Revisiting the modern workplace with Dr. Marla Gottschalk

Last week, I reported on some recent research published in the Ideapaint Functional Workplace Survey (see Are today’s office workscapes helping or hurting?), and I thought it would be worthwhile to follow up with a discussion with Dr. Marla Gottschalk, the an industrial and organizational psychologist who worked with Ideapaint on the report, to dig into what the research tells us about workers relationship to the physical environment at work.
Via  The Office Blend:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist who specializes in workplace success strategies and organizational change. Her goal is to blend the disciplines of psychology and business to help 21st century employees and organizations move forward confidently. She is a consultant, avid blogger and speaks to groups concerning her favorite topic: workplace effectiveness.

crop-linkedin
Dr Marla Gottschalk
The Interview
Stowe Boyd: We’ve done some research on Millennials recently at Gigaom, and found they are ‘like everyone else, only more so’. For example, they are more inclined to strong opinions, and are less ambivalent. For example, we found them more more willing to try new social tools, while older cadres were less willing to believe that they would pay off. Likewise, they are more inclined toward the benefits of face-to-face meetings. Does that line up with your read from this survey?
Marla Gottschalk: The sample size for Millennials was modest ( N= 89), as the study was focused on all employees (N=577). As such, I would hesitate to generalize the results for this age group to the larger population. The trends seen here, may or may not hold up in a larger sample.
In reference to this sample, as expected – younger respondents reported less tenure with the organization and held less senior roles. (As we have pulled out Millennials as compared to the whole sample, differences reported will be somewhat masked. Actual differences in responses between younger employees and the entire sample may be more pronounced.)
Younger employees hold similar views to the entire sample concerning office design, and express similar opinions concerning both strengths (ability to be fully productive) and weaknesses (noise, for example). However, how they feel about the structure and elements of work life may be evolving. For example, younger employees were more likely to find work after standard working hours “Unacceptable” or “Highly Unacceptable” as compared to the entire sample. (30 % vs. 23 %). They were also more likely to “Disagree” or “Strongly Disagree” with the statement “I would consider myself a workaholic” (47% vs. 35%). I found that interesting. This could indicate shifting attitudes concerning work. We shall see.


While respondents indicated a general level of satisfaction with work life balance (more than 60% expressed satisfaction) – they do express a need for specific changes. Many would like employers to facilitate a more collaborative environment. That is a critical element. If we are to offer more of ourselves, we’d like satisfying experiences in return. – Dr. Marla Gottschalk


SB: Follow-up on that: I was surprised that 15% (versus 7%) ‘never’ feel excited about work.
MG: Although we did observe a difference in percent responses to Q5 (How often do you feel excited about work?), the engagement numbers (Q4) were similar to the entire sample. This could indicate a strong connection to career – but not to the day-to-day tasks for some. Many more were always (21%) or sometimes (64%) excited by their work. Although these finding were lower in general for younger employees, than the entire group (31% and 62% respectively.)
SB: I was surprised that so small a percent of the respondents (9%) worked in a completely ‘open office’. How do you define that? And did you have enough results to slice it geographically? I’m wondering if companies in urban areas — where rents are higher — are more likely to have made that switch.
MG: Question 7 examined office layouts. A completely open office would not include any private offices or cubicles. (Younger respondents preferred a mixture of open space and private offices (63%). About half were satisfied with their current office configuration, less than the entire sample – 53% vs. 60%.) More than 90% of younger respondents identified that they had a permanently assigned workspace.
We did collect geographic information, but we did not cut the data by location – however that is an interesting question. A larger sample would be needed.
Layout options presented:

  • A completely open office floor plan (No permanent private offices or cubicles)
  • An open office layout with some private offices
  • Cubicles only
  • A mix of cubes and private offices
  • Entirely private offices

SB: Roughly half said the only places put aside for working socially are conference rooms. You really didn’t say much about what the other half have available. Any thoughts?
MG: We did not include an open-ended item to capture that information. However, collaborative spaces would include anywhere employees could gather.


I envision environments that flex with not only the individual’s work style, but the task at hand. So private spaces would be available for deep thought, as well as places to gather and collaborate. The key is function – not being wed to one form. – Dr. Marla Gootschalk


SB: What’s your vision of a few years down the road? What will become the new normal?
MG: Interesting question. I do detect a shift, whereby the “badge” of working long hours in the name of career at the expense of work life integration, may be shifting. While respondents indicated a general level of satisfaction with work life balance (more than 60% expressed satisfaction) – they do express a need for specific changes. Many would like employers to facilitate a more collaborative environment. That is a critical element. If we are to offer more of ourselves, we’d like satisfying experiences in return. The relationship we have with work and career is an exchange agreement – it needs to make sense for us – and we always should keep that in mind.
I envision environments that flex with not only the individual’s work style, but the task at hand. So private spaces would be available for deep thought, as well as places to gather and collaborate. The key is function – not being wed to one form.
An open office design does not ensure a collaborative environment. But, neither does any other layout. That requires collaborative practices supported by leadership, that can hopefully be enhanced by smart workplace design.
The Bottom Line
Dr. Gottschalk makes it clear that while some aspects of Millennials thinking about the workplace may be shifting, most people are still working in very conventional settings: more than 90% of younger workers with dedicated work spaces, only 9% open office plans, and the great majority in 20th century cubicle/private office work landscape.
It seems we have a long way to go before we have workplaces that meet Dr. Gottschalk’s vision of being free of a single format, and which conform to the work at hand.