Survey shakes up ideas about the 'mobile generation'

Don’t dismiss the traditional office just yet.  A new study says the physical office space is more important than ever.

The most technologically and social media-savvy group, the Generation Y demographic, places great importance on physically being in the office, according to Destination Collaboration: The Future of Work, commissioned by Oxford Properties and conducted by Environics Research Group.

Destination CollabourationSome 79 per cent of the Gen Y workers defined collaboration as working together in the same space. In comparison, only 59 per cent of Boomers believed collaboration means working face-to-face.

“I remember 25 years ago when we were all going to be in a paperless environment and working from home,” Andrew McAllan, senior vice-president and managing director of real estate for Oxford, said in an interview. “The reality is, it hasn’t played out like that for any number of reasons.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that as humans we certainly appreciate having other people around.”

Yet as much as employees value collaboration, they also want their own space, the study showed. Nearly two-thirds of workers (63 per cent) would choose to have a private office, but only 30 per cent actually have one.

The study offered a number of insights into how today’s employees view the space in which they spend much of their days.

Commute time cut down

One of the biggest surprises to come out of the survey for McAllan was that 33 per cent of the respondents said they’d be willing to work three extra hours per week if they could cut their commute time down to something reasonable.

In fact, 50 per cent of respondents said the commute time is the leading factor that would cause them to choose one employer over another, all things being equal. Respondents viewed 30 minutes as an acceptable commute time.

Another important aspect of the study was sustainability. One-third of respondents (34 per cent) declared that sustainability was very important in an office building. That focus on the environment beat out other features such as access to an on-site gym or innovative design.

McAllan said 56,000 people work in an Oxford-owned and -managed property and say they want to work in a sustainably responsible environment.

“So we have this surge in demand for new buildings, buildings that incorporate the latest air conditioning, lighting standards, minimizing footprints, and that is all driven by the customer.”

The study comes at a time when attracting and retaining top talent is an issue for employers. McAllan calls it a fundamental change in that people have become more demanding of what they receive from their employers.

“No longer do people join a company and expect to be there until they retire,” McAllan said. “The competition for talent is more aggressive.”

Part of the business of building now is creating an environment that will help companies attract and retain talent, according to McAllan. “Environmental standards, workplace natural light – these are all things that weren’t considered with anywhere near the sophistication and intensity that they are now.

“And when we build a building, these buildings have 80- to 100-year lifespans, so we’d better get it right. We’re far more research-focused than the industry was in the past.”

Report recommendations

The report makes a number of recommendations. For instance, employers are advised to provide a variety of office spaces to meet the needs and working preferences of multi-generational employees rather than adapting a one-size-fits-all approach to creating an uniform office environment.

The report says employers need to strategically select their office location to help minimize employee commute times. They should also consider proximity to convenient lifestyle amenities.

Overall, the report concluded “the future workplace will be shaped by four main trends: the rise of the collaborative worker, a greater focus on work-life integration, the emergence of the multi-generational workforce, and a growing employee emphasis on environmental stewardship within the workplace.”

The survey was conducted as an online study with 2,009 Canadian office workers, drawn from a panel that was recruited to reflect the general population profile. The survey has regional representation among office workers in major Canadian industries.

A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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A multiple award-winning reporter, writer and editor for more than 25 years, Charles Mandel most recently worked as the National Observer's climate change reporter. He is a former Atlantic correspondent…

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