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Design for the Digital Native
New technologies are immersive, even addictive. Environments saturated in these technologies can drain people’s energy and enthusiasm if employers aren’t careful. It’s all too easy to burn out a workforce with monotony and screen-staring isolation.
In our previous article, we discussed Drew’s desire to have technology be more “human” – connecting the dots between his motivation, his expertise, and company success. While tapping into his intrinsic motivators is necessary, it doesn’t provide a sufficient view of how design needs to work for him.
We must also examine how to increase his engagement, and by doing so, increase his performance.
So, how do we design the workplace for this digital native?
The term “gamification” is not often used in the context of interior design, but its principles echo those of design-centric thinking. Outside of actual gameplay, the intended purpose is to engage the “user” in direct problem solving – often in pursuit of a reward. An interior space, much like that of a well-designed gamification platform, should start by inspiring active participation.
Such participation can come in many forms within the built environment. We can plan spaces to support immersive collaboration, enable unlimited mobility, or create social interaction to the extreme…
But do these efforts really lay a plan for active participation?
In many ways, our world has become noticeably bigger. Online technologies allow people to connect in a virtual world broader in scale than they ever had face-to-face. This massive diversity has increased our interactions to a global scale. Smartphones support connectivity every minute of every day, enabling an “always-on” lifestyle of mobility and convenience. Communicating to anywhere in the world is only a touchscreen away.
Because digital natives like Drew are entrenched in this connectedness, there is immense pressure on the workplace to support employees with hardware and devices that enable a blur of business and social identities. Under this model, traditional design planning will not suffice.
Drew and his generation are more educated (and more empowered) consumers. The work environment is no exception. “Trying on” a new workplace is not much different than trying on new clothes – in order to commit, it has to be the right fit. The design of the work environment, like gamification efforts, must support perpetual learning and independence, fueling greater satisfaction and employee engagement. Drew needs the right mix of challenge and comfort, with measurable impact and monitored results to reinforce his sense of purpose, and the freedom to maintain the social elements that are critical to his sense of self.
By taking this “always-on” lifestyle into planning consideration, we can support the needs of the digital workers like Drew and enhance the workplace environment.
Meet Drew: Anticipating Workplace Needs and Styles
When we met Drew, we also introduced three major areas that require attention. Let’s look a little closer at how to apply them:
Comfort – an environment suited for portable computing and not tied to traditional workstations.
- Create a More Comfortable Work Environment:
Provide a diverse mix of home-like planning applications, including comfortable seating options for re-posturing and re-energizing, quick access to fuel (not just junk vending machine fodder), flexibility with space and furniture, and ample opportunity for physical activity.
- Promote Environmental Awareness:
Provide access to solitude for mindful contemplation – not just another private work enclave, but rather a place to shut down and recharge, even “unplug” when needed. Use music and other auditory displays to assist in “humanizing” the space and create a natural feel. Balance artificial and natural light (with an understanding of how it impacts wellness and efficiency) while reducing glare to meet the demands of the work routine. Encourage atmospheric personalization.
- Eliminate Transition Between Home and Office:
Leverage technology to enable a smooth transition between work and home, including access to WiFi, video conferencing, and remote access to projects. Wherever possible, move away from standard, corporate IT solutions to focus on consumer friendly solutions that take advantage of familiar technologies. Encourage a connection to nature (both real and simulated) through biophilic design and green spaces.
Motivating – an environment devoted to highest performance and the moments surrounding it, with “labs” and strategic spaces that merge seamlessly into calm working cafes and areas for leisure.
- Encourage a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) Approach:
Support user technologies and equipment brought to the office. Digital natives are comfortable using their own equipment – encourage it! Understand that synchronization across work and personal identity is key to efficiency.
- No Boundaries Between Professional and Private Life:
Support dependency on internet for both work and social. Promote social networking as a tool to deliver real time data. Provide inner-office social networking cafes to create engagement and social connection through shared interest.
- Internet, The Driver of Change:
Grow an inner-office appreciation for social connection both on and offline. Display value for the immediacy of social connection as a tool to rebuild current workplace institutions. Use social media as a tool to capture content, share knowledge, and build communities. Encourage continuous flow and input of information from all available sources. Adopt an information management strategy that accepts the internet as the very “backbone” that connects this generation of employees.
Aesthetic – an environment that meets and exceeds employee desire for creativity, connectivity, and social responsibility, while fostering productivity and establishing organizational identity.
- Understand Impact of Office Color:
Steer away from predominately grey or neutral offices, which often promote lower levels of creativity and productivity. Strategically place color in combinations that support activity relative to that area, rather than one standardized color palette used throughout the space.
- Consider The Restorative Effects of Nature:
Positively impact creativity and productivity by accommodating direct views to nature if possible, remove environmental disruptions to reduce mental fatigue, and incorporate nature (indoors and outdoors) to provide a more tranquil setting and reduce stress.
- Ability to Act, Behave, and Perform Creatively:
Incorporate small amounts of ambiguity within an open workspace. Allow for a semi-unstructured environment with a degree of personal choice. Support high appreciation for “mother earth” through sustainable environments, reflected through general aesthetic and the incorporation of raw materials. Design the space to promote active staff engagement and build community through “3rd places” and a mixture of “soft” and “hard” environments.
As you can see, creating a workplace ideal for Drew’s generation is no small undertaking, but the rewards – namely in the form of efficiency, productivity, and job satisfaction – are well worth the effort. In an era where young professionals are willing to “try on” jobs to find the best fit, ensuring an interactive, creative, and culturally reaffirming environment is critical to recruiting and retaining the best talent.