Are there zombies in your workplace?

Dec 05, 2016

It’s not always the employees’ fault. Improve the quality of your office, celebrate the individual, and watch your staff come alive.

Workplaces across the globe are suffering through a zombie apocalypse. These zombies don’t have ghoulish features or torn clothing, they look just like you or me. You can recognize these real-life-zombies by their mindless march throughout the day. They fixate on reaching 5 p.m. as though it was a feast of brains.

Telltale signs of these zombie workers include their consistent lack of motivation to go above and beyond their basic job role and a disinterest in innovation or new ideas. Most frightening of all, you can see in them the most quintessential zombie characteristic – their ability to infect others. Their lack of morale and active disengagement in workplace culture can spread across the office like a pandemic. In a recent global study by Deloitte, “culture and engagement” was rated the number one challenge affecting businesses in the world. The menace is real!

Traditional office environments are a breeding ground for this worker zombie epidemic. At Perkins+Will, we understand that work environments and workplace culture play a vital role in promoting and enhancing workplace engagement, banishing office zombies. The shift from traditional work environments to high-performance workplaces is the cure to this epidemic.

How do you make that shift? Below are some strategies to zombie-proof your office:

  1. Celebrate the individual. A traditional work environment conjures images of endless rows of identical workstations. However, the high-performing workplace recognizes that individuals need choice and control of their environment in order to do their best work. Workers are not a horde with identical workstyles and preferences – instead we each have different ways to feel focused, productive, creative, or collaborative. Our office environment should support this by providing a variety of work settings to support these needs. The design emphasis within progressive office environments has moved from the individual workstation and onto the range of support spaces available to choose between – such as meeting rooms, informal collaboration spaces, phone booths, lounge areas, technology enhanced spaces, and café spaces. Looking ahead, the individual – with their unique talents and contributions – will be more and more recognized. Organizations are restructuring themselves into cross-departmental project-based teams and the trends are growing toward crowd-sourcing talent and innovation. Individuals and their unique skill sets are a commodity that the future workplace needs to support. In doing so, workers will be engaged, empowered, and won’t behave like the living-dead.
  2. Create space that supports life. In the traditional office of yore, workers would clock in at 9 a.m., clock out at 5 p.m., and keep the lines between work and home life entirely separated by those two markers on the clock. However, now that technology has untethered us from our workstations and the fast-paced global nature of business has promoted more responsive workstyles, we no longer limit our workday by the clock. Instead, progressive and high-performance workspaces must adapt to accommodate a blend between workstyles and lifestyles. The work environment should cater to our social needs with enticing casual spaces in which we can form friendships with our coworkers. The work environment should support our health needs with spaces that enhance rather than harm our physical and mental wellbeing. Now that we have the ability to work from anywhere, the high performance office should be a place of inspiration and collaboration where workers choose to spend time so that they can tap into that energizing culture. Over the last few decades the conversation has shifted from aspiring to work-life balance to work-life integration. The workplaces of the future will achieve work-life harmony when happiness is just as important an output as productivity (and zombies are anathema to happiness).
  3. Plan for the unexpected. Much like a zombie’s shuffling body, traditional offices are rigid and unyielding to change. Rooms were permanent, technology was fixed, and client spaces were pristine. In a high-performance workspace, we recognize that the most predictable thing is unpredictable change. Workspaces need to be agile so that they can quickly respond to changing team dynamics, alterations in workflow, rapid growth in staff numbers, emerging technologies, and the physical and virtual ways that we engage with our clients and stakeholders. At Perkins+Will, we believe in designing for loose fit and long life. A high-performing, loose-fit workplace can include features like multi-purpose rooms, dividable spaces, wireless technology, reconfigurable furniture, and the ability to reassign spaces as needs change. The dynamic energy that is created by a “hackable” workspace results in occupants feeling an increased sense of ownership of their environment and an inherent permission to adapt it to best support their individual needs.
  4. Promote health and wellness. We’re not far from the time when it was considered acceptable to smoke at your desk and access to a window was the sole privilege of upper management. Thankfully, in today’s high-performance workplaces the occupants’ physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing are a prime focus of the design. Strategies to promote health and wellbeing are being implemented across the entire design and operation of an organization. Considerations such as active design, respite spaces, controllability of environment, access to daylight and views, biophilia, access to healthy snacks, end-of-trip facilities, and ability inclusivity all contribute to a healthier and happier work environment and a more positive and engaged workforce. As one example, Perkins+Will has recently partnered with Fitwel, a new low-cost and voluntary certification system. Fitwel assesses the healthiness of a physical environment through an algorithm supported questionnaire. Developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the General Services Administration, this rating system empowers designers and building managers to incorporate policies and design strategies to enhance workspace wellness and provides for certification. Perhaps it should say “zombie free zone” on the final certificate!

Interior designers’ first responsibility is to the safety, wellbeing, and positive experience of the workers who occupy the spaces we create. Through strategies to promote workplace engagement and to enhance office culture, we can activate our designer super-power – designing spaces that make us come alive!

Sarah Stanford is a senior interior designer at the Vancouver office of Perkins+Will. She can be reached at Stanford’s story first appeared on the Perkins+Will blog.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.