In spite of laying off more than 240,000 people in 2023 and over 20,000 in January 2024, tech industry employers face fierce competition when it comes to attracting top talent. It’s no surprise considering the industry experiences the highest rate of turnover in the U.S. – 13.2% annually, with even tech giants seeing average employee tenure rates of one-to-two years.
As a result, attracting top talent is a top goal. To that end, 26% of tech recruiters anticipate a higher recruiting budget in 2024, with 30% saying they plan to hire more than 50 developers alone in 2024. In fact, according to a Deloitte survey, nearly 90% of technology industry leaders said that recruiting and retaining talent were a moderate or major challenge.
Enter: the pivotal role of tech office design.
Based on its partnership with noted workplace expert Prof. Raj Choudhury of Harvard Business School, NBBJ – an American global architecture, planning and design firm – has thoughts on the role of the office environment. According to NBBJ, “…since the upper echelon of talent can have their pick of employers, organizations have an under-appreciated opportunity to leverage their office as a differentiator—to make their workplace irresistible.”
As leaders at tech companies look to attract top talent and help workers thrive in an evolving workspace, they can take inspiration from optimal office designs and best practices as they build (or refresh) their own.
The Evolution of Modern Offices
Whether you're a software company or a tech hardware business, the technology industry has a long history of making the office a standout experience. Perhaps more than in any other industry, tech workplace leaders seem to understand that modern offices and top talent go hand in hand. It’s fair to say that employees in the tech industry expect office spaces to “wow” by reflecting a compelling company culture while also accommodating a variety of work styles and preferences.
And there’s a renewed interest in “wowing” as the momentum of hybrid work arrangements clashes with return-to-office mandates. More than 50% of the companies surveyed by EY have assigned in-office days to knowledge workers, and 80% are encouraging or requiring three or more days a week.
It’s easy to see why. The top reason (29%) leaders are encouraging a return to office is to increase productivity, followed by maximizing the return on office investment, improving the work culture, and increasing collaboration (all at 18%).
However, as this CNBC article underscores, “While mandates can work, preserving the morale of employees requires some changes to the in-office experience, bringing it closer to the comforts of working from home.” The reality is that tech companies are smart to offer flexible policies when it comes to in-office work while making their offices appealing spaces for employees.
According to JLL’s Technology Office Spaces report, collaboration, culture and social connection are the most important drivers for tech company employees seeking time in the office. With that in mind, “organizations focused on creating tech-enabled spaces are providing peak experiences for their employees. Though employees might return to denser spaces, there are more amenities, and the spaces are infused with work-enabling technology and designs,” says JLL.
Yet, the EY survey cited above found that nearly a third (32%) of employers say creating the right kind of space for employees is among their biggest challenges. To that end, 51% are investing in newer high-tech office spaces with amenities, and more digital/virtual collaboration resources (63%).
Going a step further, NBBJ research pinpointed four factors impacting people’s workplace well-being and performance: variety and choice, ability to socialize, natural light, and access to nature.
Now that we've covered the basics of modern offices, let's walk through best practices for optimizing office space layout, picking the right workplace technology, and establishing the best processes.
1. Optimize Your Office Space Layout
Rooted firmly in these concepts of the modern office, tech office layouts are increasingly centered around a few best practices. The tech companies embracing these are able to provide the flexibility, mobility, and support for well-being that today's employees crave.
Where and when people work aren’t the only ways they seek flexibility – they also want flexibility in how they work. This aligns with McKinsey’s findings on what factors attract and retain tech talent. The third-biggest factor is workplace flexibility, which – according to McKinsey – translates to not just when employees do their work, but how and where.
To that end, flexible work environments offer a variety of workspaces. Since these spaces often spark collaboration, the furniture and modern amenities matter greatly. Think modular furniture – along with height-adjustable desks and portable privacy walls – that employees can easily move and adjust to suit their purposes, such as for teamwork and socialization. Provide a selection of ergonomically designed chairs that promote comfort while accommodating different informal meetings. Don’t forget to inject some of your organization’s brand and style to create a space that feels good.
When LinkedIn wanted an office optimized to support hybrid work, it engaged NBBJ to design new headquarters featuring a range of spaces. While some contain desks, others are open, collaborative and social spaces that empower employees to navigate their workday very flexibly. Most of the spaces do not look like a conventional office but instead resemble cafes and lounges. At the same time, the entire building was set up to map to different work styles. The most social, open floor is the ground floor, while the upper-most floors are reserved for quiet, focused work.
Just remember that your organization doesn’t need to move or expand into a new office to provide flexible work measures. Rather, it’s often a matter of harnessing cost-effective measures to rework, re-imagine, and refresh an existing office. It’s also okay to continually tweak the office as you identify what works best for employees.
Another trend in office design for technology companies is doing away with stand-alone desks. Unless they are in the office for quiet, focused work, employees want the ability to move around freely. While it’s a must to allow them to reserve a desk ahead of their time in office, complement that with accommodating workspaces they can plop into at a moment’s notice. These spaces should be well appointed so employees can work without restrictions.
All desks, conference rooms, and common areas should feature ample electrical outlets and device charging stations. They should also be outfitted with automated systems that turn lights on and off based on sensors and timers. Consider customized lighting mapped to different areas. For instance, maybe lighting is set to be brighter in workspaces and dimmer in areas designed for relaxation.
Though many employees prefer the flexibility to choose where to work, well-being has suffered as a result of isolated experiences both at home and in sparsely filled office spaces. The good news is that technology companies are putting more thought into office design with this issue in mind. By doing so, they promote well-being that boosts employee satisfaction and engagement – both critical in the fiercely competitive technology industry where the pressure is on to continually drive innovation.
In addition to offering easily access to communal spaces (and maybe even a meditation room), and establishing a warm environment with the right lighting, organizations can add natural plants and calming paint colors. If an office move or remodel is in process, find ways to let in sunlight that naturally boosts people’s energy. Paired with a view to the outer world, this type of office design frees employees from feeling trapped at work.
2. Pick the Right Office Technology
Since optimal tech office design doesn’t tether people to their desks, it follows that companies might need to rethink workplace technology. The right office technology is critical for effective hybrid work. From enabling easy resources reservations to empowering employees to easily connect with others both in the office and working from home, technology makes for a better in-office and hybrid work experience.
Ideally, you equip your office with technology that supports choice, spontaneity, and particular workflows. At a minimum, make it easy for employees to schedule the spaces and book the desks they will need when in the office. Then make sure you’re providing the required resources, such as video conferencing technology in meeting rooms, digital collaboration tools (e.g., interactive whiteboards) in common areas, and perhaps even virtual reality that allows clients to interact with planned products.
When it comes to collaboration, keep in mind that tech companies need to connect people both in and outside the office. Think communication and collaboration tools like Slack, Teams and Google Suite that keep people connected no matter their location.
Flexibility is paramount when outfitting desks and individual workspaces. Some people prefer two screens, others are keen on laptop stands, and still others want all those options. Our research found that desks with 5 or more amenities were twice as likely to be used than desks without any.
As you figure out the right tech office design and workplace technology, it’s helpful to call upon a workplace experience platform that aids in:
- Coordinating seating for a dynamic in-office roster
- Understanding how office spaces are being used
- Collecting employee feedback on their office experience
- Managing guest visits easily and safely
When it comes to the latter, consider how to streamline the visitor experience. With more employees returning to office, you’ll likely see more office visitors, from clients and vendors to job candidates and investors. According to our Office Trends Report: H1 2023, offices in the US have seen a 147% increase in guest visits since January 2023. That’s where visitor management tools come in handy for simplifying the process of welcoming guests into the office, automatically notifying people when their guests have arrived, and even tracking who is coming into the office. Hand in hand with this, branded signage can ease navigation.
3. Establish the Best Processes
Perhaps no industry better understands the importance of complementing people and technology with processes. Tech companies know that in this framework, all three elements must work in harmony for successful business operations.
To that end, tech office design is paired with guidelines for working most effectively in the office. In addition to equipping employees with the means to book resources, an office manager can provide instructions on how to execute a booking. Once employees travel to the office, make sure they know how to check in smoothly and safely. And when it comes to the variety of resources and amenities you’re making available to them, spell out any restrictions or special guidelines, such as what is allowed on interactive whiteboards and clean-up instructions for sensitive equipment, such as lab apparatus.
Problems can arise with even the best planning and processes in place, so being responsive to employees experiencing frustration is key. The manager should explain how employees can easily report problems and get issues fixed – such as problems adjusting standing desks or a laptop that won’t boot – so they can quickly get back to work.
On the back end, an essential process is calling upon workplace analytics to gauge the success of your tech office design and shape future decisions about the resources and layouts that are optimal for employees.
Better Tech Office Design Starts Here
While good work can happen anywhere these days, tech companies invested in the new normal should make the office work better for employees. Whether you are a company that needs to design software or an organization building powerful solutions with artificial intelligence, workplace experience matters.
From calling upon desk-booking options and building out more communal spaces to creating an atmosphere conducive to both quiet work and collaboration, managers can make the office an essential resource. For more ideas on how to create an office worth commuting for, check out our Hybrid Work 101 guide.