For many modern businesses, attracting millennials is a big deal. This loosely-defined digitally native generation is expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2030 – and they’ve instigated quite the revolution. Today’s young workers are far more transient than employees of the past, and are more than willing to move to a different job if their needs aren’t being met.
One of the most regularly cited requirements for millennials in the workplace is office collaboration. Bringing teams and individuals together is both a satisfying creative exercise and an opportunity to socialise, both key elements of the millennial mindset. Below are just a few ways you can encourage collaboration in the workplace, and keep your young employees on side.
Don’t go fully open plan
The ideal of an open plan office is enticing: a space where everyone can engage with everyone else, where ideas can form half an office away, and every employee shares in the creative process. The reality is rather more stark, however: open plan offices don’t really work.
Evidence suggests that they are far noisier than conventional offices, with the result that people get distracted, and nothing really gets done. Most employees also value a bit of privacy. Not only does it show that you trust them, it also makes for a more comfortable space in which to work, and gives them more of an opportunity to customise their workstations.
This isn’t to say that you should return to individual offices and soul-sucking cubicles, though. A semi open plan office is often the best compromise, with segmented areas such as private meeting rooms and creative spaces alongside standard workstations. Make sure people can collaborate without disrupting others, and get on with individual workloads when required.
Build a mezzanine
Mezzanines may feel more at home in the world of home design, with indoor balconies and living spaces a popular feature of open-plan houses. The benefits of a mezzanine in the workplace, however, may seem more puzzling. How can a pile of steel and staircases bring employees closer together, or encourage creativity?
The answer lies in their ability to create space, and to bring teams closer together. A common barrier to collaboration is the different physical locations of staff, with offices spread across a large facility or multiple sites. By adding a mezzanine to a room with a high ceiling, this wasted space can be turned into a functioning office area.
This is a great way to bring groups of employees closer together, while still having their own space to knuckle down and get work done. A two-tiered office (or even taller) could allow employees to work in multiple groups, and pop up or downstairs to collaborate when needed.
Create a chat group
When you can’t physically bring groups of employees closer together, bring them together online. Work oriented applications like Slack – or even apps like Whatsapp – can facilitate immediate communication between remote employees. These chat groups are less formal and immediate than a phone call or email, while still being trackable by managers and higher-ups.
The familiarity of these environments from our personal use lends itself to more open-ended, light-hearted conversations. Slack in particular also allows for the use of media such as GIFs and videos, encouraging fun and creative discussions. Crucially, these conversations can also take place silently – eliminating the common issue of distractions in an open plan office environment.
Try team building
Team building exercises are an age-old element of corporate life. The idea behind them – that colleagues can go on a trip and carry out exercises to build a rapport – doesn’t always excite people however, nor does it always work. It’s also likely to be seen as a bit ‘old hat’ by millennial employees, even if it is a welcome excuse to get out of the office.
Instead, try some other exercises that could have the same effect, but are considerably more in vogue. One idea may be to play some cooperative board games, a pastime that’s developed well beyond Monopoly and Scrabble. Games like Betrayal, Pandemic and Mysterium force players to work together to solve problems, helping to build up a rapport and some transferable skills. Not only are they cheaper than a trip, you also won’t have to leave the office.
This is also a great alternative to traditional ideas of relaxation spaces, like the infamous ball pits of tech startups. A room for board games and other team exercises – e.g. table tennis – will look more professional, while still serving its purpose as a space for creative exercises and downtime. And really – who wants to sit in a ball pit anyway?
Delegate time for ideas
If you work in a creative industry, it might be a good idea to set aside a period at the start of each week for idea generation. If you don’t, you could still delegate time to highlighting any issues with your working practices, or improvements that people feel could be made to make their jobs easier or more efficient.
This is particularly effective if you conduct it across groups, as new heads may attack problems from different angles, and bring in new perspectives. This has the added benefit of clarifying your approach for the week, providing people with structure and leads to chase up on the ideas that have been generated.
Play to strengths
Collaboration of any sort is valuable, but you need to have the right conditions to maximise it. Some team members may need a bit more cajoling to chip in ideas, but these can be the most valuable. Similarly, your method of sharing ideas may put some people on the spot, who will then think up a solution later on.
Offer people the freedom to contribute in the way that best suits them, and group people together with similar personalities where possible. Don’t expect every example of collaboration to yield immediate results, either, or set targets for idea generation. Sometimes people draw inspiration from very different circumstances and sources, and are put off by pressure.
The great benefit of increased collaboration is that it represents a textural difference from your everyday work, and introduces a social element to the workplace. Making collaboration contingent on rewards fundamentally undermines the process, and risks turning these sessions into something to be feared, rather than a welcome break from the norm.
About the author: Invicta Mezzanine Floors are specialists in designing and installing state-of-the-art mezzanines. For over 30 years we’ve catered to every kind of facility, from freestanding single-tier mezzanine floors, to complex installations for some of the largest global landmarks and infrastructure projects.