How FANG's killed the Legacy Office

The need to work is something very few of us can avoid. To provide for ourselves, our futures and our loved ones is pretty crucial. But beneath the obvious need to work, there is also a desire, a desire to prove ourselves, to gain fulfillment, acceptance or praise.

So the question should be, why do we want to work, and more fundamentally why do we want to work at a particular company? These are the challenges businesses face today, or at least they should be. A recent report indicated that companies are now facing the largest talent deficit since 2007, with 40% of organizations struggling to fill roles.

When this same report also asked what organizations are doing to address this, the top responses included: offering training and development to existing staff, recruiting outside the talent pool, providing additional perks, paying higher salaries to recruits and exploring alternative sourcing strategies. While these are all appropriate responses, they fail to address the fact that candidates are choosing other companies, and organizations need to find out why.

Yes, with a thriving economy, supply can outstrip demand, but there are certain organizations with an abundance of available candidates, such as the FANG’s. So organizations need to look beyond the data (“We have six open recs with no candidates”) and instead look deeper into why people would want to work for them. The human element in business cannot be understated, especially in talent management, which is – surprise, surprise – a VERY human interaction. Paying staff higher wages and expanding benefits packages is all well and good, but people need to WANT to work for you in the first place.

Cracking the Code

So a fair question to ask is, which companies do people want to work for, and why do they want to work there?

Well, for the fourth year running, Google was found to be the best place to work by Fortune. Desirability breeds demand, and this is roundly backed by Google’s employment stats, with the chances of landing a job at the tech giant standing at one in 400. The reasons “Googler’s” rate the company so highly, in order of importance, include: satisfaction with their job, their work makes a difference, high compensation (only third on the list ... makes you think), ability to work from home (although not many do) and reduced incidence of stress.

Google has, in essence, created an environment that addresses the human element of work, where people enjoy what they do and feel they are appreciated for their contribution. This culture is embodied in the company’s office design. Look beyond the crazy color scheme and push scooters, and what you see is an environment that embodies employee well-being and satisfaction. From free massages to food and child care, it’s no wonder stress levels in the company are relatively low.

This imperative to create an office that reflects Google’s company culture comes from the top, with Google co-founder and CEO of Alphabet Larry Page reportedly tearing up previous plans for the Google’s new London HQ because, and I quote, they were “too boring.” This one statement tells you all you need to know about Google’s stance on office design. The office, the place where its workers spend the majority of their waking time, is fundamental to Google because it represents a critical part of a Googler’s perception of the company.

Learning from the Master

Google has, and will continue to use, working environments as a tool to build culture and employee retention. This design is not without its critics though, who claim the firm's office plans “infantilize” staff and sabotage productivity through unnecessary distractions. Although Google’s work place satisfaction and its number of candidates speaks for itself.

So what can businesses learn from Google? Well, three things strike me:

  • Employee well-being can’t just be a nice to have.
  • Offices need to follow (and sometimes lead) company culture.
  • Work needs to make a difference to the wider society, such as Google’s Lunar X competition.

Ultimately, firms need to answer the basic question of why people work, before they ask, “Why aren’t they working for us.” This will result in a holistic approach to changing what fundamentally improves organizations’ attractiveness in the market.

A Workspace that Reflects Values

Having an attractive office is great, but does your office deliver on improved employee well-being and happiness? Employee health should be a core concern for organizations, which is by no means a “fluffy” idea, as employee absence and lowered productivity will ultimately affect margins.

Office design and perks should mirror this. Food, whether free or from a vending machine, should be healthy, spaces should encourage movement, and companies should consider a “chill-out” room.

Also, does your office “feel” like you want your company to feel? If your employees don’t feel they’re living and breathing your company when they walk in the door, their output won’t always adequately reflect the values of your organization. Walk into IDEO’s San Francisco offices, and immediately you’ll notice the jars lined up at the entrance of colorful paper clips, pens and other tools for creative expression. From the moment you enter, you realize this is an environment for creative expression.

This is how the most sought-after employers attract so many talented workers: They put the workspace at the heart of their operations, and they build their company’s value into their offices.

So make this your Monday morning assignment: What do you see when you walk in the door to your building? What do you feel? Does your workspace accommodate your changing needs throughout the work day? And what can you do to change that? These are the questions that businesses must ask to face the current talent crunch and become a workplace of choice.