the average American worker spends an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls after normal work.


The more productive your worker can be, the more quickly and effectively they can get the job done — and the happier they’ll be. The traditional office forces the worker to adapt to a fairly rigid infrastructure that doesn’t foster creativity or collaboration; people simply don’t perform at their best when confined. After all, every worker is connected to nearly every other worker in the organization in some way. Thus, they need to be able to easily share and access everything they’re working on 24/7, whether or not they are physically in the office. That means that information can’t just be on a piece of paper in a folder in a cabinet — it needs to be on a document placed directly in the cloud.


CEOs, CFOs, and facilities managers can take advantage of this change in today’s worker to reduce the overall spending on real estate. That will mean promoting worker mobility and investing in technologies that connect workers, such as the cloud. Companies can proactively prepare for the changing workspace and become more innovative with their facilities, work-from-home policies, real estate costs, and more. While the corporation increases productivity and reduces the cost of hosting workers, employees can be more productive and experience a better work/life balance.

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