Not enough employers are thinking like kids. And they should be, say experts like Jonathan Webb, because those kids are the new workforce — one that dislikes cubicle farms and ties.
“The idea is that if you are looking to attract young talent, why not look at where these individuals have spent the last four to six years of their lives when you’re designing your workplace?” Webb, co-author of a research paper on the topic, said Wednesday during a tour of the University of Texas at Arlington.
Webb, his co-author Brett Shwery of Los Angeles and a small entourage of other officials from Webb’s Green Bay, Wis.-based furniture maker chose UT Arlington as among a handful of colleges and several large companies to visit. They wanted to see firsthand how warmly those businesses are embracing the concepts of openness and interaction.
The research paper, “Collegiate Design: The New Driver for Workplace Design,” reported that only 16 percent of companies had designed a workplace with new workers in mind.
“The impact of this disconnect may manifest serious repercussions for corporations,” the study said. “When companies stop to consider the learning environments from which their new workforce has emerged, they would be wise to emulate these environments in the workplace.”
UT Arlington has been making progress, officials said. The first stop at UT Arlington was a research room in Nedderman Hall, where a semicircle of seating and a table faced two large flat-screen TVs used mainly for video conferencing. There were three cubicles, but they were small and behind a clear glass wall.
What students are learning determines what kind of space they need, Webb said.
George Siemens, executive director of the Learning Innovations & Networked Research Lab (LINK) at UT Arlington, said the room wasn’t intended to be a showcase.
“It was designed to give the opportunity to engage in work that’s reflective of the digital and creative-based economy that we’re in,” Siemens said.
A lecture hall in the physics department provided an example of a simple change to allow for student collaboration. It was conceived by assistant professor Nilakshi Veerabathina. She had the fixed seats along the semicircle desktops replaced with swivel seats, so students could gather in their four- or five-member groups and face one another.
It’s no accident that graduates want an open, collaborative work environment. Imbuing students with those thinking skills is where the art of teaching has changed, said Rebecca Boles, assistant dean of the college of architecture and leader of the tour.
“You’ll find in the university that we don’t talk so much about teaching than about learning,” Boles said. “I think we’re learning that students need a variety of spaces to learn.”
The main library also has been making changes. The checkout counter, which separated students from the staff and many checkout materials, has been torn away. Now students gather at tables and interact with the staff, wherever.
Rebecca Bichel, dean of libraries, said a full wall in the checkout area also is marked for removal.
Webb, who is vice president of business marketing at KI, the furniture factory, said he was impressed with featured stops on the tour.
“I thought they were fantastic,” Webb said. “I had never been on that college campus. Everywhere there was so much energy.”
Siemens said many large corporations are making moves, in varying degrees, toward improving their workspaces for the millennials.
“They’re going to choose the environment that is better suited for collaboration and innovation, a human workplace,” he said.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641