Melissa Marsh: The key ingredients of an ideal workplace

The second day of IFMA’s World Workplace has just begun and today we we’re lucky to get a few moments with Melissa Marsh—Founder & Executive Director of PLASTARC—to discuss what characterizes an ideal workplace and how to improve occupant satisfaction and performance. 

Many people in our industry are talking about the importance of the workplace becoming a place for well-being and a positive occupant experience. Why are we seeing this trend?

There are several reasons.

One is that it’s possible. There’s more advanced technology now that can help us manage and maintain more sustainable, healthy, and efficient buildings in a very efficient and smart way.

The other has to do with our perceptions of work and work behavior. People are spending more time working. Some are extending the “9 to 5” day to a “7 to 7” day. For others, and because of 24/7 connectivity, the understanding of traditional work hours has blurred completely.

With work behaviors changing, our ways of working with physical space and services must also evolve. We must make sure that we can not only facilitate “work,” but also “life.” And this is where the focus on well-being and experience arise.

Would you say that the war for talent has pushed the workplace experience and well-being agenda even further?

The demand for good talent is the basis of business. I think what challenges us now is the new large generation of Millennials entering the labor market. Big generations can make great impacts on society.

Just the way the Baby Boomers made a tremendous impact because there were so many of them—Millennials are doing the same. Soon they will make up the largest group in our total population. And yes, just as all generations are, Millennials are unique.

Also, Millennials and Generation Z make up the best-educated generations to date. They have had the greatest freedom of any generation thus far to choose their education and career path.

When school is over, they are filled with expectations about how their work and work life will look. They want to live the things they always have imagined.

This puts employers under great pressure. The focus we’re seeing on workplace experience and wellbeing are some of the reactions to that.

What are the key elements of creating a purposeful workplace experience that lives up to employees’ expectations—a workplace where people feel good?

Basically, the workplace should cover all the levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from the bottom to the top.

First, we need to fulfill the physical factor. People need the same things plants do: sunshine, fresh air, water, care, and attention. The next thing space and service need to accommodate is our social and interpersonal needs. We need to feel connected to one another and feel we’re in a community where we’re appreciated and acknowledged.

Once that is accomplished and we’ve given occupants a feeling of ownership over the space and control over their environment, it’s time to focus on creating an aspirational work environment that makes those people and the world better.

Remember that the modern economy is a purpose economy.

Google’s first slogan was “Don’t be evil.” The idea was that if you were part of Google, you would contribute to making things better. Communicating the purpose of work is among the expectations of these new generations.

Not only do they want to use their skills—they also want to find ways to do that in a positive manner.

Accomplishing that requires the combination of a great physical workplace environment grounded in the science of architecture, and the work that companies such as ISS [Integrated Service Solutions] are doing. Namely, facilitating a workplace service that caters to the needs of employees.

What do you think is required from corporate real estate professionals and facilities managers to create a workplace that enables a positive occupant experience and the work environment new employees desire?

For years, we have had a “space first” approach. Second came people, and then the technology.

Today, the value-add lies in creating a great experience. To do that, you need to have people at the center of your design thinking. So suddenly it becomes relatively inefficient to try to service a lot of building space when what you want to do is to service the people.

I would argue that, in some cases, we actually need to contract real estate to be able to provide better service and technology to people. In this effort, we should look for references in the hospitality industry.

Just like when you’re on vacation, services come to you. You do not have to go somewhere to find them. Hence, corporate real estate professionals and facilities managers must increasingly focus on the efficiency of space in the sense that it makes it easy for services to get to you.

If you want to learn more about Melissa and her work, don’t miss her 12.2A session on the multisensory workplace from 9.30-10.30 on October 19th.