Choose Values

While I don’t typically do this, as this issue was coming together I came across a blog post that was so apropos I thought I should share it. It’s by Blake Zalcberg, president of OFM, an office and school furniture manufacturer headquartered in North Carolina. Here’s what he says. 

“A large-sized company recently asked me to help them pick some trendy new office furniture that would attract millennial workers. If only it were that easy. As the head of a family-run furniture manufacturer and distributor, it would be great for my business if everyone had to go buy all new desks and chairs every few years to attract the next generation of workers. But the truth is that a company’s culture and values matter more than its office design when it comes to recruiting a new, younger workforce. Some cool new pieces of furniture may help with first impressions during an interview, but they aren’t going to make a difference on their own. That’s not to say that office design doesn’t matter. It does. But it matters because of what it reflects about things your business is already doing. In other words, it’s an effect, not a cause.  

Office interior. Photo via OFM
Office interior. Photo via OFM

Here’s how to think of it: office furniture is a manifestation of your company values. It’s how you send a message to your internal customers—your employees—about how the company works and what it thinks is important. All the decisions you make as you design an office both shape and reflect those values: Open office or traditional cubicles? Big corner offices for management or similar workspaces for everyone? Lots of glass and metal or mostly leather and walnut finishes? Those simple decisions will shape how your workers approach their job, but they can’t be made in a vacuum. If you want to attract a more forward-thinking workforce, you need to understand their values and make sure your company aligns with them. 

So what are those values? Surveys show millennial workers want a workplace that aligns with their personal values, one that works to make the world a better place rather than simply pursuing a narrow agenda of making profit. And, according to one recent study, they’re willing to stay loyal to a company if they know they’ll get annual pay raises and opportunities for advancement. 

The other problem with this request for new furniture was that it was aimed at attracting millennials, assuming that group is interchangeable with forward-thinking workers. But creative and innovative employees come in every generation, and you’re going to need all of them if you want to move your business forward. An office full of super-creative junior staffers who are supervised by traditionalist managers is a recipe for frustration and high turnover. If you want to turn your business around, innovate more and attract more creative workers, start by looking at your business model, your office culture and your hiring practices. Your furniture choices will follow naturally from there.”