Architecture & Design and Human Resources

Office design as talent attractor

Millennials aren’t impressed by the isolation of cubicles.

January 8, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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With low unemployment rates and the necessity to attract talent at the top of many organizations’ lists, something as simple as an office redesign could make the difference.

At least that’s what Jan McCollum thinks.

When McCollum started her interior design firm in Detroit in 1999, she aspired to be a residential designer but soon secured a substantial commercial client. McCollum’s firm, J. Parker McCollum Interior Design, continues to do both commercial and residential projects following the opening of an office in Grand Rapids in 2011.

“I’ve done both and enjoy both,” she said. “I’m still involved in Detroit. Where there’s work, we’ll go.”

She was drawn to Grand Rapids because of its changing dynamics over the past several years, she said, particularly the transparent divide of community and business. The interaction of the business community in Grand Rapids is crucial to the future of office design, McCollum said.

For decades, younger generations migrated out of Grand Rapids and West Michigan to seek jobs in larger markets. Now, many offices are filled with older workers who are used to the isolation of cubicles, and employers are still trying to catch up to the ever-changing technology of the modern office.

Younger workers, most of whom fall in the millennial generation, according to McCollum, are drawn to a communal place where they enjoy working.

“A lot of places are geared toward profit and losses and are reluctant to invest in office space. But it’s as important as anything else because everything is so closely related. With happier employees, you get more productive employees and a better bottom line,” McCollum said.

She said convincing the older generation of employers to move on to the next chapter of office space is one of the hardest aspects of her job, and it’s what she’s largely focusing on now.

These days, McCollum is finding a closer — and often intersecting — relationship between commercial and residential design.

“A lot of places are looking for more personalized workplaces for their employees,” she said. “That’s where our experience in residential is really coming in handy.”

Personalized workspaces indicate a stronger commitment from employers, an important factor as millennials aren’t necessarily looking for long-term employment at one company, McCollum said.

The new workspaces are designed to be warm and inviting and more comfortable — a place that almost feels like home. The workspace needs to have universal space but still have sections that offer solitude when needed.

Those are the qualities young talent wants and needs to be productive, something employers need to understand if they want to attract and keep employees.

“They’re looking for a space they like to be in,” she said. “It’s not as easy as someone getting a job and then staying there for 20 years anymore.”

What employees deem comfortable will continue to evolve, just as technology does. As younger generations continue to take over leadership, office design may change more frequently, McCollum said. She said there’s a saturation of mid-century architecture that is ready to change over, as well.

“Nothing stays static for too long,” she said. “What’s the next new design style? Trends come and go, and I don’t think it can last much longer. There’s planned obsolescence in technology, and it’s the same way in design.”

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