In a low-unemployment market, spatial redesign becomes an employee retention tool

‘Unemployment is so low that companies have to poach,’ say some striking headlines. As the current market gives skilled workers bargaining power and the rate of job-hopping increases, some companies have found a sensible retention strategy: spatial redesign. These conscientious renovations cater not just to the functional requirements of employees with different working styles, but also to their emotional and social needs.

Copenhagen – When Briq recently unveiled its redesign of the Muuto headquarters, they got a rather unusual response. ‘People were really emotional,’ explained partner Peter Bur Andersen. ‘Some employees were so happy that they said they were going to stay in the company forever.’

That’s music to Muuto’s ears. Denmark’s unemployment rate has been falling to surprising lows – to the point that companies are struggling to fill vacancies, and those that do face the risk of having workers quickly poached. To counter this, many companies are competing with a considered approach: the adaptation of workspaces to the hyper-specific working and socializing styles of their employees. Empathetic spatial design, in other words, can also function as an employee retention tool.

Some of the resulting workspaces at the new Muuto HQ in Copenhagen

So, at the revamped offices of the furniture manufacturer, Briq made sure to engage in deep listening sessions that would allow not just for different workflows, but also for different personality traits – the full range of the Myers Briggs types – to function productively. ‘Muuto was very courageous in this, because we both realised that it’s not a community if you don’t cater to everyone’s needs,’ explained Andersen. That meant allowing sales teams to interact with clients in more leisurely spaces, such as a semi-public canteen, but also creating a series of diverse quiet rooms.

These spaces, in turn, add something else to the employee experience: as real estate prices rise in urban European centres, dwellers with increasingly smaller housing find themselves in need of non-commercial spaces to lounge with their friends. ‘If you create a work space that people can be proud of, employees can use it as an extension of their homes.’ That’s why the new Muuto HQ went from having one floor to spanning three floors and a rooftop terrace that employees can use as they please.

Part of Briq's community revolution in Copenhagen's Guldbergsgade

If you create a work space that people can be proud of, employees can use it as an extension of their homes

This project echoes the design firm’s experience in its own headquarters, in Copenhagen’s hip Nørrebro neighbourhood. Well, that’s getting ahead of things: Briq’s communal planning is the type of intervention that makes the quarter so attractive in the first place. But the team went beyond creating indoor spaces that serve as second living rooms where workers can meet their friends after hours: they pushed for the conversion of the entire street, fostering an ecosystem of bars, cafes and breweries that turned the Guldbergsgade into one of the most happening streets in the quarter. This extension of its footprint is what Andersen calls the community revolution of the workspace. ‘And as a result, since we deployed the current design some three years ago, our turnover rate has been extremely low,’ he said.

So, in a way this is hygge gone HR: catering to employees’ social and emotional needs with an investment in a conscientious office redesign is a boon for the bottom line in times of a booming employment market.

To become more attractive long-term employers, companies in competitive work and real-estate markets can invest in providing second living rooms for their extrovert employees – but also respect and embrace the wishes of introverted professionals whose productivity, well-being and job permanence can be negatively affected by constant forced interaction.

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